Have you ever experienced a breakup or divorce but still loved the other person you were saying goodbye to?
I met my ex-girlfriend on a rooftop in Istanbul. I had just sold everything I owned to travel the world, and she was a tour leader in Asia.
She was everything I had been searching for: beautiful, confident, and funny. I followed her to India and China. She followed me to Australia. When the money and visas ran out, we moved back to Canada, found an apartment, got a cat, and shared a strong, healthy relationship for over five years.
And then, just like that, it was over.
There was no huge fight, yelling, or name-calling. It was just an honest discussion about the direction we saw ourselves going into the future. Unfortunately, our visions didn’t align. So we had to ask the tough questions:
Do we stick it out and hope that things fall into place?
Or do we part ways?
We chose the latter, and it was one of the hardest decisions either of us had ever made.
What followed was a month of living in the same apartment until we settled logistics like finding a new place to live, selling the car, and deciding who would keep the cat. We slept in separate beds. We talked, cooked, and went out to our favorite restaurants. We still loved each other but that only served to make our decision even tougher.
I struggled a lot. I couldn’t bring myself to write or work on my business. I shut down. I drank and smoked too much. I cried in the shower. I second-guessed our decision constantly.
But we stuck with it. I figured I had two choices: stay sad and depressed or put my head down and start moving forward. I chose to move forward. And here’s what I told myself to help get me going in the right direction.
Time Doesn’t Heal
“I realized, it is not the time that heals, but what we do within that time that creates positive change.” ~Diane Dettman
During my breakup, friends and family loved to throw out the often used cliche “Don’t worry, time heals.”
But guess what? Time doesn’t heal. It’s only an excuse people use to justify sitting around in their pajamas watching Netflix and eating ice cream out of the bucket with a side of red wine.
Sure, if you wait long enough, perhaps time will heal. But how much of your life are you willing to sacrifice to get there? Six months? A year? Ten years?
We have one precious life on this little blue planet, with no guarantees of an afterlife. It’s a waste to believe that time will magically heal our sorrows.
It’s easy to stay stuck in sadness and depression; it’s hard to move on from someone we still love. But you have to do it. You have to take action because life isn’t going to wait for you.
Get rid of the notion that time will heal because it’s not going to help you get where you need to go. Instead, do something. Get out of your house and meet new people. Take up a hobby you’ve been putting off. Train for a marathon. Start doing yoga. Do anything. Just don’t wait for time to heal your pain.
Love Isn’t Always Enough
Friends and family couldn’t wrap their heads around my breakup. “If you still love each other, can’t you make it work?” they would ask.
We grow up with a belief that love can overcome any obstacle. I blame the likes of Harry and Sally, Edward and Vivian, and Sam and Annie. Romantic movies always end happily because love conquers all.
But real life isn’t so simple.
My ex and I still love each other, but we both understand it’s not enough. There were fundamental things about our visions of the future that didn’t line up. Take having children, for example. If one person wants kids and the other doesn’t, that is a fundamental difference that cannot be changed. Sure, nobody knows how the future will pan out, but it’s not fair to “settle” for the sake of love. Otherwise, there will be regret and resentment later on in the relationship.
Things like the decision of having children, the city you want to live in, or your core values are fundamental parts of a relationship. If the fundamentals don’t align the relationship could be doomed, and you could be delaying the inevitable until one day you really do have a yelling match and break up in anger.
My ex and I decided that we didn’t want to get to that point even though we still loved each other. We ended our relationship amiably before resentment and regret reared their ugly heads.
So remember: love is wonderful, beautiful, and fulfilling. But it’s not always enough.
Grieve, But Not Too Much
It’s important to grieve our losses. Whether it’s the loss of a relationship, loved one, job, or whatever, we need to take time to be sad. We need to get in touch with our feelings and understand what we’re feeling. Labeling and being aware of our feelings is imperative in every area of life. So when you’re sad, be sad.
Like I said earlier, I grieved in an unhealthy way. But at the time it felt good to numb the pain. I recognized what I was doing. I knew it wasn’t the best way. Still, I did it.
And I’m happy I did. After a month of unhealthy grieving I was done with it. My productivity hit rock-bottom and I couldn’t stand it anymore.
There are many ways to deal with grief.
For me, I needed to start creating and writing again. I needed to travel, explore, and have adventures. I needed to connect with other people who had similar experiences to help me realize that I wasn’t alone in my pain.
So go ahead. Grieve.
Just don’t do it for too long or you might find yourself grieving for a long, long time.
Don’t Do It All On Your Own
A friend of mine sent me a blunt text message:
“Stop drinking wine, sobbing with your ex, and move on with your life. You have a goal. Now get off your ass and make it happen.”
Bang! We all need friends like that from time to time. We can’t do it all on our own, no matter who we are or who we’ve been in the past.
My friend reminded me of the importance of keeping my friends and family close. Sometimes in relationships we become so enamored in our romantic partners that we neglect our relationships with friends and family.
But when a relationship with a lover ends, who is going to be there to catch you when you fall? Who’s going to give you a listening ear, shoulder to cry on, or tough love?
We can’t get through loss by ourselves. We need others to prop us up and push us forward.
Keep your friends and family close, all the time, because some day you will need their love.
No Matter What, It Was Not a Waste of Time
It’s too easy to look back on a “failed” relationship as a waste. “Well, there goes five years of my life!” If you’re getting out of a long-term relationship it’s something that crosses your mind.
But think back on the person you were when you first got into your relationship compared to the person you are today. Chances are you’re a different person, for the better. You’ve lived, loved, and most importantly, learned.
Don’t look at it with the mindset that you have to start over again. You’re not starting over because you’ve grown, matured, and become a better person during your relationship.
For me, I learned how to communicate better—skills that will continue to serve me moving forward. I learned to speak French, lived in a new city, and made a career transition. I met awesome people. I took swing dancing lessons and learned about French Canadian culture. All these things happened because of my ex-girlfriend.
It’s easy to look back on a broken relationship as a waste of time, but when you really start to think about it you’ll realize that it’s anything but a waste.
If you’ve recently experienced a painful breakup or divorce, I’m sorry. I feel your pain. I know what you’re going through isn’t easy.
Spend time reflecting and getting in touch with your feelings. Grieve. Be sad. Cry. Talk about it. Cry some more.
Then move on.
Sounds over-simplified, I know. But ultimately, being stuck in a rut is a choice.
If your choice is to move forward I hope you do so with more confidence, purpose, and authenticity. I hope you’re able to tell yourself some of the things I’ve mentioned above.
Live. Thrive. Life is short so make the best of it.
About Eric Ibey
Eric Ibey is a speaker, adventurer, and storyteller. He is the creator of the Breakup Challenge, which has helped hundreds of people let go and move on after a tough breakup or divorce. Eric lives in Montreal, Canada.