She’s family, so there’s blood tying you together. But every time she calls, you wind up feeling gutted.
You love him, but you spend more time crying over the words you write in your journal than you spend laughing (and you know from past experience that the quality of your relationships with guys is inversely proportional to how much time you spend writing in your journal).
You’ve known each other for years. You once called her your best friend. But you realize you continually have expectations of her she fails to meet.
Keeping your heart open in the face of serial heartbreak is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but knowing when to stick it out and when to throw in the towel can be unbearably confusing and painfully tough.
I’ll never forget the day my husband, who I still loved, hit me in the face after becoming enraged at me about what seemed like a small thing.
After it happened, he started to walk out the front door while the red mark on my cheek was still smarting, but we were supposed to go on a trip to visit his family the next day, and I told him I wouldn’t go to the East Coast with him unless we talked first about what had just happened.
He walked out anyway, muttering “I’m so outta here.” I stayed home with an icepack on my cheek and took the week off so my patients wouldn’t notice the bruise.
While my husband was gone, we agreed to write letters to each other about what had happened. I agonized over writing a vulnerable, heart-on-my-sleeve, ten page letter about how much I loved him, what was wrong with me, and what I would be willing to change in order to keep our marriage together.
Waiting to hear what he would write was pure agony. My heart felt naked, open, worried, waiting. I was already divorced and I was terrified of failing again.
When he returned from the East Coast, he said he wasn’t ready. He didn’t want to read my letter until he’d finished his. He kept delaying. I was so distracted I couldn’t concentrate on my work (not a good thing when you’re a surgeon.)
He barely spoke to me during this time. I slept in the other room. There was silence and more silence after the violence. He had an important letter to write, but he kept telling me the letter wasn’t ready.
I couldn’t bear it. I wanted to pull my heartstrings closer together. Leaving my heart open felt so raw, like my heart was bleeding love and hemorrhaging all over the floor. I wanted to close it back up. Keep it safe. Never let anyone in again. But I didn’t.
When my husband finally read me his letter, he sat me down on the sofa and made me promise not to utter a word while he read it. No interruptions. No defensiveness. He wanted to read all ten pages straight through before I said a word. With my heart beating in my chest, I promised to be silent.
I prayed that his letter would express his undying love for me. Surely, he would apologize, promise me he would never hit me again, make amends, agree to go to therapy and maybe stop drinking. Surely, he felt awful, good man that I knew he was, beautiful soul that I saw beneath the times he fell asleep in the back of someone’s car after closing out the bar at 2am and never calling to say he wasn’t coming home, while I paced the hallways all night.
But his letter didn’t say “I love you.” He wrote that I interrupt people too much. I judge them and impose my rules on everyone else. I’m a goodie-two-shoes with a closed mind.
I started sobbing and interrupted him. I got defensive, and he cut me off, reminding me I had promised to let him read the whole letter. He yelled at me to stop crying, chastising me for using tears as a means of manipulating him.
By the end of his letter, I was a blubbering mess, and I realized that while I had written a ten page letter about what was wrong with me, my husband had also written a ten page letter about what was wrong with me.
I’ll never forget the way my heart felt the moment that sunk in. I wanted to close it up forever, never let anyone come inside again. But I didn’t, because love can’t get in when your heart is closed. Instead, I left him a few months later, on our two year wedding anniversary. I packed my bags, walked out, drove myself to the Ritz Carlton, ordered a $25 hamburger and a bottle of champagne, watched some stupid romantic comedy on pay-for-view, and drank myself to sleep.
I’m certainly guilty of attaching to relationships because of the history we share, the memories of better times, or the certainty that the relationship is right on the verge of getting way better.
But what if your relationship will never be what it once was or what you imagine it could be? What if your dream of a perfect relationship is just that - a dream?
Surely, forgiveness is always a good thing. We all make mistakes and those we love deserve second, third, even fifteenth chances.
But at what point do you cut your losses and accept that the relationship brings you more pain than joy? When do you draw the line in the sand, even if you’re still in love, because you’re worth being treated better? When do you release someone you don’t love anymore, because to cling to a loveless relationship isn’t fair to either of you? When do you decide to cut your loved one loose? And how do you keep your heart open in the process?
Oh to know the answers to these questions…
As someone with two divorces under my belt, take what I say with a grain of salt. Although I’ve now been with my current husband for almost ten years, I’m certainly no relationship expert. All I know is that knowing what to do begins with being honest with yourself about how you really feel. Loving someone and having that love reciprocated is supposed to feel good - at least more often than it feels icky. How do you feel when you’re with the person in question, and what percentage of the time are those feelings joyful?
Once you’re honest with yourself about how you feel, check in with your Inner Pilot Light. Tap into why you’re still in the relationship. Is it guilt? Pressure from other people? Fear of failure? Financial concerns? Hope that things will change for the better someday soon? Religious beliefs? Worry about what will become of the person if you leave? Unwillingness to endure the pain of a break up? Lack of courage to initiate what you know you must? Dread of the aftermath?
Been there. Done that. I feel you, my love.
I’m not endorsing breakups. I can certainly tell you divorce sucks and I hope I never have to experience it again. Breaking up with family members or friends is no easier. But I’m also not a fan of staying put when it’s time to cut your losses. It’s not worth staying in relationships that suck the life force out of you, take advantage of you, injure you, keep you from thriving, drain you of your joie de vivre, leave you feeling disempowered or disrespected, or keep you from being who you really are. Life’s too short to stay in a relationship just because some people might think you “should.”
The day I left my husband, he threw himself at my feet and grabbed my ankles. I remember walking down the hallway with my luggage in one hand, trying to shake him loose. It was our anniversary. He begged me to stay just one more day.
But the day before, something had happened that was the last straw. I couldn’t stay one more day.
How do you know when it’s time to cut your losses? When the pain of staying put exceeds the fear of the unknown.
I walked out that door, into an uncertain future.
If your Inner Pilot Light knows what you must do, you can do the same. I won’t lie to you. It ain’t gonna be pretty. It’ll get darker before you see the light. But it’s not worth trading in happiness and freedom for security and pain avoidance. When you fail to make a choice, you’re still making a choice.
Choose to get the most out of this one wild and precious life. It’s yours. Grab it. And don’t forget to dance while your heart heals.
Holding your hand,
Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.com, Pink Medicine Revolutionary, motivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.
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