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A shift is happening in our culture, quietly behind the scenes. It is manifesting in the rise of mediation services that help couples with their legal separation issues and in the increase of couples who ‘uncouple’ more and more amicably. To help this movement grow, I offer some guidance based on my own experience.

After my former wife left me for another man, we were stuck in a digital ‘war of the roses’ situation. The more it became clear that she wouldn’t be coming back, the more the ‘dark side’ within me took over and started to attack her, fortunately, never physically, yet verbally and by backstabbing her in our circle of friends. It was the deepest emotional ‘mess’ of my life with feelings of anger and rage, deep rejection, shame, and on the deepest emotional level, feeling abandoned. My conscious ‘self’ went often out of the window when the hurt and wounded selves took over. After ten exhausting months, we fortunately came to the same conclusion: There must be another way to go through this. We had loved each other dearly, so there must be a way to divorce and find another kind of love.

For so many of us, separation or divorce is one of the most painful human experiences. Even mutual separations, which account for about 20% of all separations, still bring a grieving process in motion and part of that is the experience of strong emotions. Although I was myself a transformational coach, I had to learn to deal with those painful feelings. My insights are the essence of the first element of an amicable separation.

The First Element: Feel Your Pain and Your Wounds

Separating or divorcing a partner is painful. If you develop a bond and you separate from another, there will be pain. If you really love someone you will feel a loss. There will be a grieving process to be gone through. In general, the person who is left will have more intense emotions to confront than the person who initiates the separation. The reason for this is, that it is much harder for the human psyche to be at effect than to be in the initiative. And specifically, for the one who gets left, two core human feelings will likely be activated: feeling abandoned and feeling rejected.

Now, there is nowhere in our upbringing that anyone teaches us along the way how to deal constructively with emotional pain. The common model all around us is first of all to try to avoid feeling deeply and secondly to get through it as fast as possible. No one has taught us the ‘Art of Feeling’.

Following is a summary of what is meant by the Art of Feeling.

  • What are emotions or feelings?

There is actually no sadness. Sadness is a label given to sensations in your body. Your mind notices a certain array of sensations, in this case of sadness, contractions in the chest, caved in sensations, sometimes a heaviness and a sinking sensation and so on. When these or similar sensations occur, the mind labels this as ‘sadness’. Now when your mind brings up the label of sadness it will go into ‘process mode’. It will try to understand it, analyze, rehearse what happened, what should have happened, what might happen. By this kind of thinking, the mind will try to process the emotions and at the same time will try to avoid having to feel the emotions. The human mind functions as a defense system from pain and unpleasantness.

  • Experience emotions as the sensations that they are

The Art that I invite you to experiment with is to actually do the opposite of what your instinctual defense system wants you to do. Turn towards the emotion. This is simply done by sensing into the body and looking for the sensations that are actually underneath the label of sadness. So you look within and will then discover heaviness in the chest, if it is sadness or a constriction in the throat when you experience what we commonly call ‘grief’. A helpful way to be with the sensations is to learn to breathe into the area where the sensations are located. It takes some retraining to turn towards that which is first experienced as unpleasant and painful. And, it is actually easier to learn than you think.

  • Why experience emotions?

Emotional charges in the body need to be experienced and not avoided. Otherwise situations reoccur until the rejected emotions are faced within. Freud called this psychic mechanism ‘repetitive compulsion’ and an old proverb says: ‘What we resist, persists!

The Second Element: Let Go of the Fixation of ‘Other’

Human beings are ‘other’ fixated and in the grieving process the loss of a ‘Beloved’ is often experienced with such intensity because that person, the ‘other’ fills what we could call a hole in us. In a way we are all like Swiss cheese, walking around with ‘metaphorical holes’ in our psyche. And our partners fill our holes. Now when the ‘filler’ goes, what is experienced is a sense of missing, a loss. To whatever degree the partner seemed to have been a fit for our ‘relationship hole’, to that degree you will feel pain. Our holes came into existence in our childhood. We learned that we need an ’other’ to feel somehow complete. Remember the line in Jerry Maguire: “You complete me”. She was the promise of the perfect hole filler. We all are wired to look for someone who promises to make us whole and complete. Dating is actually the search for the other that will fill our hole. I know this sounds unromantic, yet it is the hope that someone will complete us that sets us up for failure in a relationship. No ‘other’ can make us happy and complete all the time. It is not possible. Going through a separation can either put you on a path to push the rock up the Sisyphus mountain or it can wake you up to the ‘other’ fixation. When you realize this, you now have a choice to start a journey towards self love and beginning to fill your hole yourself. By doing this, you will start to birth yourself as a more mature partner.