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.
The Third Element: Forgive and Ask to Be Forgiven
In relationships we cause each other pain. When we teach our relationship course, we share the following rather unpopular statement: ‘Love brings up anything but Love’. Intimate relationships, like nothing else activate our old wounds, traumas and our childhood dramas. So we end up hurting each other. It is actually the hurt that accumulates over time which then leads one to throw in the towel at some point and decide to leave. In the Art of Feeling section, I suggested a way to actually experience the hurt that you are carrying inside. When you have experienced the hurt consciously and willingly, which might take dozens of times of turning towards the hurt, it will open the door to forgiveness. Forgiveness in my experience happens in two tracks: Track one is where you give yourself space and time to go within and experience in the body, as sensations, all the hurt and pain that you felt in the relationship. This step is commonly understood and practiced. Yet very often the second track is forgotten. Here, you are invited to look at yourself and how you have contributed to the separation, how you have hurt your partner, directly and indirectly. Not in all, yet in most relationships, there is a two way stream of hurting. We got hurt and we also hurt our Ex. Dare to experience both sides. Experiencing both sides opens the doors of the heart to forgive and also to ask to be forgiven. If you don’t forgive, it is actually your own heart that is impacted the most, as it can’t fully open anymore.
The Fourth Element: Completion Ritual
Breakups can be understood as a death. They represent the winter of the relationship cycle. For rebirth in the season of spring to be possible, a completion, a death is needed. We humans are still part of nature and so these laws also apply to us. In order to have a new spring of love, the old ‘love’ needs to be consciously completed. Over millennia humans have used rituals to demark such transitions. Marriage of course is our most popular and cherished ritual, yet rarely does a couple complete the relationship with a ‘De-Marriage’ or ‘Un-Marriage’ ritual. This can be done either with the Ex or with a representative of the Ex or just by yourself. Here some steps for a completion ceremony:
Release of all the spoken or unspoken commitments to each other i.e. that you will be together until death, that you will take care of each other, that you will grow old together and so on.
Acknowledge each other for the good that the relationship brought forth.
Let go of each other as life partners and set each other free from the relationship.
The preparation of the Completion Ceremony takes some serious reflection and then the speaking out loud of the steps above give this ritual power, because it will help to shift the internal unconscious view of the relationship. Just like the importance of the public announcement as ‘husband and wife’, in the completion ceremony the announcement that the relationship has ended or is annulled or has come to an end, is of grave importance.
The Fifth Element: Birthing a New Life
With a conscious completion behind, you can now co-create your new life. That is the greatest gift of an amicable separation process. Particular in our youth, our relationships are primarily driven by hormones and the physical appearance of each other. Having used the breakup or the divorce as an opportunity to start a journey of self-reflection and personal transformation toward your own human potential, the doors are now wide open to create your life more consciously. This applies to the practical matters of life: where to live, how to live, to what to do professionally... all the way to examination of one’s life purpose. The crisis of the breakup has now turned into a doorway to a life of choice, rather than circumstance. In the realm of personal relationship, the invitation, and in a way the wise thing to do, is to put conscious effort into creating clarity of what you want in a life partner. 60-70% percent of second marriages end in divorce again. That’s why it is important to broaden your relationship investigation beyond the physical ness of a partner. We can learn from arranged marriage societies. Within that system, the family looks at the common values of the potential partners. The more common values, the higher the chance for the couple to make it. And, statistically, there is something to it. Be wise and get clear what kind of partner you want, ranging from issues of money and hobbies to cleanliness, religious or spiritual closeness. Opposites attract, yet also put into the equation that compatibilities reduce the ‘battles’ in a relationship and give longevity. Include both.
In closing, let me leave you with one last piece of advice for an amicable divorce. This life is a school and all that happens to us and with us and even within us, happens for us to learn about what we call the two wings of our body of psychological and spiritual work: Love & Awareness. We are here to learn to love and we are here to become more conscious. In our times there no deeper, faster and also more challenging way than to do so with relationships. All the blessings on your journey.