Peter’s couple therapy blog

Steps to ending a relationship

I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable. Joseph Addison

Try some or all of these steps to unravel a relationship together and say goodbye with dignity and kindness. It may open you as a couple to a new beginning. I find most couples who get into trouble and think about ending it, have stopped working as a team in some crucial area of their lives. So the first step is to slow down and team up.

• Go slowly… collaborate … rebuild emotional safety
• Sharing vulnerability is necessary. Validate each other’s experience.
• Write/draw/dance your own relationship history first. A theme song? A metaphor? A herd?
• Remember that a story is a person’s experience of life, it is not the events themselves.
• Share the story of your relationship from beginning to end. Overlooking nothing and including all points of view, like an autopsy. It’s purpose is to learn about the relationship’s health during its life and how the relationship really died. Autopsy literally means ‘knowing for yourself’.
• There are many ways to do this. One of my client couples bought a roll of rice paper from the art shop. Drew a line at the equator and marked the years and months along the length of the scroll. Then each added their story above and below the line, throughout their 15 years starting from when they first met. Both were in other relationships at the time. By the time they moved in together 4 years later their worlds had been turned upside down. The story stretched to 4 metres. The enormity of the emotions traversed and their different perceptions of those times and of each other, gave them more heart ache, heart work and healing. It was shattering, relieving, and repairing.
• Take it in small steps and cry for no reason.
• It’s okay to feel numb, fear, nothing, anything.
• It is a celebration of life and growth, so make room for laughter and tears, music and mime.

• Another life line exercise might help structure the task. The basic method is a scrapbook, which can expand to include dreams, song, dance, music, photos, sculpture and symbols of all kinds. For example, what symbol might represent each stage of the relationship, what song or even children’s story captures a moment?
• Indicate the turning points or perhaps as peaks and troughs in the life line.
• Remember to work together on this task in a way that respects each other’s pace of creating, remembering and processing.
• The seeds of later troubles are almost always present at the beginning. You don’t have to agree on what each of you or others did or didn’t do that corrupted the opening contract of the relationship. The contract I am referring to is the set of assumptions, expectations and promises both spoken and unspoken at the outset.
The ground rules are incompletely known and incompletely addressed at the beginning of every relationship. The blinders go on early!
• You only have to grieve that, not to re-start the prosecution.
• Make sure you have included those times when one or both no longer felt safe being open and vulnerable with each other. The complex web of attachment, self-esteem, and shame frequently lead to couple distress and divorce.
• If you come across relationship events that remain unforgiven read this and do this.
• You will know when you are done, because you will be at peace with the end. No more bargaining nor blaming, wounding nor repairing. Just a sense of completion and gratitude.
• Good friends can do this. Folk who were never friends may become so in doing this.
• People who would rather have pride than connection, prefer to be right than happy, will struggle with this and struggle way beyond the end of the ends. In a sense the latter may remain distraught and unable to complete it in their minds, since there is no last word on the subject. The story is not the event, the map not the territory.
• When you are good-enough done and worked through the emotions the whole story has harboured, you might like to write a manifesto from what you have learned.

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