Ending a relationship is tough. It’s like ripping a huge piece of fabric in two with your bare hands. Thousands of torn relationship threads throw disconnection dust everywhere choking the air. In the worst breakups the whole asphyxiating mess is lit on fire. It isn’t pretty.
Every breakup has its own characteristics and story, but they tend to have one thing in common. That is whether the now non-couple wants to get as far away from each other as possible or whether they want to become friends.
Couples who have become more like friends and less like lovers have already answered the question. They don’t need to breakup in the traditional sense, they simply need to rename the kind of relationship they have. Those who interact almost solely as friends but maintain some degree of sexual activity have a harder choice to make. More friends than lovers, but still lovers to a degree, and counting on a certain amount of closeness and sexual intimacy with each other, it can be hard for this couple to give up sex and physical intimacy only to be friends. So they don’t, at least for a while.
The most challenging version of this attempted metamorphosis from lovers to friends happens when person A breaks up with person B and instead of vanishing to a desert island, wants to be friends. Becoming friends might help person A assuage his guilt for smashing his now ex-lover’s heart, and squirming-in-agony person B might settle for much less contact with person A just to secure some reliable contact, but neither is a healthy reason to suddenly become friends.
Since people have been working with Heal Your Broken Heart, either in the original workshop form or more recently with the book, they have universally shared two awarenesses with me.
One is that they were surprised to learn how nuanced their relationship was, and the other is they were amazed at how complex their broken heart is. If you look at the surface of the ocean it doesn’t seem all that complicated, but go below the surface and you quite literally enter into another world. This is also true of your broken heart and the relationship that got you there.
There is much more to learn about what dismantled your relationship beyond what you can identify on your own—comparable to the ocean’s surface versus its depths. Jumping from a romantic relationship to “just friends” post-breakup belies the complexity you are dealing with.
If you had either a short, rough breakup or a long drawn out one, and now you and your ex want a friendship, you will need some time apart before you attempt to be just friends. When I suggest this to people they often struggle with the idea. Some have asked if they could at least visit the couple’s dog because they love that dog so doggone much. I’m sure they do love the dog and I’m more than sympathetic to temporarily losing a source of unconditional love, but I tell them to hold off on going to the home of their ex for whatever reason even if he or she is at work. This is about a period of total abstinence for a very good reason.
That reason is to help you and your ex create a significant shift between the two of you. Too much has happened to assume everything will be fine if you just change the title of your relationship from lovers to friends. You both need time to catch your breath. Solitude is required and that begins by not seeing or communicating with each other for a while.
This time off allows the desired shift to occur, especially in Person B—the most wounded by the breakup—who is in most need of the shift. Time and space help change our mind’s focus. If we’re continually stimulated by thoughts of our ex and our next contact with him or her, we can’t let go. We’re still in it even though the relationship has ended. We jog around the same small loop and never move forward. Severing contact allows us to stop running in a circle.
Healing takes discipline. This is one of the last things we want to hear when we’re hurting, but it’s a fact worth accepting.
We need to be disciplined about taking care of ourselves physically and emotionally, resisting the temptation to pry information about our ex out of our mutual friends, and continue to work through the exercises in the book. When we stick to these guidelines we think far more clearly and self-lovingly than the immediate post-breakup version of us.
I think people need some serious time off in these transitional situations. Three months can sound like an eternity, but to me it’s the bare minimum. Six months is better because it assures that a shift will occur. A shift might occur with a ninety-day break, but it may only be a partial shift and a partial shift can evaporate when you meet for that reunion cup of coffee.
Pain is real and it is depleting. Healing is serious business and it is best to take it seriously. Your health and balance are at stake. Do everything you need to do to heal your broken heart and resist giving in to that part of you that believes it’s okay to hurt if it means being closer to the person you love but lost.