Once upon a time...is not how real life happens. Relationships are not as easy as fairy tales or as the media makes them out to be. Friendships, family, and lovers all hold space in our hearts and day to day lives. But when a relationship doesn’t end up the way we hope for, how we use that time can either help us grow and find relationships we desire or can leave us in despair. We have all had the heartache that comes with the end of a relationship -- learning how to take accountability for your part in the outcome can be empowering and helpful in moving on.
I recently had a really rough break up. I think what made it so hard was that it was the first relationship since I had become non-monogamous that I thought could actually work out. When the relationship ended I was devastated. I reached out to a friend and asked if he could talk on the phone. When I told him what happened the first thing he said to me was “What role did you play in this relationship not working out? I heard a lot of red flags that you ignored. How can you learn from this?” I was taken aback that, based on the circumstances, he wasn't telling me what an asshole that person was and how they didn’t deserve me. It made me stop and really think about the things I did ignore in the relationship. After talking it out and reflecting, I realized that he was completely right. Instead of feeling sorry for myself I decided to write out all the things that I ignored. Once I did that it was like a light bulb that I could hold myself accountable for my actions. It took me from feeling sorry for myself to knowing that I could find someone that matched what I was looking for. Below are some of the things that I learned to watch for in relationships.
At the beginning of a relationship its very easy to overlook things about people that don’t really fit. There are numerous articles, blog posts, podcasts, and videos about watching for red flags. A red flag doesn’t have to be something that shows that the person is a bad person. It can be something that doesn’t fit in with your life. Even something small like your partner constantly wanting or needing more time than you can give can be a red flag. Why? Because this could eventually lead to your relationship ending. Being upfront about your boundaries and what you can give is very important, especially if you are dating multiple people. When you are really into someone, it's easy to agree to things that may not actually be okay with you. Using the time example, if you can only commit to one day a week your partner might agree with this because they want to be with you. But if they then realize that they want or need more time it is going to cause conflict. This doesn’t mean you can’t work it out. Just that there will probably be difficulties in navigating it to where you are both happy and staying true to yourselves.
It's important in relationships to not only watch for red flags but also to be aware when those red flags may not just be in the words but also in the actions of the other person. Just because a red flag pops up doesn’t mean you can’t make the relationship work, but being aware of them can help you to decide what actions to take in the relationship and keep you accountable in what you are agreeing to with the person.
Matching Your Actions with Your Words
The saying “Actions speak louder than words” is something we all have said when someone hurts us when they do something we don’t like. But what are our actions saying? How are we communicating with the other person by what we do? Are we showing care through what we do and not only what we say? Are we upholding our boundaries by following through or letting them get slowly pushed out by allowing things to keep the relationship going?
When a relationship ends it can be helpful to go back and try to determine if its possible our actions were saying something our words weren’t. If we were leading them to believe something that wasn’t actually true. An example of this is when someone says, "I don’t want anything serious." Then they spend every night with the person, meet their family, and continue to be intimate. Even though they may tell their partner every day that they don’t want a serious relationship, creating that much intimacy is most likely sending mixed signals. Recognizing if you were not following through with what you said can be a great place to start to evaluate what you really want and what you can do to ensure in your next relationship that you are not sending the wrong message through actions.
Staying in a Relationship Too Long
Once you are in an ebb and flow of a relationship sometimes the things that would have been a deal breaker in the beginning are something we can just overlook later on. Once a relationship becomes more exhausting than fulfilling it may be time to re-examine the reasons we are in that relationship. Loving someone or having care for someone doesn’t mean that a relationship should continue. Usually when we have let things carry on too long, by the time it actually ends we don’t know whether we are coming or going. It doesn’t always mean a relationship is bad - but if there are multiple factors for not being with that person or things that don’t work it could be time to end it. The pain and hurt of a relationship ending can be valuable for us to grow and learn what would work better for us in the future. Holding on to something or someone can keep not only ourselves from moving on but our partners as well. Although sometimes staying in a relationship to give it a real chance to work can be a good thing, sometimes it's just delaying the inevitable. It is always more difficult to end something once feelings are involved.
Letting Things Happen at their Own Pace
Sometimes when you meet a person, you have a picture of how that relationship will be. You envision the escalation, have an idea about how you want the relationship to go, and make plans. Unfortunately, we can not control every situation. Sometimes things will go from 0 to 60 in a month. Other times it is more of a slow burn. But if things happen or don’t happen at a certain pace, learning how to be okay with the current status of the relationship is an important tool. If we are consumed with what our relationship is missing, we are not enjoying what our relationship is. We do not have control over all aspects of a relationship - especially when multiple partners are involved - so being happy with our situation as it stands currently is important. When we try to morph a relationship into an idea we have, we are not allowing things to develop as they need to. Not all relationships will end up how we hope. But letting things unfold naturally, whether that means the relationship lasts or doesn’t when you let go of the expectation of what should happen, the reality might be better than we ever could have imagined.
If you find yourself constantly wanting something out of relationship, and it isn’t happening, try letting go. Allow yourself to just be happy for what the relationship is not what it could be. This can let us enjoy we have in the moment instead of allowing things we can’t control to control us. Not letting emotions control our actions will allow you to make more logical choices that are based out of healthy communication and growth - rather than fear and doing what we are “supposed” to do.
Growth after Break Up
When you do have a break up, taking the time to really evaluate the relationship can help you to not only move on, but learn how to be more successful in future relationships. Questions to ask yourself are: What did I contribute to the break up? Were there things I could have done better? Were there red flags I ignored? Were there situations that happened that I could have handled differently/better? There are other questions that could be helpful depending on the relationship dynamic and issues in the relationship. Some of those could be: Did I have healthy and realistic expectations? Was I communicating things with all of my partners? Did I accept things that did or did not happen how I expected them to? Really reflecting on the situation and what caused the relationship to end can help you to form questions that you can take time to evaluate. Write them down, and write out answers. Revisit the answers later and see if they still ring true. Take the time to reflect and allow the emotions to happen without reacting to the emotions. Remember that a relationship ending doesn’t have to be a negative thing. Sometimes a relationship ending can be positive if all parties learn from the experience. So many times, words have connotations of positive or negative based on what we are told. But learning how to let go of emotions attached to words can assist in dealing with the emotions without a presumed negative or positive outcome. If you feel sad, be sad, but don’t react to being sad. Don’t blame others or yourself for being sad. Just let the emotion sit and pass.
Once we learn how to not react and really use the emotions and time to reflect, we can hopefully break patterns that we have in relationships. We all know people that seem to have the same issues over and over again in their relationships. Most of the time it's because they are not taking accountability but rather blaming their partner in all the issues that happened.
One of the most valuable assets we have are our friends and family. They can usually see things in our relationships that we are blind to due to the rose colored glasses of love. But just wanting people to make you “feel” better when something doesn’t work out is not the type of people that are most helpful in your life. Having someone like my friend that asked me about my accountability in the break up is important. Someone who will tell you when there are red flags or when you are not be realistic in your expectations. Surrounding yourself with people that will just tell you what you want to hear is not going to help you in the long term. It might feel nice for someone to tell you it was all their fault, you did nothing wrong, and that you deserve better. Those things might all be true but the difference is still saying although you deserve someone better, you still need to look at the fact that you weren’t very compatible to begin with.
Tell your loved ones you want them to be honest and advise you on the things you did wrong in the relationship. That you need help determining what things you were blinded by. This could allow them to feel safe discussing these things with you, instead of just wanting to make you feel better in the now. If you find someone that will talk through things and not judge you or make you feel negatively, then use them as a sounding board. Let yourself really admit to the things that you failed at. Take comfort in knowing that they love and care for you enough to help you work through and grow from the relationship instead of continue to make the same mistakes.
You are the only one that can decide to grow from a break up. You do not have to give in to your emotions and you can choose to be accountable - even when you have a broken heart. Remember that only person that can do the work of self discovery and growth is yourself.
Peyton loves discussions on sex and relationships, partakes in yoga classes, and bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie. She will challenge anyone at Tetris and would be a food critic if dreams came true.