Saying No to the Clean Break

Relationships end. In a modern age when being single is becoming more prevalent than coupling (37 percent in the US, 36 in Europe, 47 percent in China, up to 50 percent in Japan are single adults) While many choose not to date, most of us have been in relationships that failed at some point in our lives. This is less about the numbers though, and more on how we feel about endings.

It is harder than ever to make a clean break: one person moves out, you divide possessions, arrange custody of the cat/dog/children… it’s awful but it’s over, right? Rarely. Facebook, cell phones, Google+, linkedin and so many other services that remind you that you were once connected to that other person. It’s been three years, you’ve both moved on, changed addresses and emails… Instagram offers to share his/her dog-at-the-lake photo with you.

Here’s the thing: instead of resenting the ache of that ending, or feeling angry at being reminded, what would it cost us to allow those moments in? Part of who we are includes our histories and experiences. By dodging places or things that make us feel vulnerable or sad, I believe we could be setting ourselves up: to repeat old patterns or to carry those aches into the next relationship. Your ex will - eventually - cross your radar again, even if you make great efforts to avoid it; it is part of this shrinking world we call home. By allowing this to happen, knowing it will twinge, you are experiencing, processing, growing, building those moments into who you are. It (in most cases) wasn’t ALL bad. There were happy times.

Part of narrative counseling includes the pervasive metaphor of life as a novel: what protagonist doesn’t learn throughout the book? There may be chapters filled with tragedy, with contentment and joy, but the novel reads flat if there isn’t a mix of emotions, or without a main character who matures and grows. In our own stories, shouldn’t we strive for those ebbs and flows, or at least allow them to move us when they surprise us?

Relationships end, we move on. And of course, there are exceptions to this notion. But that small smile that you allow to cross your face when you see that Instagram shot? Followed by a little wistfulness, maybe? That’s you, experiencing, processing, growing and building those moments into who you are.

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