What did I learn?
- On/off relationships are indicative of problems that remain unresolved.
- In relationships you must take a stand for what you want/need. Failing to do so will result in a terminal outcome - you have nothing to lose.
- Journal. Being able to see where you've come from helps you identify and resolve issues and have gratitude for the good things.
- Love/relationships require conscious effort from two people.
- Tough love is necessary. No growth/change occurs when coasting.
- Love requires self awareness and true introspection.
- Love is a risk. To love is brave.
Over the past year I failed to journal - I regret this. I have journals from the year prior that provide interesting contextual reading but nothing to compare that history too.
Relationships end. The majority of people experience heartbreak in their lives, yet at 32 I find my most recent heartbreak to be raw/visceral to an extent I did not believe possible.
I am an over-thinker. I like to understand everything in an effort to maintain a modicum of control over my life and direction. This has served me well as regards business/work success, but less so in the context of relationships.
Whilst I accept that it is not particularly healthy to look back at the past and consider the 'what ifs', the way my mind works made that an inevitability.
My ex and I both tried incredibly hard over a number of temporary breaks (over the course of our 3 year relationship) to communicate well, adapt, and improve. In the end I found myself unable to give her my all and commit. I realised that the following quote applied:
"If you can't decide, the answer is No."
Its very mumbo jumbo bullshit sounding, but it genuinely isn't lip service - I loved my ex, and I want the best for her. I had to leave.
The reason I could not commit was that something was missing. The unknown unknown. 3 years in I felt myself unable to emotionally open up - I was unable to discuss how I felt. I tried my level best to communicate my issues but failed.
Last year I documented my experiences with anti-depressants having spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to understand my general dissatisfaction with life. The content of that post still holds.
We did reconnect, gave the relationship another go, and it (sadly) failed once again.
"An ex is an ex for a reason."?
I was adamant (I journaled this) that getting back together was on the precondition that we were both 150% sure, both knew what the issues were, and were going to proactively resolve them. In reality these things did not hold true.
Looking back my view was that if we didn't try to make things work I would always regret the loss of the relationship as being "the one that got away". I felt as though taking more time to both grow as people would result in us missing an (the) opportunity. I can only speak based on my perception - we rushed.
Reflecting on the relationship my brother pointed out the awkward elephant in the room that pre-empted the end of the relationship.
When we were apart last year my brother gave me a bottle of champagne with a sticky note on it. The note read:
"Be as happy as I used to be (or happier)".
This bottle was the last of a series of bottles (with post it note goals stuck to them) that he had created to motivate him when going through his own relational struggles. When he came out the other end he passed the last bottle onto me.
This bottle sat on my chest of drawers over the past year. At no point did I drink it. At no point did my ex or I pay attention to the fact that not drinking it was indicative of unresolved issues.
Blame does not need to be apportioned. A relationship takes two people actively engaging to acknowledge and resolve issues as/when they arise. We did not.
My ex was endlessly supportive and showed me a love I have never experienced before. She showed me what it means to love.
Post breakup I began seeing a new therapist to try and help me process my feelings. I had previously seen multiple therapists but had stopped seeing them due to not feeling like I was making much progress.
I felt somewhat similar in the first few sessions with the new therapist but then there was a breakthrough.
My ex provided practical support. For example..
- She would research depression and point me in the direction of resources to help me work through my issues.
- She would listen to my annoyances and where appropriate adapt to accommodate.
The problem (on reflection) was that the former was an example of a practical thing that I was proactively doing myself, whilst the latter was a symptom of an underlying issue - my unmet emotional needs.
Every therapist I have seen has eventually drilled down to my having been sent to boarding school at 11. I did not enjoy it at all, and I accept that it has certainly had a serious effect on who I am now.
That said, I've never been convinced by the arguments that have followed from this revelation. Until now..
- During my time at boarding school I felt abandoned.
- My repeated efforts to get my parents attention and to get them to take me out of boarding school failed.
- I learned that my emotions were unimportant.
- I became a perfectionist - I held the belief that if I was perfect they'd take me home.
- The fact they didn't reinforces the view that my emotions are not important.
Everyone comes with baggage. This is my baggage.
A relationship with me requires a connection that allows me to be emotionally vulnerable, and genuinely believe that my partner values my emotions. This is why I am so easily offended, and why feeling heard is so important to me (see You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters).
Whilst comforting, falling back on my childhood as a justification for a relationship breaking down seems foolish. Last year I came to the conclusion that the issues were due to my avoidant attachment style. I read every book on relationships under the sun and I watched all sorts of YouTube videos. The knowledge I gained didn't help me resolve the underlying issues in the relationship.
With hindsight I perceive this to have been a result of a lack of buy in from both members of the partnership. Fixing stuff like this requires radical honesty and a united front. We didn't have that.
We tried over the course of the last year to resolve what I thought to be the issues in the relationship. We did not succeed.
"Sometimes, it's best to leave it alone. Because there's only so much wondering and questioning you can do. Move forward, let it go, and trust in what's to come."
The final piece of the puzzle for me was the extent to which depression played a part in the demise of the relationship.
Last year I decided to start taking antidepressants in the naive hope that it would resolve the issues in the relationship. After 6 months I stopped taking them because (even alongside regular therapy) I was noticing little progress and was having to put up with a general mind fog.
In the early stages of this breakup I find myself understandably depressed. I still have little clarity as to whether this situational depression is simply that or if it is in fact layered on top of a general underlying depression.
What I do know is that whilst my mental health has historically been better, the suggestion that my relationship issues were solely attributable to poor mental health is somewhat ridiculous. Mental health should not be a scapegoat for real introspection.
My new therapist made the observation that I blame myself a lot. Taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong is fundamentally unhealthy and is likely simply an artifact of overthinking.
A lot of my takeaways are age old oft-repeated viewpoints on relationships. Sadly it seems obvious that the same applies to moving forward.
Over the past few weeks (and based on our previous experiences) it has become patently obvious that no-contact is the way forward. As with most long term relationships our lives are fairly intertwined, and whilst I am reluctant to I have realised that the best thing for me is a fresh start somewhere new.
My ex always said (when things weren't looking good) that it felt like I was running away. Having reflected it has become clear to me that that is not the case. Given the lack of bad blood between the two of us I realised that it would be too uncomfortable for me to be constantly surrounded by reminders and memories.
It is madness to me that (almost universally) when a relationship does not work you lose your best friend. This break up absolutely breaks my heart. My final learning is that love is a risk and that love is brave.
I've learned so much from this relationship and I will always have fond memories of the time I spent with my ex.
"Make peace with your past or it will steal your present"
For some reason this link was open on my computer when I finished writing this.