Sometimes couples reach a point that the members’ differing wants are just too great to bridge, no matter how much they care about each other. And of course, it’s only human to feel anger and frustration during these times—it’s normal to have such feelings when try as we might, things don’t work out as we’d wished.
How will I survive financially? Will I have to be alone forever? How could the other person have done this to me? How will I ever get over my loss? It’s only natural to ask these questions and have these feelings. In fact, the ending of a romantic relationship is much like the grieving process we experience when someone dies—a process that mirrors the phases of development we’ve seen. Part of us denies it’s over or tries to avoid the painful reality by bargaining to resurrect the relationship (avoidance), while at other times, we want to act out our anger or blame ourselves or the other person for getting to this point (dissatisfaction). Many couples stay stuck in this avoidance/dissatisfaction pattern indefinitely. With help, however, we can learn from our mistakes, find compassion for and accept all the parts of ourselves, discover our own strength and resiliency, and entertain hope for the future.
Awareness of the phases of development is as useful in relating to the lover we’re leaving as it was when we were together. A great myth of our “Argument Culture”2 is that a breakup has to be a fight where couples spend a fortune on lawyers to give wing to their frustrations. Often clients will not compromise because an issue is “a matter of principle.” To encourage such clients to avoid scorch-the-earth litigation, a former law partner of mine would say, “Sure, we’ll be glad to fight for your principles down to your last dollar, but is that how you really want to spend your money?” Less expensive and more humane alternatives are available. It is my job as a couples coach to help you take advantage of these options.
This is not to deny that in some cases, it’s important for members of couples to take the relationship’s end as an opportunity to regain their personal autonomy and power. With help, this can be done in a way that creates the ability to leave the relationship with strength and grace.