8 Things I Learned in my Last Relationship that Change My Life
An old bracelet signifying a moment of love
Ending a relationship is among the most difficult things we ever have to experience in life, regardless of the how, who or why it ends. We bring everything to the table with the person we love - both our good stuff and the struggles, too. We plan ahead, we daydream about the future and what it will look like with this person. We sometimes even wonder what our children will look like or how life will be when we are retired, even though that is a lifetime away.
Ultimately, we bring a lot of meaning and significance to things working out. When you are in love, nothing else matters so long as you can just be together - forever.
But, in the end, when things don't work anymore, and they just can't seem to keep working - we are plunged into an internal conflict that devours our spirit and emotions. We are literally torn in two - our left brain screaming with reasons, justifications and "logic" about why this is good for the self and our right brain, which is incapable of language, feeling something that it knows is genuine and unique.
The war of the heart and the head is a timeless conflict that we will never escape in anything, especially relationships.
Ending any significant relationship is never easy and regardless of your ability to handle "life stuff" you will always have to take a drink from the cocktail of emotions that comes with it.
But you know what? That's OK. Take a drink from that cocktail, and just be with it. Be with the anger, the sadness, the frustration. Be with it and then let it go - that's one thing I was reminded by one of my super awesome students - Aimee. If you're reading...thanks Aimee :).
For me, I recently experienced the ending of what had been the most significant relationship in my life so far.
Relatively speaking, we hadn't been together very long - almost two years - but I can say first that I am very grateful for those two years because I lived full out, experienced things I had never experienced before with other people and grew more with this person than I had grown in the last 10 years of relationships.
As time has gone by over the years, I look back at my previous relationships and sometimes think, "Man, if only I had known x, y, and z - how things would have been different." I could have taken more accountability, been a bigger person, so on. A small bit of regret is present, partly because I wish I could have done things differently and, mostly, because I think "Why did it have to be them?" In the sense that, why couldn't we have learned our lessons elsewhere instead of with each other?
Life lessons and life partners seem to seldom intersect when you are looking after-the-fact.
But in the end these situations can be a blessing in disguise. Although they strip everything away from you and when the emotions settle you are left with nothing...Nothing can truly be an opportunity.
My last relationship was the first time ever in my life that I was absolutely sure this person was the one I would end up with for the rest of my life, so sure in fact that I had asked her to marry me. Truth be told, I was so sure - that I spent all of my savings to buy a ring when we weren't even together. Having been on and off a few times, I decided to do something courageous and act out of what I believed rather than what the circumstances of the time told me.
Whether that was love, courage, foolishness or a combination of the three I don't know. All I know is I am grateful for the programs I was taking at the time to better myself that gave me the inspiration to act unreasonably and live full out.
With all that said, there was a lot of that meaning and significance to "things working out" that I brought to the table - more so than anyone ever in my previous relationships. With it not working out, there was a lot of meaning and significance that had to be questioned, examined and eventually (and very difficultly) let go.
It wasn't easy and it's not one of those situations you just get over. I personally believe that when you truly love someone, there is always love for them somewhere in your heart. Whether that love is workable or not is a different story, but in the end my love for this person will never change.
And on that note I'm in a place to acknowledge how much I truly learned from this beautiful person over the time that we were blessed to be in each others' lives.
It's very easy when things don't work out to let your mind spin out of control into monologues about your failure and theirs, the "why's", anger and all of that kind of stuff. But truly the first and most important thing I learned from this relationship is to be grateful.
#1: Be Grateful
By far the most important thing I have taken from all of the pain of this experience is just to be grateful - for anything and everything. I realized that ultimately everything that I was unhappy with in life came from a space of something "not being enough" - and it could easily spread from one tiny dissatisfaction about something to becoming a habit and wreaking havoc on my entire life.
As a result, I started this blog and started a handwritten journal both to help me develop the habit of being more grateful in my life. It's been about a month now and I can tell you I definitely feel very different, happy and most importantly - at peace.
Every day I've had an opportunity to spin into anger and negativity about this situation but building the practice of "looking for what to be grateful for" in my life has helped me maintain my emotions and let go of the things that weren't serving my higher self.
Gratitude is by far as important as the air we breathe.
Over the last month that I've been paying extra attention to being grateful it's allowed me to see the world and the people in my life through a totally different lens. Any time I start spinning on a downward track, I try to re-frame the situation from what I could be thankful for and it's done miracles. And sometimes it doesn't just happen easily, so I allow myself to be frustrated, angry, sad or whatever else - allow it to be expressed then let it go.
I plan on making a video on this sometime in the future, but gratitude I think is the founding pillar of any relationship. Without gratitude, it is impossible to be generous and serve others. Ultimately you will always find something wrong, something not working, something that's "not enough" about anyone. Our left brain is literally designed to satisfy that purpose - but through gratitude you can bypass that over-analytical, self-preserving lizard brain and see the situation from a totally different perspective.
Exercising gratitude literally uses a different part of your brain.
You become present to what is, to the miracle of just being alive and able to observe the moment you are in. You see the absolute joy that it is to be alive - and how the very notion that your DNA came together to form you and their DNA came together to form them, and how these two unique instances of consciousness are in the same place at the same time ... this is a miracle.
Be grateful for every moment, and make a habit out of it like you would brushing your teeth. There will always be challenges to what you aren't getting in life from your partner, but if you make a habit of seeing them from the above paragraph I guarantee you it will always bring you back to reality.
#2: The World Loves You
As a kid I had really interesting birthday parties, and by interesting I mean disappointing.
My two best friends would bring me a barbie doll and a bag of pennies totaling $20 for my birthday presents respectively. In high school I had few friends because I was the type that liked to keep to myself, but if I made a friend out of you we would be that way for life.
In college I lost touch with most of my friends from elementary school and high school and therefore didn't bother to celebrate my birthday too much. Other times it fell on days that I was either having relationship troubles or just alone altogether.
What does my birthday have to do with the world loving you?
The night before my birthday, and consequently the day that my relationship ended, this person did something for me that I had never experienced before... she organized a surprise birthday party and invited all of my friends. There were people there that I barely had gotten to know, and people that I had known since first grade.
"I just want you to know that the world is full of people that love you," I remember her telling me.
It was one of the sweetest things anyone had done for me, and more importantly it changed my view of putting myself out there and making new friends, participating in life and not keeping to myself. I realized that no matter how long you had known someone or what activities you shared with them - they could be a friend for life if you put yourself into that relationship.
Ironically, this party and the interchange that we had about it, was one of the big contributors to my peace and serenity through this situation.
In the past I would just retreat and become anti-social, get in my head and think about everything and basically just shut myself off. Being at my surprise birthday party made me realize that there are so many people in the world that I can have great relationships with and helped me heal the thoughts that I wasn't enough and that there wasn't anything out there or the world was short on social networks, friends and people to connect with.
Last week I hosted a housewarming party and invited most of these people into my home - something I would have never done a year ago. I even invited my parents and shared with them my life and friends which is something I would generally avoid in the past as well.
All because of one party.
So, I am grateful for that lesson and the same I wish for you. Any time something doesn't work we naturally zone in on it and let that define our life. We let failure with one person make us feel the world is empty and that the point to living has vanished because the outcome with that person is gone.
But in reality that's just your over-active left brain telling you there's not enough of something. As usual.
Just look around you. Look around at all the people who are still there, still smiling back at you. The new ones, the old ones. Step one is to notice this, step two is to actively participate in life with these people. Do housewarming parties, go to a beer or two, get interested in their lives and build those roots. A plant that is not connected to anything else is easy fodder for weeds.
The world is a place that has no purpose because you failed and can't get what you want. Or, it is a place full of people that love you and brimming with a web of emotional and spiritual support.
The choice of reality is ours at every moment.
#3: Love Others How They Want to be Loved
We've all heard of the famous "5 Love Languages" book and it's impact on relationships. I personally read the book years ago, but I think I actually got it this time around. And by "got it" I don't mean that I am a master at loving anyone, but that I actually got to experience, although briefly, what it meant to love someone in the way they want to be loved.
Love is a complex thing, but you can also look at it simply and see it as something that you give away.
To often we get caught up in what we are not getting and, as usual (notice a pattern?) our left brain comes up with reasons, justifications and logic as to why we are right and this situation is not enough, there could be better, etc.
Any time that's happening you have to return back to gratitude. And maybe not gratitude for that person because Lord knows we can get under each other's skin all the time, but perhaps for something else in your life that can then spread the love to the areas that really matter.
Once you are back in gratitude, it is much easier to look at the person next to you and ask yourself, "How can I serve them today?"
I heard once from someone who I respect that relationships are "a horrible, horrible idea."
What he meant was that relationships are the worst place in the world to go looking for what you are going to "get" - because in truth anything you think you want to get - sex, affection, attention, companionship, friendship - none of that requires a relationship.
"As far as I can see it, the only reason to be in a relationship is if one truly wants to contribute to another human being."
If we can frame our relationships more from the space of gratitude and service, how would that change the day to day bullshit that fills reality up? How would that dissolve the walls that we see as unbreakable?
I truly believe that no problem is unworkable if two people are willing to be grateful and of service to one another - and this goes for more than just romantic relationships.
Everyone has a love language, and although that book may make love seem like a game of satisfying each others' personal triggers - I take from it that ultimately love has three main components:
The first, and by far most important, is gratitude. Service to others in the way they want to be loved is important but it is not the foundation of love and nor should it be. A relationship that is based on whether or not the person is giving you your love language means you are just looking at what you are getting all the time rather than seeing the beauty of what is in front of you.
If you are grateful for something, generally you are also generous. Generosity in this case means being generous with your way of showing love. I am a touchy feely person, I like to write and talk and I like to get or make people things. Yours could be spending time with that person and making their day, or doing something for them in exactly the way they like to have it done.
Whatever it is - are you generous with it to your partner?
And finally the last component of a successful relationship is service - the giving of love to that person in the way they want to be loved.
We all have rough days, we all get disempowered and angry and frustrated. We all get ungrateful, selfish and childish. In those moments of weakness, sometimes the best thing is the comfort of someone doing something for us in just the way we want it to help us snap out of it - and that's why paying attention to your partner's "love triggers" is so important for the longevity of a relationship because let's face it we are all human and being masters of gratitude is something that we can practice all of our lives and still come up short.
Gratitude, generosity and service to one another. This is what I am so grateful for learning from my last relationship - and I wish we had gotten a chance to practice more of it on one another but life lessons, as they say.
#4: Be More Curious
Curiosity is one of the distinct features of the human race. Although it exists in other animals, in humans it seems to be over-abundant and in truth one of the driving factors behind our proliferation in the world as the dominant species.
In my experience working with people I've learned that there are generally two types of thinking - "Black & White" and "Color Thinking". You can also think of these as left and right brain type thinking.
The first sees things in extremes like right and wrong, tends to commit strongly to things, excel quickly and be obsessive in nature. It's usually based on something not being enough, the desire to change, fix or move. To create impact, to create outcomes. Decisions have reasons and circumstances behind them and come with expectations. I, personally, found myself in this category.
The second type of thinking is based on curiosity and exploration. There is no outcome, it is purely experiential and choices are purely "just because." It is that childlike wonder that gobbled up the world before we knew what failure was and developed the "Black and White" thinking in response.
They say everything in nature attracts its opposite, and in my last relationship we were definitely opposites in our thinking styles. I was so extreme in some of the things I thought, and her love of exploration and trying new things over time showed me the value of doing things "just because."
It helped me see that you need to make a habit out of stopping and smelling the roses, going on vacation, going to little Taco Festivals or checking out a makeshift fair with rides spontaneously on a Saturday night even though you are super tired.
If we go back to our left brain/right brain theme - it's generally your analytical mind that creates all the stress and fatigue that makes us get in our head and check out of life, become cynical and in survival mode. When you allow yourself to be curious and try something "just because" - you are literally using a different brain and can train yourself to respond to situations with that different brain, rather than to keep spinning on why you are tired and why your reasons for not doing something are justified and logical.
#5: Remember the Little Moments
I am pretty terrible when it comes to taking pictures. I never really did it and usually my phone is the crappiest in the room so there was no need.
But what one thing I learned from my last relationship that changed my way of seeing the world around me is that taking pictures and even doing things like scrap booking create physical memory that can be enjoyed over and over again in later times when the skies aren't as bright as the day when they were taken.
So, I've tried to take more pictures, share them with people around me and create those memories. I've got a ways to go before I do scrap booking on my own, but hey - you never know.
If you are the type like me that doesn't take pictures - take more of them. If you are the type like most of the fairer sex and have gigabytes upon gigabytes of proof of your moments in life on your phone - then do something different that requires more energy. Make albums for every year, for instance. When you put your energy in something it leaves an imprint in space-time that is more than just the physical product.
#6: Water Up, Fire Down
For about the last 10 years of my life I had been really into nutrition. When I say "really into" - I mean things that most people haven't even heard of. If you have ever read about Ray Kurzweil - kind of on that level of obsession with longevity.
For years I took about 100 pills a day of supplements, tested my hair for mineral levels, looked at blood under the microscope, tested the length of my telomeres and again, a lot of other things that most people have probably not even heard of.
What I am so grateful for is that, because of the influence of my last relationship, I was able to transform my obsession with health and getting all the "details" perfect into focusing more on simple principles and, ultimately, gaining peace of mind in an area that was, and still is, very important to me.
My old partner introduced me to an organization called Brain & Body Yoga, which is an international organization that has a variety of programs for wellness, meditation and personal growth. Their founder, Dr. Ilchi Lee, has written a variety of books and thanks to her I was inspired to read most of his literature, become familiar with this big part of her life and even experience a retreat in Sedona together.
What all of these experiences gave me was ultimately trust in my own body and allowed me to let go of control in the area of health. Ultimately what I had been doing had made me into a machine, for sure, but life cannot be controlled and trying to do so will only cause more stress in the long run.
I learned about the principles of keeping circulation in the body, of why relaxation was important from a digestive perspective and ultimately the idea of "Water Up, Fire Down" that Asian cultures have lived by for so long.
Probably all diseases unless they are genetic are caused by stress. When the body experiences stress it shuts the digestive system off and the belly and extremities get "cold", while the head gets "hot" since all the blood is changing priority.
In this state we can't heal, we can't process anything. And this is how we get sick.
This principle is simple - keep your belly warm and your head cool. This can mean figuratively or practically. I avoid cold water and always try to drink hot beverages now to keep my digestive system going strong. I practice an innovative technique I learned from her which is called Belly Button Healing - a simple, repetitive pressure on the belly button to stimulate bloodflow to the core and reset the balance of circulation.
And you know what? It works. My energy is much more consistent, I've dropped my supplements down a huge amount and in general I notice a positive effect on my mood since gut health can also be a big factor in emotional health (most of serotonin is produced in your gut).
The best book to give you an idea of these principles is The Solar Body by Ilchi Lee. Great read - changed my life.
#7: Stretch Daily
Believe it or not, even though I teach dance for a living and compete professionally - I hardly ever stretched. I know, terrible.
In my last relationship, we talked many times about the importance of stretching. Not only the physical ones, but also the emotional benefits too. Flexibility of the body helps with flexibility of the heart and soul too.
Nothing in nature is rigid, so should the body follow says the Tao.
I slowly developed a habit of stretching over the last few months and I can tell you that it has changed my life. It is so important, and it has made such a difference in my life, work and just overall sense of comfort and ease in my body.
When you are flexible, you experience freedom firsthand in your body because that's where you are. Freedom spreads to the rest of your life as a result. Like anything else, what you feel in one area can and will always diffuse to the rest of your life - so be mindful and practice good
#8: Now is Opposite of Next
A while ago my ex-partner had sent me a video of a Korean TED talk with a woman talking about how life has these "pendulums" swinging around.
Career, let's say, was a pendulum that fluctuated from being "very productive" to "very stressful" or unproductive. Then you had your relationship where one moment you felt love and the other there was anger and frustration. Then you had your friendships or family where one moment there was connection and the other moment absence.
So on and so forth, and she began depicting the movement of these pendulums and how we run like rats after them chasing them. If life is too unproductive we run after that swinging pendulum to make it productive and then when it's too productive we run after it to make it less productive so we can have more free time.
All the while we are exhausting ourselves and running after things all day, instead of remembering that pendulums swing from a rope which is tied at a source. And we are that source.
What if we could just change our point of view and hold the ends of the strings for those things, be in the middle and just observe? Observe the fluctuations rather than chasing them or trying to change them, and trust in one thing: That Now is Opposite of Next.
What is now is guaranteed to change, and furthermore guaranteed to be opposite when it changes. This is the ultimate simple yet most profound truth of our existence. The good times will always change into times of learning and suffering, and those times will always yield new good times more beautiful than the next.
Change is the the only certainty in life says the I-Ching, and certainly you can find a lot of strength from that idea.
So, I close this article on being grateful to her for showing me that video because it really clicked for me. Even though it was in Korean and subtitled, I really got what that woman was saying for some reason - and it has really helped in a time when a change came to my life that made me feel rather hopeless.
Now is opposite of next and that you can count on.
Although I summed up a few big things that really changed my life that I learned from this person, there are many, many more to be grateful for and the list can go on. And the important thing is that it can go on because I choose that it can go on. And this is it: So with anything in life.
Every morning you are going to wake up and the reality that's there that you and the world are not enough is going to join you immediately. Every day there will be something to piss you off, to make you get into survival mode even though you have plenty and to cut off ties with the people around you because of fleeting emotions. This is an inescapable dimension of our reality.
But you can choose something differently, and it starts small - like I did with this blog and my little gratitude journal. I don't write in them every night, but little by little it's helped me to always reframe everything from a space of gratitude.
In all matters - gratitude is they key. There is always something to be grateful for - regarldless of how terrible you may think the situation is or was. And when you find that gratitude, a whole new, amazing world of possibility opens up and the miracle of life emerges.
It's right there waiting for you every moment, all it takes is letting a little bit of yourself go and truly taking a look.