I can’t explain it, but for the past week, my thoughts have centered on love and relationships. Must be a Valentine’s Day hangover.
Maybe it is because a few days after the holiday for hearts, someone e-mailed and asked me, “How do you know when a relationship is over?” Like I was some expert on the subject! I did not reply. But she asked again, and I finally said I would think about it.
It was a girl in her early 30s who asked. My heart went out to her. I wondered why I had no quick and easy answer. People who know me think of me as a straight shooter, a bit trigger-happy at times, but always ready and never at a loss for words.
Even at the risk of putting foot in mouth, I always reply. Sometimes I forget to engage the mind before my mouth speaks. But this time I backed off. I hesitated. Was I afraid to open old wounds?
It was not easy. I struggled for the right things to say. In my mind’s eye I saw a doctor, looking dejected, staring at a flat line, putting resuscitation paddles away, looking at the clock and in somber tones, announcing: “time of death…” You know the drill. You see it all the time on television.
This does not happen when a relationship dies. It is a lot more complex. Sometimes we stare failure in the face and refuse to recognize it. No, a flat line will not appear on a screen. It wouldn’t help either, not while we cling stubbornly to the remains of what used to be.
We allow pride and dignity to fly out the window as we bargain for time. We rationalize. We explain. We promise. All too often, we end up settling for crumbs.
Many years have passed since my last “experience” went pffft. Until recently I could not bring myself to stir up its cold bones. But time did its magic on my heart.
Today I dare take a chance, rubbing salt on old scars. What have I got to lose? If there’s a sting, it will be well worth it. Perhaps the rocks that I once tripped on can become stepping stones for someone else taking that same road.
Does one ever forget what brought something so idyllic to its sad demise? I don’t think so. Most of us choose to remember only the good moments. Nothing is more beautiful than love when it first blossoms. The air seems rarefied, and we want to bottle it and save it up for all time.
But it is never all sunshine and rainbows. Life gives us fair as well as foul. Some relationships ride the storms and make it to safe harbor. Others flounder and hit rock bottom.
How do we know that it’s over? My show-biz background instinctively wants to say something cheesy like “when the music ends.” But the reality is that a relationship does not depend on the virtuosos in the string section. There are no violins. There is no dramatic roar of timpani. Some of us pretend that we know how to keep the music playing. Truth be told, we don’t even notice when the musicians have all gone home.
How does a relationship break up? Maybe one partner leaves. Some say goodbye. Others don’t. And we are left to put on a brave face and make a future alone. Sometimes the estranged couple stays on. They both know it’s over, but still they fight. It gets ugly. Who is to blame? Who changed, who cheated and why?
Psychologists tell us this should be the time to pick up our marbles, quit the game and go home, and still keep whatever is left of our self-respect. Yet some of us choose to stay and wallow until there is no longer scent or shadow of the person that once we were.
It is during the violent storms that our character is tested. Where do we find the power to rise above the howling winds? I strongly suggest prayer. It is a crucial challenge. Do we give up, get up and go? Or do we stay and dare defy the odds? Each one must decide according to their best lights.
The survival of a relationship is paramount. But it requires love that is all giving, unending patience, and unwavering commitment. Even when things are going well, there are questions we must ask. Where is this relationship headed? Are we moving forward? Do we bring out the best (or the worst) in one another? Are we active players in the world around us, or just a “you and I” team, safely insulated within the confines of our selfish little world?
Writing on how to make relationships and even marriages survive, Morton C. Ormans, MD, counsels: “Value one another. Value the differences between you. Never focus on the negatives. Be honest. Forgive each other after the fact and forgive each other even in advance.” He adds: “Never assume that your marriage is secure.” (It isn’t!)
Let me share what another wise man says are the six keys to keeping a relationship.
Friendship. Freedom. Honesty. Trust. Understanding and Communication.
Of the six, trust is the most fragile. Once broken, it is near impossible to restore. A relationship without trust is doomed from the start. Someone compares it to a car without gas. You can stay in it as long as you want, but it won’t go anywhere.
How do you know when a relationship is over? I believe there is a sense of knowing. Often, denial steps in. It is finished but you choose to remember only the good things about it and not why it ended. You are afraid to face the excruciating pain that comes when it gasps its last breath.
It is said, and I believe this is true, that grieving is necessary; that it helps you recover the bits and pieces of yourself that you lost. It allows you to, at last, move on with your life. So weep those tears. Grieve if you must.
“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.”—Kenji Miyazawa