Last summer, my marriage ended. I didn’t want it to, but the gap between our lifestyles kept widening, and splitting up soon became the obvious course of action. I was heartbroken, but from the start I recognized that there was great value in my grieving process.
I’m sharing what I went through in the hope that the process that helped me recover relatively quickly may offer some comfort to others who are hurting. It took me four months to heal, which is far better than four years . . . or forever. You can recover from a broken heart. You can heal. You can be whole again.
A great poet once said that we need to lean into the fire of our pain . . . and burn. I wholeheartedly concur. In quiet, solitary moments, find the strength to allow your suffering to wash over you, to move through you. Then brace yourself, and walk into it.
If you’re going through hell, keep going.
It takes courage to explore your suffering, to peel away layer after layer of beliefs, behaviors, and assumptions and rigorously hold yourself accountable to life.
In my experience there is no way around grief—there’s only through to the other side.
Beth Nielsen Chapman
It also takes persistence. For four months, on a daily basis, I drilled as deeply into my grief as I could. I challenged myself to discover how much of my grief was genuine and how much of it was just me feeling sorry for myself. Wallowing in my emotional pain, even just a little bit, was a huge barrier to healing. I asked myself questions like:
• What is the source of my grief and why am I so invested in whatever that is?
• What exactly have I lost and how much do I need whatever that is in my life?
• What exactly am I missing—her presence or what she or the marriage represented?
• What exactly am I afraid of? Being alone? People’s reactions? Not being able to find another soul mate?
• What are the expectations I had that are making me feel this way?
• Were my expectations of her realistic?
• Where did those expectations come from?
• How and why did my expectations differ from hers?
• How did I fail to meet her expectations?
• In what ways have I impacted the relationship by being selfish or self-absorbed?
• What did she need from me that I was unable or unwilling to give her, and vice versa?
• What did she need in her life that was unacceptable to me, and vice versa?
It made a big difference that we both had been completely upfront, honest and authentic with each other from day one. There were no untruths spoken, no betrayal of trust. We were just two people who crossed paths at precisely the moment when our needs and desires perfectly overlapped. For fifteen months, we were in perfect sync. But all along, we both had kept subtly moving, in opposite directions, toward the life we each desired to lead. It was only a matter of time before we both started to step beyond the boundaries of the common ground we shared.
You may be wondering how I could marry someone and not know her lifestyle preferences. The truth is, I did. But because we were clicking on all levels, I naively assumed that no major changes would take place and that I could handle any challenges that did come along. So that’s on me.
After the relationship ended, I saw clearly that I had seen only what I wanted to see, and that I had ignored red flags that, in hindsight, were painfully obvious. We simply had different ways of looking at relationships and at life in general. It was only a matter of time before we both began expressing ourselves in ways that added distance between us.
To her credit, she was always willing to answer all my questions even as the relationship deteriorated and my grief deepened. I will always be grateful to her for that. Those discussions provided much-needed insight and clarity that greatly accelerated my healing. Most people trying to recover from a broken heart do not have the luxury of open, honest communication with their former partner. I fully realize how fortunate I was.
Toward the end, when we both knew it was only a matter of time before we would part ways, I told her that if I had known from day one that it would end up like this, I would still have signed up for it in a heartbeat. “So would I,” she said. That meant a great deal to me.
Looking back, it’s obvious to me that everything unfolded exactly as it should have. I see the perfection in why we came together . . . and why we came apart.
And what if I did run my ship aground; oh, still it was splendid to sail it!
One of my most important realizations is that I needed to experience the fulfillment of what I wished for in a relationship so that I could be liberated from wanting it so badly. That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever want to be in another relationship. It simply means that I will now be in control of my desire for a wonderful relationship rather than having that desire control me. In other words, if I do ever enter into another relationship, it will be because I want to, not because I need to.
Before our relationship began unraveling, I thought I was walking my talk with regards to living a spiritually mature life. During my grief, I realized how much more work I had to do in order to embody the principles I planned to write and speak about. If I had not gone through the breakup of my marriage, I would not have been able to become the person I need to be in order to do the work I feel called to do. I would have lacked the authenticity and credibility to confidently speak to others about spiritual and personal growth.
Some of the specific lessons I needed to learn were:
• Look at every moment as a gift. If I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I do, then I must demand of myself to look for the blessings in every situation.
• Be unconditionally accepting and loving, even when another person’s words or actions hurt me deeply.
• Remain peaceful and joyful in even the most challenging and stressful of times. In Paramahansa Yogananda’s words, I needed to learn how to “stand unshaken midst the crash of breaking worlds.”
• Be ruthlessly honest about my own flaws and work hard to correct them.
• Be more concerned with wanting what I have, not having what I want. I now repeatedly affirm: Whatever God brings to me, I want.
• Expect nothing from people other than to be authentically who they are.
• Detach from outcomes. I can’t have my heart set on having my time with someone turn out a certain way. Trying to control what is outside of my control will always end badly.
What is vitally important to remember is that just because a relationship ends does not mean it was a failure. Indeed, each relationship allows us to express and experience our deepest desires for emotional and physical intimacy. Each relationship, no matter how long it lasts, expands our self-awareness and clarifies what we do and do not desire in a partner.
When a relationship ends, you are presented with a tremendous opportunity for growth. Step out of your emotions as best you can and challenge yourself to interpret what happened with symbolic sight. Not only will you gain clarity about why things unfolded as they did, but also about what you want the rest of your life to look like.
Granted, activating your symbolic sight may be difficult to do in the midst of an emotional maelstrom. Still, the instant you unplug from reacting out of pure emotion and begin objectively observing a situation, your fears and anxieties loosen their death grip and you start to reclaim your mental clarity.
Finally, do not allow the fear of heartbreak to stop you from pledging your love to another. If another opportunity presents itself, trust in God and dive headlong into the ocean of romantic love. The waters may be choppy from time to time, but an exhilarating world of unimaginable beauty awaits.
When love beckons to you, follow him, though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you, yield to him, though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you, believe in him . . . though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
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ABOUT PHIL BOLSTA
Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, is a road map for living a more peaceful, beautiful life. It’s the one book that explains how dozens of spiritual principles interact, how to weave them together into a cohesive worldview, and how to practically apply this spiritual wisdom to daily life.
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SEE EVERY MOMENT AS A GIFT
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• What is the cornerstone of a spiritual life, and why?
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Those who worship logic instead of God are only half right. Not only is it logical to believe in God and to live a faith-based life, the existence of a loving, benevolent God that governs all creation is perhaps the only systematic worldview that explains every aspect of life.
Phil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent authors and thought leaders he interviewed. The roster of storytellers includes Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Neale Donald Walsch, Caroline Myss, Larry Dossey, Rachel Naomi Remen, Bernie Siegel, Dean Ornish, and Christiane Northrup. Sixty Seconds has been translated into four languages: Italian, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories.
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