How to Ease the Pain of Ending a Relationship

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Doctor Neha: Welcome to TalkRx with Doctor Neha. I have Jess here in Bali, and she wanted to ask some communication questions. She’s brave enough to do it so that all of you can learn while she’s in the hot seat. So welcome, Jess.

Jess: Thank you.

Doctor Neha: So tell me what are you thinking about? What else could we be thinking about with our watermelon and papaya drinks?

Jess: What I’ve been thinking about is when you’re in relationships and you really feel like a relationship is coming to an end.

Doctor Neha: Like a romantic relationship?

Jess: A romantic relationship. You’re feeling that it is time for the relationship to end, but you still love the person. You’ve been hurt in your own life so you don’t want to hurt them, but it’s really time to get out of the relationship and move on.

How do you basically communicate how you’re feeling? How do you be honest without completely crushing them and still have integrity about what you need?

Doctor Neha: Such a good question! What I’m hearing is you have completed what you came to learn in this relationship. And because you’ve had the pain of being hurt yourself, you find yourself hesitating to speak your truth because you’re trying not to hurt this other person.

Jess: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: So if there’s one person on this planet who has not stayed in a relationship like long after it’s expired, I would be very impressed (and I would love them to come on the video blog!). Yours is a common experience, and that hesitation is what we need to talk about. This reminds me of what I say about patients in the hospital. Sometimes their families will tell me, “Don’t tell them how sick they are.” I say to them, “Oh, they know.” They’ve lived in that body for 83 years, so they know when it’s riddled with cancer or the end is near. They can feel it.

Jess: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: So the first thing is to trust that the other person is strong and capable and resourceful. Your hesitation might not be about the other person; it might be a little more about how you’re going to handle yourself in the face of their emotion.

Jess: I think that’s exactly the fear that I have: what’s actually going to happen? How am I going to handle it, and how am I going to handle the way they handle it?

Doctor Neha: Then how am I going to handle the way I handle it, and how they react to the way that I handled the way they handled it, right? It can go on and on! So what that worry does is give people an excuse not to speak what’s true for them.

Jess: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: I hear people say, “Oh, so-and-so can’t handle it.” That’s not the truth. The truth is that they’re actually saying, “I don’t know how I’m going to manage my own emotions in the face of their reaction.” The best part is you don’t even know how they’re going to react, because you haven’t tried it yet. You might have that honest conversation with them and they may say, “You know what? It’s true. I’ve been trying [to make this relationship work] for a while too, and it just doesn’t feel right. I just wasn’t going to say it. I was going to give it a few more months.” They may say, “Oh, how could you ever leave me?” Any of that could happen.

The most important thing when you’re having a conversation like that is that you need to listen to the words and you have to go deeper than that. Listen for emotion. For example, “I hear how devastated, surprised, shocked, upset you are” or “I hear that you resonate with what I’m saying. It sounds like we are both on the same page.” Drop below the words to the emotions and speak to that, because that shows you’re really paying attention to someone. Then you can drop even further in your listening for values. The conversation might go like this:

You say, “You know, what I really hear you value about this was our ability to travel together and meet each other spontaneously all over the world. And now that I’m more settled and grounded, it doesn’t feel like the right fit. Is that what you value?”

They may respond, “No, well, I love the traveling, but really, now something’s changed in my life.”

Do you see how when you’re open and curious and listening for emotion and for what someone values, you’ll have enough confidence that no matter how they show up, you’ll be able to navigate it?

Jess: It’s just about being transparent that way.

Doctor Neha: Yes, and getting out of yourself and into them. So when you say, “This isn’t working for me,” your job now is to breathe and manage yourself enough that you can be present for the other person’s reaction and experience. Another example would be “What I’m hearing from you is sadness and shock. It sounds like you really valued X, Y, and Z. How can I support you right now?” When you manage yourself and trust yourself, and believe that they are strong capable and resourceful, then when you go into the conversation, you can be there for them. And sometimes it’s not your job to be there for them. That’s for their friends and other support people in their life.

To get through the actual conversation, you want to be able to manage yourself through breathing and calming yourself down and then opening yourself up to being compassionate to their reaction—without it meaning that you are somehow a horrible person.

Jess: Absolutely.

Doctor Neha: Tell me, any takeaways from what we just talked about?

Jess: Well, I feel like it’s really that you just have to trust that the other person can handle it. How I think they’re going to react and how they could react are two completely different worlds.

Doctor Neha: Because you don’t know yet.

Jess: Absolutely—and that you need to trust yourself and your instincts about where you are. Trust that they will be able to handle it—that’s just a very powerful thing, not assuming how the other person’s going to react, but rather just being honest and recognizing that they’re vulnerable. And that you’ll be able to meet them somewhere that it works for both of you. And, yes, heartbreak is a real thing and we’ve all been there. Sometimes it’s through that that we really learn about ourselves.

Doctor Neha: For any of you feeling like your relationship may not be where you want it to be or you’ve outgrown the relationship, how can you take the next step to be brave and trust yourself instead of blaming the other person, and saying they can’t handle it? Ask yourself, “What am I concerned about? Am I concerned that maybe I won’t be able to handle their emotional reaction and might that be the true reason that you’re holding back?”

Thank you for being with us with TalkRx. If you have any questions, please post them on the blog below. I would be happy to answer them or drop me a Tweet at #AskDoctorNeha.

Honoring the sacred journey of relationship,

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