Keep Your Friends Close and Your Exes Closer

“A breakup is nothing short of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a complete spiritual awakening. One that catapults you to a whole new level of authenticity, compassion, wisdom, depth, and — dare I say it? — even joy.” Katherine Woodward Thomas, author of Conscious Uncoupling: 5 Steps to Living Happily Even After

It was Christmas Eve 2013. My then husband and I just got home from an evening of champagne and merriment with my closest friends. I prepped for bed and went to say goodnight to him as he laid on the couch gripping his phone tightly in his hands. Suddenly, a text saying “I love you, baby” popped up on the screen. My heart sank like a lead anchor dropping into the depths of the ocean. “Who’s that from?” I asked. “A friend,” he replied. I soon learned this friend was a woman. His girlfriend of two years. In an instant, rage, despair and utter shock consumed every cell in my body.

That was the end of our marriage.

In the weeks and months that followed, I had several choices about how to deal with him:

(1) Hope that someway, somehow, he got eaten alive by vultures. This was an attractive option for a bit, but death seemed like an easy way out and wouldn’t help me heal. Check that one off the list.

(2) Try to forget our marriage ever happened, and do my best to move on with my life — a life that had NOTHING to do with him. This was wildly appealing at first but seemed like it would just leave me cold, bitter and resentful inside. No thanks.

(3) Keep him in my inner circle, make him my ally in my personal growth and dive into the depths of why our relationship fell apart and my role in it all. This sounded incredibly tough and would require a cray cray amount of courage and persistence to stay the course and really look at myself.

Without blinking an eye, I chose Door #3.

My friends questioned and criticized my choice, for sure. “Fuck him,” “you’re too nice,” and “he doesn’t deserve ANY part of you” flooded my inbox and my dinner conversations. In their eyes, I was a victim of a dishonest, narcissistic jackass, and he should pay — big time. “Paying” meant no contact with him of any kind and hoping he got hit by a bus, or something like that.

They had it all wrong. Choosing to stay aligned with him had nothing to do with being nice (that’s such a sheepish word) or victimized by his philandering ways. It — in fact — had everything to do with trying to make sense of it all, healing my heart, and propelling myself forward to Melanie, Version 2.0.

Instead of damming him or plotting all the ways to get revenge (as if I could do such a thing), we entered therapy together. It was the best decision I could have made. With our incredible coach by our side, we dove into the grief, disappointment and anger surrounding the end of our marriage as well as all the ways we both contributed to its demise. Bit by bit, we dissected the nuisances of our years together — a la The Good, the Bad, and The Ugly. There were buckets of tears (mostly mine), screaming sessions (which we were both particularly fond of) and bountiful bouts of rage (god, those felt really good). We left nothing unsaid and no emotion unexpressed.

After months and months of incredibly intense work, some serious magic happened. A deep admiration and appreciation shined through. We found ourselves engulfed in a new found respect for one another and immensely grateful for how we walked through our seemingly insurmountable transition together. Sometime later, forgiveness began to roll in, and — before I knew it — we were commencing a new journey as friends. That journey still continues today.

When people hear our transformation tale, they’re usually floored. They don’t understand how I could face him. How I could keep him in my life. How I could forgive him.

Truth be told, we live in a society that so desperately wants to categorize people as either victims or villains. We pity the victims and ostracize the villains. I could have made my ex the villain in the play called Our Married Life, but then that meant I would be cast in the role of the victim. That would have squelched my evolution, for sure. I wanted so much more for myself.

Instead of accepting the typical victim/villain paradigm and pushing him out of my life as the evil doer, I kept him close to me. This was like rocket fuel for my growth! To navigate the murky breakup waters, I made up a few rules for how to interact with him:

(1) Respond. Don’t React. People will hurt you. They will stomp on your heart and violate your trust in some way or another. It’s inevitable. Your power lies in what you do with your hurt. When we are upset, we tend to react. Our emotions consume us, we get defensive and lose control. We say and do things we often later regret. We ALL know that terrible feeling. Ugh. Instead of riding the emotional current and diving into “fuck you” waters, the key here is to pause, breath and feel. Immerse yourself in the myriad of feelings that are flooding your body without taking any action. Through mindful awareness, allow yourself to experience your pain without flinging it onto anyone else. In time, your emotions will subside, and you’ll drop into a deeper place inside that knows what right action to take. Then you can respond from that place.

(2) Take Responsibility. Don’t Blame. We often want to point our finger and make someone else responsible for our experience. It’s so much easier to do this then take a hard look at how we contributed to the situation, isn’t it? Nice try, but that doesn’t fly in my world (and it shouldn’t in yours, either). Regardless of what has happened and how shitty it may be, look in the mirror and ask yourself what role you played in bringing about the demise of your union. Take a good, hard look at all the ways you brought about the situation. It’s not easy to do this, but it’s wildly powerful. When you immerse yourself in what transpired over the course of your relationship and accept responsibility for your contribution, you take yourself out of the role of the victim. When you are free of a victim mindset, the possibilities are endless. A cleaner conscience, a feeling of acceptance and a hefty dose of self-forgiveness are yours for the taking. What’s on the other side? Emotional freedom, baby.

(3) Reflect. Don’t Reject. Everyone in our life is a reflection of ourselves. We attract people into our life to see ourselves more clearly. When you are in the midst of saying goodbye to someone in your life, ask yourself what they have shown you about you. Reflect on all the ways he or she has been a mirror for you and where you are at in your evolution. Doing this ushers in a potent dose of awareness about your unconscious patterns, insecurities and wounds. This is exactly why people often skip this step all together. It takes courage and commitment to really look at ourselves. Many people are terrified at the the thought of really seeing themselves and do their darnedest to forget their ex ever existed. They reject them all together. Yet, your transformation lies in mining the gold from your relationship and implementing the lessons you’ve learned so you can have a different experience next time. If you skip this step, you are guaranteed to have the same relationship dynamic appear in your life in the future. Are you down with that?

When you find yourself in your next breakup situation, consider these rules. Who knows — your ending may just be the beginning of something so much greater than you ever imagined. That was my experience. And I hope it is yours too.