3 Lessons Learned From My Last Horrific Break-Up
I wish I could say that as a life and love coach, my romantic existence is 100% squeaky-clean and problem-free, but that would be an absurd lie.
Because committed, intimate, relationships are never perfect, and dating gets messy sometimes. No one is exempt! Que sera sera, what else is new?
And one of my greatest gripes with the coaching and well-being community is that experts/professionals are very quick to say, "Oh yeah I used to have that problem..." or, "Sure I used to struggle with that..." but no one wants to own up to the fact that HELLO - we're all human, all eternal works in progress, and sometimes (even when you do this shit for a living) you won't see the hits until they're coming.
That was the case with my last serious relationship. The break-up blindsided me, and it took me about a year to feel more-or-less okay and at peace with what went down.
I felt used, misled, and incredibly foolish. For a long time I couldn't really trust others, and even worse - I couldn't trust myself. I was confused and angry, for a damn while.
I've never made a video or written a post about this relationship, despite the fact that it ended well over two years ago. This is largely because I'm not sure how to write about it without painting an awful portrait of my ex, or having to rehash the bizarre details of what led to our dissolution.
But sometimes, dang - things just don't go the way you want or expect them to. Sometimes people are not who they present themselves to be. Sometimes you learn big lessons the hardest of hard ways, and (if you're lucky) you then decide to let those lessons make you stronger, smarter, and more satisfied in the long run.
That's the path I've chosen, and I'm more resilient and empowered as a result. So fuck it.
Here are the three biggest blessons (that's "blessing" + "lesson") I accrued coming out of my last relationship.
1. You don't really know someone until you break up with them.
Ugh. This one sucked, and sounds sorta jaded-sad. But honestly, how someone treats you when they're hurting says a shit ton about who they really are.
The most painful aspect of our break-up was that I watched the man I respected and adored disintegrate before my eyes. He went from being my trusted partner in life (and in business), a beloved human I thought I knew better than anyone, to being a cold stranger I didn't understand at all.
After we chose to take some time and space away to sort through a particularly FUBAR'd situation (the details of which aren't super significant), he went on a quiet smear campaign, painting me as the villain behind all of our issues. Which frankly could not have been further from the truth.
This blew my fucking mind, until I learned that this is what some versions of "narcissist lite" will often do.
My ex could not fathom that he had messed up, that I had seen some very uncomfortable truths about him (I'm really trying to not turn this post into my own smear campaign), and he needed to protect his self-image at all costs. The easiest way to do that was to make me the enemy.
Instead of respecting the relationship we had built together, attempting to see my side of things, or admitting his own wrongdoings, he pointed the finger at me, made everything my fault, and decided I was crazy/selfish/completely in the wrong. Oy vey.
How someone responds to healthy boundary-setting, rejection, or having their feelings hurt, will tell you a lot about them.
Some individuals (especially those who fall anywhere on the narcissistic spectrum) are incapable of admitting their own faults and flaws. They can't own that they're imperfect. That they are capable of making mistakes, disappointing others, or hurting the people they love.
And to compound these issues, they have no clue what to do with their own hurt, shame, or pain, so they have to find creative ways to spew it back onto you.
Unfortunately you won't always realize you're dealing with that kind of person until it's a little too late. WHICH IS SUCH A BUMMER.
This after-the-fact awakening about my ex humbled me greatly, and taught me a lot about letting go.
It taught me to take responsibility only for what I can control, and to not waste too much time trying to understand the screwy actions/reactions of another person.
It also taught me to slow the eff down and really ensure you know who and what you're working with before making big-time commitments.
Which brings me to blesson #2...
2. Be careful about putting people on pedestals.
Where I really fucked up was that I placed this dude on a pedestal from day UNO.
I was a fucking goner for him almost immediately. He was so smart, so sexy, so intelligent and passionate and thoughtful, I couldn't get enough of him. Right away I "stepped in shit", as my latest video asserts, and convinced myself he was beyond amazing and perfect and soulmate-y before I even really got to know him.
As a result of this pedestal-of-perfection-placement, I always saw him as being "above" me.
Part of this was unavoidable - he was already a coach and business owner, and I was just getting started in building my business. His know-how and expertise in our shared field intimidated but thrilled me, and we quickly fell into a " one up/one down" dynamic.
One-up/one-down relationships are pretty common, but that doesn't mean they're a good thing.
In a one up/one down partnership, there's a a power dynamic in play. One partner feels superior, while the other partner feels inferior. One partner gives, while the other partner takes. One partner maintains the upper-hand and is generally more in control, while the other partner is sorta broken-feeling and needy a lot of the time.
In the words of Caron Loveless: “Those of us in the one-down position often suffer from internal shame (‘I’m not enough.’) Those of us in the one-up position suffer from grandiosity (‘I’m better than you.’)”
You can also float back and forth between these two positions. What a hot mess, right?
"Mr. Perfect" and I met at a time where I was still doing a shit-ton of personal work on my own self-worth and self-esteem. I was also just getting started with coaching, which felt pretty scary and vulnerable. So whether I wanted to or not, I was teetering on the edges of insecurity and unworthiness a decent amount.
Meanwhile, this guy had confidence and charisma for days. He came off as having all his shit together, and liked asserting that he had all the answers. A real "golden boy" sorta situation.
As a result I often valued my ex's opinion above my own, defaulted to him most of the time, and unconsciously ignored a few very obvious red flags. I had convinced myself that he was super-duper perfect, that he was deserving of everyone's excessive admiration, and that I was lucky that he even wanted to be with me. HOW CUCKOO NUTSO IS THAT, Y'ALL.
But one of the stickiest issues with a one-up/one-down dynamic is that once these roles are established (him one-up, me one-down), the relationship will only work as long as everyone continues to fulfill their position and play along.
In order for our relationship to function (or should I say - to dysfunction) I had to continue to believe I wasn't good enough, and he had to continue hanging out on the pedestal of perfection.
Alas, over the course of our relationship, the tides began to turn...
My self-esteem and confidence was increasing exponentially (yay!), and my business was growing at a rapid rate (wuhoo!).
Meanwhile, my ex's business was floundering (eek), and his confidence was following suit (uh oh).
There was a disturbance in the force - our one-up/one-down dynamic was being disrupted and overthrown.
Whilst he continued to clamor for one-up status, I was so done hanging out in one-down. Of course were both unconscious of this power struggle, but the fact remained that our shit was broken and we didn't know how to fix it.
So we decided to take some space and yeah, things got super ugly super fast.
I'm happy to say that I am now especially careful of placing anyone on a pedestal, or perceiving them as even remotely "perfect" (myself included). Both of which are very good things!
In the context of relationships we all have things to learn from one another, and we learn best when we're not feeling less-than, more-than, or when we're subjected to power play moves. I really have no desire to be one-up, one-down, or one-anything, and instead have learned to stand on a solid foundation of inherent self-worth. It's the bee's knees; I highly recommend it.
3. Trust Yourself. Trust Yourself. Trust Yourself.
Basically: If something feels off? It probably is off.
My relationship transformed into a dumpster fire very quickly after we relocated to Austin, TX together. The night before flying out, I remember having dinner with my parents and blurting out, "I feel like this is a mistake...I just have a really bad feeling...like something is going to go really wrong."
My parents were very sweet and assured me I was just nervous, and that everything was all good. After all, my boyfriend was perfect! We were a happy, in-love couple! Things were fine!
I shrugged it off and fell asleep, but even when heading to the airport the next day I couldn't stop physically shaking with nerves.
I felt sick going through airport security. I was beside myself with anxiety at the gate, and felt such little anticipation to land in Austin and join my guy.
It didn't make any sense on the surface but on a deep, intuitive level - I knew something was really wrong. I knew a storm was coming.
Encountering those nerves (and even going against them) was one of the greatest wake-up calls that came out of the entire heartbreak.
It taught me that my gut knows things. The body doesn't lie.
If something feels wrong, off, or just not good, it's probably not by accident.
It doesn't necessarily mean your relationship is doomed, but it means you might want to slow down and consider what your inner guidance is attempting to tell you.
By transgressing my own inner guidance, I learned first-hand that I can, in fact, trust myself. I knew something was up, but I wasn't ready to step up and face it. I was mistakenly trusting my partner more than I trusted myself, and didn't want to acknowledge that there were (in retrospect) obvious issues.
Navigating that break up made me BFF's with myself.
It taught me to trust gut, know my worth, and slow down long enough to see people clearly.
I'm curious: Have you had to learn any of these blessons?
Have you ever ended a relationship, only to realize you never really knew the person to begin with?
Have you participated in a one-up/one-down partnership before (consciously or unconsciously)?
Have you ever gone against your gut, only to realize she was so right to begin with?
If you're comfortable, I'd love for you to share in the comments. Everything is better when we can realize we're not alone in our blesson-learning. :)
And trust -- as long as I'm around? You'll never be alone.
Cause I'll never be done learning, leveling-up, and becoming increasingly more me.