I was married for over twenty years to my first real boyfriend. That relationship lasted from my late-teens to my mid-forties.
I remember the day I realized my marriage was toxic. I was at a yoga retreat, the most unlikely place in the world for bookworm-me. My gloriously-maned, curvaceous yoga instructor arranged us in a half-moon, and handed each of us a slip of blank paper.
“We are going to close our eyes and meditate for a minute. During that time, I want you to think about what is toxic in your life. Then, we will write it down and dedicate this space to clearing that toxic thing, whatever it is, from our lives. At the end of class, I will gather all the pieces of paper and we will burn them in this bowl.”
I remember dutifully sitting cross-legged on my tightly folded yoga blanket, legs crossed, eyes closed.
What is toxic in my life?
Not an acceptable answer to me, so I tried again.
What is toxic in my life?
No matter how much I tried to deny it, that particular day the truth wouldn’t let me be.
It took several months, and another epiphanous moment, before I could act on that certain knowledge. Then I spent another couple of weeks googling things like, “How to ask for a divorce.”
All these years later, this is the advice I wish someone had given me.
Walk, Run or Crawl
When you’re in a toxic relationship, walk out of it if you can. Run if you must. And if nothing else is available to you, then crawl away, my darling. Crawl away.
I wasn’t in physical danger in my marriage, and could afford to take as much time as I needed to plot out how to leave. I sought advice from friends who’d been in similar situations. I paid off his credit cards. I made discreet inquiries about a rental house, in case I needed to pack up our two kids and four dogs and leave our home.
If you are in physical danger, then run, my dear. Pack your suitcase and flee. Go to a friend, a family member, or a women’s shelter. You do whatever you have to do to make sure your partner cannot hurt you again.
If you are so worn down by emotional abuse or neglect that you can barely imagine your life any other way, then crawl away if you must.
You know if it’s bad. You know when it’s time to leave.
Sit still, close your eyes and open your heart. Your answer will come to you in the silence. That still silent voice will beckon you toward your true and right life.
Be Honorable About Leaving
Some people have a difficult time leaving one relationship unless they know there is another one waiting for them. Consciously or subconsciously, when the relationship they are in is bad, they start looking for another one.
Don’t be that person. Don’t be the cheater-deleter who sneaks around thinking they’ll never get caught. You will get caught.
If you aren’t happy where you are, look your partner in the face and say what needs to be said.
I don’t want to hurt you, but I don’t want to be married to you anymore.
Those words are the hardest I’ve ever spoken. Twenty-four years together, two beautiful children, and a life that was mostly perfect—at least on the surface.
But I didn’t love him anymore.
And he didn’t love me, at least not the way I needed to be loved.
It can be so very tempting when you aren’t happy at home to look for that happiness somewhere else. But at the end of the day, if you walk away honorably you will be able to look yourself in the mirror, look your children in the face, and know that you did the right thing, the right way.
Stand In Your Power
For two years before I asked for a divorce, I saw a holistic health practitioner who repeatedly told me that if I would learn to stand in my power, I would quit having stomach pains.
I didn’t understand what she meant. She told me that the third chakra, called the Manipura, is located between the belly button and the breastbone. She explained that the Manipura is the center of your personal power.
Take your palm and lay it flat on your belly, below your ribs and above your belly button. Close your eyes for a minute and feel it—feel the power coming from your third chakra into your palm. Feel the energy flowing from your palm back to your third chakra.
Send strength and love and peace to your third chakra.
Feel your personal power sharpen and strengthen.
Stand in that personal power. Your personal power.
When you tell your partner you want to leave, it may not go well.
You may experience belittling. Humiliation. Cajoling.
He may produce promises. Tears. Threats.
It may feel like a tsunami of emotions crashing over you, especially if you have been in the relationship for a long time.
Stand firm in your personal power. For your sake. And theirs. Clean breaks heal best, whether it’s bones or hearts that are broken.
Lean On Your Friends
Surround yourself with friends. They will help you fill lonely days and nights as you adjust to your new life outside of your longterm relationship.
Find friends who will let you talk until even you’re sick of your story. Friends who will let you cry until your tears run dry.
Find friends who will make you laugh.
Find at least one friend who will look you in the eye and say, “Everything is going to be okay. I know you don’t believe that right now, but can you at least believe that I believe it?”
Find at least one friend who will remind you that a year from now, you won’t feel this way. Six months from now, you won’t feel this way. Maybe even a week from now, you won’t feel the way you feel right now in this moment of despair.
If you and your partner are part of a large social group, you may need to branch out and find new friends. Your breakup may impact your entire social group in ways you cannot predict.
Sometimes, sides will be taken. Rumors will fly like arrows.
Sometimes, every one of your friends will do the best they can to be as neutral as Switzerland, but sitting in that same backyard, with those same smiling faces, drinking the same glass of wine is just too painful without that partner you loved for so many years.
When that happens, find new friends. New hobbies. New places to spend your free time.
Friends will make the difference between just getting by and thriving.
Take Time To Heal
Once you’ve made the break from your partner, hit pause for a while. Don’t rush into a new relationship. Don’t jump on a bunch of dating sites.
Spend time alone, listening to your heart. What is it telling you?
Take time to learn to love your own company. Make reservations at your favorite restaurant, or find a new favorite eatery. Sit in the semi-dark and people-watch while you sip your wine and nosh on delicious food.
Go to your favorite park or nature preserve and take a long walk.
See a movie by yourself.
Or do like I did, and go on a solo trek to Paris and Rome.
Keep doing things by yourself until you truly know what peace and contentment feel like. Then, when you start dating, don’t settle for any relationship that makes you feel less peace or contentment than you felt when you were alone.
Healing takes time. I read once that you should take one month for every year you were in a relationship. That would have been two years for me, and looking back on the decisions I made those first two years after I asked for a divorce, I think they are onto something.
The thing I regret most about that time is not waiting longer before I started dating. I remember thinking that I wasn’t getting any younger, or thinner, or prettier, so I better get out there and find someone new.
And the truth is, I was partially right. I didn’t get any younger. Or any thinner.
But I did get more powerful. More comfortable in my space. More able to identify what peace and joy feel like. Looking back, the time I spent alone was incredibly healing and powerful. And I should have taken more of that time to just be alone. I should have spent as much effort creating a relationship with myself as I spent trying to find a relationship with somebody new.
Wrapping It Up
Relationships are tough. Staying in them is challenging. Leaving them, especially when you’ve been with someone for a long time, can be just as challenging.
When it’s time to leave a long-term relationship, get out any way you can: walk away, run away or crawl. Be honorable in your actions leading up to the break-up. Learn to stand in your power. Lean on your friends, both new and old. And take as much time as you need to heal before stepping into your next relationship.
If you’ve been through a break up after a long-term relationship, what is the one piece of advice you that helped you the most?