Why Every Couple Should Break-Up

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I recently experienced the most beautiful breakup.

It happened inside a tiny bathroom in a rental cabin my girlfriend (now ex) and I were staying in near Tahoe, California. Well into a severe drought, this normally thriving winter playground had little snow. Which could be a metaphor for our relationship, because it had stopped being a fun playground, too.

After just three months, we had left the all-things-dreamy phase and were entering work phase.

Expectations had started creeping into the relationship like kudzu vine. We were slowly suffocating from lack of loving sunlight.

Here’s why: expectations had started creeping into the relationship like kudzu vine. We were slowly suffocating from lack of loving sunlight.

What happened in that bathroom is simple: We let each other off the hook.

We told the truth about what we were each experiencing in the relationship without making each other wrong or responsible in any way.

Then we intentionally gave back to each other the freedom to be whoever we authentically wanted to be.

During that hour long conversation we both came clean about how we were struggling and let go any expectations that the other try to ease our struggle. We reclaimed our freedom to effortlessly be.

We also decided to end our intimate relationship.

We had both been experiencing incompatibilities in the way we relate to each other that we decided we didn’t want to continue moving pushing into. Though we surely could have overcome those challenges had we been committed to doing the work, we both decided that right now neither of us wanted to do that kind of work.

So we set each other free.

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Obligation is bondage. Obligation is why relationships stagnate, or worse: cause them to implode in a fiery fight of chaos and vitriol. Ensuring an ill-fitting obligation gets met often requires some measure of force, whether passive aggression or outright violence.

Every couple should set each other free.

Tell the truth about what’s really going on.

Share what’s working and what’s not, without obligating your partner to do anything about it.

Obligation is bondage. Obligation is why relationships stagnate, or worse: cause them to implode in a fiery fight of chaos and vitriol. Ensuring an ill-fitting obligation gets met often requires some measure of force, whether passive aggression or outright violence.

Telling our personal truth instead sets everyone free.

It sets us both free to stay if we’re genuinely called to stay, and it gives us the freedom to leave if our deepest truth is to dance elsewhere.

Despite my provocative title, I’m actually not suggesting every couple break up and stop seeing each other.

I’m not suggesting couples shouldn’t hunker down and do the work it takes to create a thriving intimate relationship. That would just be silly of me.

I’m only suggesting that we let our partners off the hook.

Perhaps the most destructive element in a relationship is the expectation that my partner will behave different than she genuinely wants to.

In the past, when my relationships were struggling to fly, it’s almost certainly because expectations were weighing down the vessel. Either mine or hers, and usually both.

It’s perfectly appropriate – healthy, even – to make requests for what we want. But it’s futile to obligate our partners to do what they do not authentically want to do: touch us more, touch us less, do things different, see things different, think differently, want different things than they actually want, eat differently, spend their free time differently.

I get it, though. We’re scared we won’t get our needs met, so we obligate the other person to show up and make it happen. In the process, we enslave a good person. Everyone loses, even when you get what you want.

The best gift I can ever give a partner is my happiness that doesn’t depend on her behavior.

The best gift I can ever give a partner is my happiness that doesn’t depend on her behavior.

When I make my partner responsible for my happiness, I’m saddling her with an obligation to be a certain way for my well-being.

I’ve never met a woman who seemed to enjoy wearing a saddle. I sure don’t want to wear one. Even horses don’t like wearing a saddle until they’ve been “broken.” I don’t want a broken woman.

Consider how deeply my partner can relax when she knows she doesn’t have to pretend or force herself to be a certain way just to please me!

A wise woman living in the Australian outback with her beautiful family once told me, “I knew I had met the man I would marry when I didn’t want to change anything about him.”

Your intimate partner isn’t your project.

When I saw myself starting to think of my girlfriend as a project that needed my fixing, I knew it was time to leave. She deserves a man who will worship her as she is today. She’s extraordinary. I wasn’t offering her that anymore.

♦◊♦

After setting each other free, we stayed together in Tahoe a few more days, and those few days were sublime. We started laughing again; we made scrumptious love and slept warm and cuddled close through the night; we once again shared those intimate knowing looks-without-words like we had countless times before. We connected deeply in our authentic love for each other, without expectations, and were once again able to appreciate each other’s authentic presence.

Releasing each other from all expectations was profoundly liberating.

We could both breathe again.

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  • Wow I’m struggling to wrap my brain around this the thought of just giving up, walking away and quitting on relationships or marriage is rather the easy way out. It isn’t pleasant to dig through the hurt or pain or disappointment it sucks it’s hard it hurts. When you come out on the other side it isn’t just for the relationship it’s a sign of dealing with your own baggage. Relationships take work.

    • Lisa, I totally agree. As I wrote in this post:

      “I’m not suggesting couples shouldn’t hunker down and do the work it takes to create a thriving intimate relationship. That would just be silly of me. I’m only suggesting that we let our partners off the hook. Perhaps the most destructive element in a relationship is the expectation that my partner will behave different than she genuinely wants to.”

      Couples can stay together AND let each other off the hook … AND still do the work it takes to face our own demons (that’s all we ever truly have to deal with, anyway). That’s what I’m really pointing at.

      Does that connect with you?

  • Just what I needed and perfect timing. About 2 months ago a relationship I was in with an incredible person mutually ended. We’d been dating about 5 months, and all seemed fine. But I felt myself “working” and “pushing” and feeling disappointed, while he was not working and pulling away. I was trying to roll our relationship like a massive bolder down all the normal relationship paths, and he just wasn’t ready for that. I knew we both cared for each other A LOT, but he wasn’t willing to give me what I needed… which is totally fine! I actually don’t want from him what he’s not willingly and freely giving to me. So we let each other go… for a while 😉

    We’ve recently started spending time together, but I’ve re-set my intentions (I’ve let him off the hook). I’m not working or pushing anything, and I feel no resentment or disappointment with him at all. It’s a very freeing feeling. I genuinely want him to be himself and to do what makes him happy–even if that means ending things completely. And I’m doing the exact same.

    • Hi Sara, that’s a beautiful share. Thank you so much. I know we all have to do work to confront ourselves, but I think that’s different work than forcing a relationship to work that just somehow isn’t. subtle distinction, yet profound! Wishing you the best. With Love, Bryan

  • Another great article, Bryan! Love your writing!

    I’ve also learned (the hard way) that trying to meet other people’s expectations when it is not organic or in integrity with who I am…even if I want to please them is poison to the self and to the relationship whether it’s pressured from without or from within.

    It’s just not worth the fight within ourselves or with our beloved. Nothing good ever comes from it. (Except the learning.)

    Letting everyone (and ourselves) off the hook from expectations liberates us to be…and to love and be loved for who we each are within. ( Or liberates us to be with those we can experience and practice this love with.)

    Since I’ve embraced this paradox fully, I have been surprised how much easier it is to find positive meaningful relationships in many forms that naturally find their way in and sometimes out of my life.

    I still haven’t found a ‘life-partner’, and I do hope that one day I will have that experience…but all my relationships are no less important and significant to me and it all feels like this is exactly where I need to be right now.

    And maybe that’s the way it’s always been.

    Keep writing!
    Abrazos!

    • I feel ya! Surely every experience just prepares us for the next one. One of these days, we’ll meet that person we want to build a life with … and hopefully it’ll be mutual 🙂 Thanks Denise. Love, B

  • I let the partner BE. Be himself. Mature being. I mind my own business. My own authenticity. I take care that I am full of love, joy, compassion. He is responsible for his authenticity. He enjoys in my space. I enjoy in his space. We create more joyful space. Our core base true self us is independently happy and wealthy. When something happens – we laugh and see what we have learnt from the situation. We welcome more clarity into ourselves. We assist each other to become more authentic. Simple way out of paradox.

  • Love this article! You sound just like me only thing is I’m a female, lol. Its hard for me to have a relationship, because of obligations, expectations and men keep trying to change me and I don’t try to change them. Apparently, I exude a lot of feminine energy and a lot of the qualities I have men like. I just feel pressured and I flee. These men act like their is a shortage of good women out there and they try to put me on lock down. I don’t want kids or marriage. I love all things home, love to cook, independent. I’m very low key. very domesticated but don’t want what they want. Men never want to be friends with me. A few married men have tried to have something with me, and I shut them down. They weren’t getting their needs met and tried to see if they can have something with me. after talking for a day or two I knew something was wrong. They lied even when asked. I just really hate labels and titles because of what it comes with. I never try to change anyone. I know someday someone will give me that same respect. Until then I’ll just stay single but I’m a happy single :).

      • Hi Bryan,

        Thank you! Then why do people make it seem like. If you give a man freedom. He will stray?? I think its the opposite. I feel like if you cling to people. You suffocate them. How many times do people feel the need to control or posses one another, with their expectations. Their demands and their wants. If you fail to meet them. All hell breaks lose….Just because two people are together, doesn’t mean they should lose their independence and individuality. If and when that happens you lose a part of who you are. I think it shows a great deal of love, for oneself when you put yourself first . People are not property, that you own. There are all of these rules to what one must do, in order to make the other person happy. What about what makes you happy. It’s a selfless act when you can love someone and give them freedom. When you don’t that’s when both parties look for an escape because they feel controlled. I just think relationship cause people to cheat. It’s hard being monogamous. Not that it can’t be done. I’m very loyal but the whole, “be mine” and all that stuff. I just don’t think that’s natural. People are always going to want to be with someone else and be attracted to someone else and crave variety. Why do you think there are laws set up that if you cheat you have to pay??!! There are financial repercussions just because you stepped out on someone, as if its not normal to be attracted to someone and want to know what it feels like to be with them. It all depends on ones morals and what they believe in. I’m not a cheater but I have been attracted to others while in a relationship and for so many reasons I declined. I’m not going to be with two people at the same time. Talking about who the baby daddy is on Maury. lol… I’m to classy for that. It’s hard to supress the burning desire and passion to be with someone, in that moment. Now that I have been single for quite some time. I find myself thinking, damn. Why didn’t I let so and so make love to me or just have hot passionate sex, in that moment…I know why.. I respect myself way to much to just give it away, to any ol body, plus I don’t want to catch anything. but when you are in the presence of someone and there is a strong sexual attraction. It’s hard, lol :). Hopefully I’ll find a good friend as well as an exclusive lover. One day. but not under the moniker of a “relationship”.

  • I love this article. For me, honesty is vital. Letting each other off the proverbial hook by intimately, openly and vulnerably communicating our true thoughts/ feelings, and placing no expectations on another, is imperative, too. Do I always get this ‘right’? I didn’t in my two marriages, (which is partly why I practice, practice, practice this new behaviour now) but one thing that I know now is that if or when I have any expectation, I know I need to reassess the agreements I made with the one I am relating to and also, own what their reflection is raising up, within me. It is always ME having a relationship with myself, reflected back to me by others. One thing I have learned of late (and this shocked me when i was first taught this by a mentor) is that I can always (yes, always) have what I want in my intimate relationship. In a conscious relationship, I can be free, with clear boundaries and agreements in place – and I can be both selfish and intimate, at the same time,. Thank you for your blogs!

  • A wise woman living in the Australian outback with her beautiful family once told me, “I knew I had met the man I would marry when I didn’t want to change anything about him.”

    My ex-fiance used to tell me “You’re perfect. Please don’t change.” He’d say this repeatedly. Guess what. Everyone changes. One year later, he dumped me 3 months prior our wedding because “You used to be perfect, but you have changed.” (Actually, he said this: “You used to be perfect – you were a 10, but you’ve been losing your points.”)

    Well.

  • Thanks, Bryan! I’m so glad to have discovered your site. You have plenty of posts that both I and my partner could learn from. I’m working on letting go and letting him off the hook. The truth is, I have such a strong history of insecurity and codependence, that I find myself falling back into old patterns now and again. As long as my needs are met, all is well, but if he gets distant for a few days I start getting antsy and uncomfortable, and soon we are having a discussion as to whether or not he is “really in this” or “still choosing me.” It is hard work overcoming old patterns and being my authentic self!

  • Hi Bryan,

    I recently found you and your blog posts through one of my friends Facebook reposts. This post really resonated with my one of recent breakups. It was over 10months ago, and the way the relationship ended really scarred me. But after readingthis blog, I really do see a point in letting go. Not merely because my ex left me for another woman, but because that relationship had been irreparably broken by expectations and obligations that both he and I can’t fulfill to each other.

    You sinply reaffirmed my need to work on myself rather than to rely on my ex for happiness.

    Thank you.

  • my guy and I just experienced this. his walls were up which made me anxious, it was a vicious cycle. he felt “pressured” and I felt abandoned. then his floodgates opened and he said he needed a “break” … and the conversation that followed was a relief for both of us; he was finally saying how I was feeling. now, we are closer than ever, we are back to living in the present moment. he knows I need us to communicate and he feels respected because I trust his pace and his leadership. bottom line: he doesn’t feel pressured when I feel secure. it’s win-win.

  • But tomorrow it will be 43 yrs. and after fighting cancer for ten yes. Alone cause he built walls cause he didn’t chose to walk this part of our journey together I am exhausted trying to. Connect with our love and he can’t figure out what s wrong. now what?

  • This was the perfect article to give me the clarity I needed! I know now what I must do. Well, I always knew, but your analogies helped me see how cruel it would be to ask for something he can not give, but even though he will want to try. Releasing in love is the kindest thing to do. Your insights are invaluable!

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