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.
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.
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.
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.