Several years ago I worked with a client who was asked to be on the PTA – something she desperately did NOT want. However, like many, she often said “yes” when her inner voice – her gut instinct – urged her to scream “NO” and run the other way. The pressure to join the PTA brought her face-to-face with a life-changing realization: she could not escape the internal conflict.
It was unavoidable. Either choice would cause grief, regret and worry. However, she could say “no” and feel badly for 10 minutes, or she could say "yes” and feel badly for 10 months. Once she saw this choice for what it truly was – not an opportunity to avoid discomfort but a chance to minimize it – the choice to say “no” became much easier. Indeed, she could not escape the bad feelings…she only needed to choose how long she wanted them to last.
I recently had a long-term relationship end, which is no fun, to be sure. Much is lost: loss of connection, companionship & affection; loss of someone to share the daily joy and the daily grind; loss of hopes and dreams about finding “the one.”
And yet, the end brought relief, too. Relief that the conflicts were over. Relief from no longer having to “work at it.” Relief at not having to compromise anymore. Relief from the nagging doubts if he was “the one.”
But the relief comes and goes. As does the sadness. Other doubts creep in. Maybe it wasn’t so bad. Maybe we could have worked it out. Maybe we made the wrong decision. Maybe I’ll never find “the one.”
Breaking up perfectly exemplifies the definition of grief: “the conflicting feelings caused by the change in a familiar pattern or behavior.” Nothing like a break-up to illuminate that conflict! Relief that it is over, sadness it couldn’t have been otherwise, hope that we’ll eventually “get it right,” fear that we won’t.
Inevitably, this conflict often sends couples reeling back and forth – break-up/reunite/break-up/reunite. So not fun! Whether you stay or you go, part of you feels betrayed. How much does that stink? Feels like either way you lose!
But as I grieve the loss of my relationship, I also realize something helpful: like the mother who had to make a decision about the PTA, I am stuck with the grief of conflicting feelings. There is no way to avoid them!
If I ignore my gut instinct that the relationship isn’t “right,” then I live in conflict every day I remain in the relationship. So I can’t just reunite to avoid the post-break up conflict. Reuniting doesn’t eliminate it. It just changes it. I trade one set of conflicting feelings for another. So we might as well stay broken up!
I realized that either way – in the relationship or out of it - I was stuck with conflicting feelings. There was no escaping that. But as with the PTA, one option is better than the other. One option, when done right, reduces the conflicting feelings to something temporary. Like the PTA, I couldn’t avoid grief . I simply had to decide how long I wanted it to last.
All too often we are tempted to stay in the wrong relationship – or the wrong job,or the wrong school or the wrong anything – to avoid pain and internal conflict. Or we jump ship on the right relationship – or the right job, or the right school or the right anything – to avoid the conflict. But we can’t avoid it. It is there. The sooner we understand and accept this, the sooner we can gather ourselves together, learn to recover, and move forward.
What situations are you currently dealing with in which every course of action causes grief? Perhaps you’re struggling with the decision to quit smoking or have a sensitive situation at work. Not only do you have the ability to make the best choice, but you can also learn to deal with the grief that the choice causes.
So, just what are those hard decisions in your life? What situations have you found this to be true? Where would you be wise to remember this? Do tell!