How to break up and stay friends

We have visited this topic on several occasions for a variety of reasons. Usually this is in response to a request from a listener after the Christmas and New Year festivities that mark the beginning of the divorce season. That period just after New Year happens again at the end of the summer holiday in September. It seems that when things are a bit rocky the pressure of being forced together in, what is supposed to be, family happiness exposes the cracks leading to the decision to part. Most partings are acrimonious and how ever good the intention usually turn into negative thoughts, feelings and actions.

When I arrived to record this weeks podcast Ed greeted me with the news that he had split up! It was not from his wife Bethan, I am glad to say, but from his business partner. He seems quite calm about it all and not phased, though he was the one that initiated the split, I am not sure what his, now, ex-partner is/was feeling.

We began talking about the whole issues of breaking up and if it is possible to do so amicably. Well the answer has to be, ‘yes it is’, however in my experience, working with couples, it would seem to be pretty rare. We often talk about the emotion of hate being the pole opposite of love. It is as though the energy just becomes reversed and often the more that a couple had love energy between them when they we together the more they have hate energy between them once they are apart.

Many Brits have a problem with the concept of hate and hatred as the national characteristic of emotional reserve precludes the use of such a strong emotion leading to alternative concepts of ‘strong dislike’ or statements of disapproval and so on.

I have often seen couples who after valiant efforts to repair a failing relationship finally decide that it is time to call it a day and move on. At that point many couples will share their desire to make this a clean break but to do it in civilised and friendly way. They will talk about the importance of getting this right for the children and minimising any potential damage. They acclaim their desire to become and maintain a friendship that would be open, and in some cases more open than their existing relationship.

A few, and I mean very few, are able to do this. We do not realise what a valiant effort it is to put to one side the short comings that led to the split in the first place. With most couples and in most cases in a short time when it comes to the splitting of resources, houses, shares, pensions and so on, the cracks begin to form. And, sadly, in most cases it ends up becoming nasty, often vicious and all the good will goes out of the window as the gloves come off and the fight begins.

However it should be sad that when couple do manage to maintain a friendship or the appearance of a friendship the affects can be profound and ripple out to children, friends, family, in-laws and so on.

When couples split, for whatever reason, often the fiends follow suit and go with one of the couple, dumping the other one in the process. All these things effect any relationship ending. As you can see from Ed’s story we are not simply talking about personal relationships when we talk about breaking up. Certainly business endings can be messy as can redundancy, retirement and or job loss through ill health. I see the same problems being played out at the ending of all types of relationships be they business, retirement, redundancy in fact any separation right up to our experience of death.

What we often see as the process of grief and mourning is the same for most endings. First there is a disbelief that this has actually happened and the problems in accepting that things will never be the same again. Then come the emotions. Often the glue that holds relationships together is emotion, even business relationships. When the relationship becomes unstuck the emotion is released. I see it like the energy that holds an atom together. We have no idea how strong that it is until it is split and then we have all the energy of an atomic explosion.

The third phase is anger. Anger happens when the mushroom cloud of free emotion becomes coherent and focused and can be aimed. This is the point of destruction. This is when it becomes nasty.

It is possible to have a positive separation. However, it takes mindfulness, good will, being prepared to be honest, polite, to listen and not to argue, keeping your emotions under control, being amicable with no revenge, without any expectation. In all a tall order for anyone.

One Christmas I was invited to a big family meal. At the table was a woman, next to her was her child and on the other side of her sat her ex-husband. Next to him was his new wife. All four of them were talking and laughing and the best of friends. While it was good to watch it also felt very odd and in some way not right. Of course it was right, it was social expectations that made it odd.

Hey ho, take care, and if you do split try and make it a positive ending

Sean x