“There’s a trick to the ‘graceful exit.’ It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage, or a relationship is over — and let it go. It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out.” ― Ellen Goodman
ALL RELATIONSHIPS END. Whether that ending is due to a breakup or a death, that person is no longer in your life and that loss is almost always painful. You grieve the loss of that person’s friendship, companionship, love, and of the hopes you carried together.
Losses due to breakups and losses due to death, though they have their similarities, also have great differences. So, in this article, I’ll address and provide journaling prompts for endings due to breakups. Endings that come about by the death of a loved one will be covered in the next article.
Endings can happen suddenly and with finality, or fade gradually, dragging on and prolonging suffering for years. They can be mutual, two people parting on friendly terms, or dramatic emotional meltdowns that end in the courtroom with attorneys fighting in proxy for the couple.
Endings can be unbalanced, one-sided affairs, with one person determined to hang on and the other just as determined to let go. The pain of rejection can be overwhelming for the person left behind.
Even when an ending comes about by your choice, the emotional suffering can be debilitating. Though you know you need to end a relationship that has become toxic or unhealthy, you may still feel guilt and remorse and loss. It can be difficult to let go of long-term relationship dependencies.
No matter the cause of an ending, it’s important for your mental and emotional health to learn how to move through the painful feelings of regret, guilt, loss, and sorrow. It’s important to walk away having grown as a human being and having learned something about how to navigate relationships and their endings.
The following prompts will help you reflect upon the relationship endings in your life and perhaps discover some gems of insight to help you along your life’s journey.
- Write about your most recent relationship ending. Who was the relationship with and how did it end? Whose choice was it? Did you have time to prepare for the ending or did it come about suddenly?
- Are you still grieving the loss of someone in your life? It’s natural to want to avoid feeling pain and to escape from it through activities. But, in order to heal it’s important to allow yourself to truly feel and move through your emotions. Use your journal to pour out those feelings: anger, pain, hurt, guilt, relief. When words fail, use colored pencils or paint to express yourself. Expressing your emotions creatively can be both cathartic and comforting.
- What regrets do you have about the relationship itself or the way it ended? If you could have a do-over for the ending, what would you do differently?
- Without engaging in self-blame, and with self-compassion, acknowledge the ways that you contributed to the problems in your relationship.
- Whatever your mistakes and faults, it’s important to be able to forgive yourself. You’re human. You did the best you could given who you were and what you knew at the time. As if you were an angel of compassion, write a letter addressed to you, forgiving you for any mistakes or hurtful actions you did in the past.
- Consider the following quote by Ashly Lorenzana: “The end of a relationship is not always a failure. Sometimes all the love in the world is not enough to save something. In these cases, it is not a matter of fault from either person. Some things cannot be, it’s as simple as that.”
Have you ever had a relationship that ended despite both of your efforts to keep it alive? Simply grown apart? What, in retrospect, have you learned about relationships, and how does what you have learned affect how you approach new ones?
- Do you still have questions about why a relationship ended? Perhaps a close friend simply stopped talking to you and you don’t know why? If you could have a face-to-face conversation with that person, what would you say? What questions would you ask? Is it possible to contact that person and have that conversation? What would it take for you to reach out?
- Focus on the positive. Looking back, what have you learned about yourself and about relationships in general? What insights and benefits have you gained from having that particular relationship and going through that particular ending? And in what ways have you grown as a person?
- In what ways are you a stronger, more evolved and compassionate human being as a result of going through a relationship ending? How do you express this growth in your current relationships?
If you’re still in the midst of or close to a relationship ending, remember to be compassionate and love yourself through all your emotions. Writing or otherwise expressing your feelings can be a great help.
And if you have enough distance from an ending, you know the aphorism that time heals all wounds is mostly true. The distance of time at least causes intense feelings to fade and allows us to look back, gleaning knowledge and wisdom from our experiences.