Your Ex is Not Your Enemy. She is Your Teacher

By Daniel Wallen

“It’s over!” Those are two words nobody wants to hear (especially when they come from someone who you love with all of your heart.)

How do you respond when a relationship ends? If you’re like most people, your gut instinct might be to blame the other person. I can hear it now … “That ungrateful bitch! She didn’t appreciate what she had.”

This isn’t a productive reaction because breakups happen for a reason. If you attack your former lover without performing any critical introspection, you’ll cheat yourself out of personal growth. Your ego doesn’t like to contemplate character flaws; but if you don’t confront them, you’ll never overcome them.

Understand: I’m not suggesting you are 100% at fault. Any romantic relationship is a two-way street. That said, you cannot control the actions or behaviors of another person. Don’t even bother trying, because you’ll just set yourself up for frustration. You’re only responsible for your own development. Let your ex deal with their own junk (or not – either way, it’s their decision – not yours!).

I’m not writing this article from an abstract point-of-view. In fact, I had a relationship come to an end recently. It wasn’t her fault and it wasn’t my fault. We both could have done things differently. However, it’s important for me to own my role in the demise of our relationship, so I want to share five critical errors I made. Please learn from my relationship mistakes so you don’t make the same ones!

1. Express your needs early and often.

Everyone is too afraid of seeming “needy.” Sure—owning your needs might scare some people off – but what’s the point of staying in a relationship that can’t possibly fulfill you?

My needs for affection are high. I need to be complimented, hugged, kissed, and touched to feel loved. Without that, my mind goes to a dark place where it begins to question whether “love” exists at all.

I’ve had several relationships end due to a disconnect between my needs and a partner’s ability to meet them. If I was more upfront about my needs and how it makes me feel when they aren’t met, maybe we could have corrected course before it was too late.

2. Be conscious of your partner’s lifestyle.

I write for a living. This is reflected in the way I text. Most people send one or two sentences at a time. Instead, I send essay-length messages that contain several paragraphs. Ridiculous? I report, you decide!

On a separate but related note, I have a terrible sense of timing. I tend to send long text messages about complicated stuff (including perceived relationship problems) to partners whenever it crosses my mind.

My ex has a job that requires her to drive and interact with people for most of her day. In other words, it would be completely inappropriate for her to stop whatever she’s doing and type an essay back to me.

I should have saved those conversations for evening, when she had the time and brain-space to properly respond. If you want to communicate with your partner more effectively, be mindful of their schedule.

3. Don’t become so attached you lose yourself.

Romantic relationships are fascinating. Two people with different identities fall in love. In the process, they merge together and create a common identity as a “couple.”

There is danger here. Your unique self might feel threatened; and if it does, expect some confrontations. Suzanne Lachmann described this concept brilliantly when she said:

“As the relationship deepens, you may begin to grow resentful of giving up vital parts of yourself, especially if these self-sacrifices are expected or demanded by your partner.”

Forcing yourself to conform or “shape-shift” in a way that meets your partner’s demands can backfire.

Conflicts will arise, tempers will flare, and you’ll find yourself arguing about trivial stuff that appears to be important at the time.

The longer this cycle continues, the less likely your relationship will survive. Even if the relationship does survive, you may turn into a person you don’t recognize. If a partner can’t respect your boundaries or appreciate you for who you are, it’s time to move on.

4. Resist the urge to over-analyze every situation.

Confession: I live inside my head. If I didn’t have emotional outlets like acting, exercise, and writing, my thoughts would have driven me bonkers years ago. Still, overthinking creates unnecessary stress.

If a partner doesn’t answer a text, it’s not because they forgot or got busy. It’s because they’re mad at me. If a partner doesn’t want to have sex, it’s not because they aren’t in the mood. It’s because they’re not attracted to me. Why would I inflict this misery on myself? There’s really no good reason.

On a conceptual level, I understand the way people treat you rarely has anything to do with you at all. More often, it has everything to do with them. Maybe they’re stressed because of work, family drama, or (insert an infinite amount of possibilities here). Even so, my mind likes to take things personally.

I haven’t overcome this challenge (yet); but I have become conscious of it, and that is half of the battle. I can say it helps to distract myself with an emotional outlet like the ones I mentioned. Lifting weights doesn’t solve my problems, but it does provide distance from them. Time and space heal most wounds.

5. Never let your lover feel like they come in “last” place.

I stay busy. #4 explains my reasoning. If I’m not actively doing something, my brain will invent new catastrophes. This is why I have hobbies: running, dance class, and community theater to name a few.

Unfortunately, packing my days so full caused my ex to believe I wasn’t prioritizing our relationship. She felt like I was only providing her with the leftovers of my time. I disagree with her interpretation; but since seeing her was the last thing I did on most days, I can empathize with her feelings.

What could I have done differently? I don’t know. Maybe I could have found a way to involve her in one of my hobbies. Maybe I could have sacrificed an old hobby for a new one that we both enjoyed. My biggest mistake was letting us fall into rigid habits. For a relationship to stay fresh, you have to mix things up sometimes. Otherwise, it will get dull. No one wants every day to be exactly like the last one.

Look past the pain and hurt. Your ex isn’t your enemy. She is your teacher.

What is one of the biggest relationship mistakes you’ve ever made (and what did you learn from it)? Tell me about it in the comments. If you want to help your friends find fulfillment in their relationships, share this article on Facebook.

This article by Daniel Wallen was originally posted at The Good Men Project

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