What do you need to let go of?
I work with a lot of couples in my therapy practice. They come to therapy because they are discontented—and brave. That’s why I enjoy this work. These couples that come to me are motivated to make changes in the ways they relate to one-another. And they are brave enough to say, “What we’re doing isn’t good enough—we want something better.”
What’s the difference between couples that are successful in their partnerships and those that fail?
One secret is the willingness to let go.
In this article I’ll explore some of the things we need to be willing to let go of.
Letting go of past grievances
We have to be willing to let go of the past, from petty grievances to serious mistakes we (or our partner) made. We can’t be present if we hold onto the past, so once a mistake occurs we need to decide, “Am I going to let this go and be fully in this relationship?” because if we can’t let go we shouldn’t stay together.
Letting go of the need to be right
We must also let go of our need to be right, while still respecting our need to fully express ourselves. The way people ordinarily talk to one another makes this hard because we say things as if we know what “the truth” is. Of course, we don’t. We only know what’s true for us. If we learn to use Perception Language, it’s much easier to express ourselves without the other person feeling like we think our perspective is the only truth and that we’re telling them about them.
Letting go of your defenses
We don’t have to let go of our defenses to be with our partner, but if we want to develop deep intimacy, then we do need to let go of—or let down—our defenses and the ways we protect ourselves from being hurt. The very notion that “my partner will hurt me” greatly limits our potential as a couple. Within the Live Conscious worldview there is no fear that my partner will hurt me, because I don’t hold my partner responsible for how I feel. (I know this is a stretch for some of you—this is a completely different paradigm—and if you want to really understand this way of being in relationship, I encourage you to come to one of our retreats.)
Letting go of your partner
So, there are many things we need to let go of—in my opinion—to create a successful romantic partnership. And if you’re in the early stages of your relationship and it’s not going well, the “thing” you may need to let go of is the other person. So many people have a hard time with this. They tell me that they’re afraid of letting go of what they have, but I think that in many cases they’re afraid of letting go of the fantasy of what they believe they could have. Letting go of the wrong partner doesn’t mean we let go of finding the right partner—it moves us closer.
I just worked with a woman who clearly needed to let go of her partner. And she did so. Here’s how she described the experience.
For the first time since last week, since my appointment with you, I saw John (fictitious name). We took a walk and I told him I had let go of the idea of he and I as a couple, that I had let go of trying to make something happen between us. He was rattled. He smiled a lot but he was kind of vacant. He did this thing he does when he’s trying to take a deep breath but can’t. He told me that he’d been thinking of me every ten minutes for the last couple of weeks, that he’d been missing me and that he’d become accustomed to having me in his life and was orienting around making choices that included me in the future.
To me, he’s talking about the fantasy, not the reality of how he actually behaves. He’s saying, “I have a great fantasy about what we could be,” but that’s not what he’s creating.
He also said that part of him was really happy for me and proud of me that I had stepped into this place with myself. He said he’d been wanting to experience me in this place—of me being fully in myself and in my power—and now that I’m here, I’m dumping him. He said he has a lot of sadness. I kept clear in my choice and also tried to stay light. I stayed light because it kept me with myself and not reaching out to him for care in my own sadness and vulnerability. I avoided taking care of him. I didn’t apologize for my clarity.
This is the key to me, she remained light, she didn’t go into her sadness and vulnerability, which would have been an invitation for him to attend to her. It’s not appropriate to ask the people we break up with to attend to us, but so often I see people do this.
I reminded him of how difficult it was to connect with each other and how it was clear that I couldn’t meet him and that he was very clear that he wasn’t willing to share himself with me, nor could he meet me. I honestly thought he’d be relieved. I thought he was in a similar place of not being met and of it being awful.
There was a part of me at one point that wanted to take it all back and try again. There was a part of me that wanted to chase him into his house instead of drive away. But I didn’t because I remembered how awful I feel around him, disconnected and disjointed and diminished. I imagined how the rest of the evening would have gone. Me feeling unconnected to him and to myself, screaming inside and trying to hide it, looking for any signal or hint that I was okay with him so I could be okay with myself. The energy between us had become so jagged, pointy and heavy.
This is the power of honesty. And also of staying aware of those bodily sensations that tell us, “this isn’t right.”
I’m sure I could’ve expressed myself better, looking back. I could’ve done it so many different ways. But I held to my truth when I’ve slipped out so easily in the past. I didn’t take anything back. I didn’t go chasing after. I tried my hardest not to confuse the situation. No doubt I probably did a bit because I kept laughing—I didn’t intend to. I was just happy, felt relieved and joyful and I couldn’t hide it—but I tried to do the least amount possible of confusing the situation. I didn’t say let’s be friends and hang out next week or I’ll call you. Or any of that. I kept taking care of myself instead of him. I tried to be neutral and light and compassionate for myself, for once, and also for him as long as it didn’t pull me out of myself.
Compassion doesn’t mean care-taking. She is so clear about the difference.
So I’m done with John. No doubt there will be waves of all kinds of emotions but my intention is to hold steady in my truth again and again and again. No backsliding this time. No sliding back into a world of hurt and confusion and constant miscommunication and always trying to please, only to be ridiculed and punished for such behavior. I need to continue to sit with it and thoroughly be with it so I don’t numb out or freeze over. So I don’t go walking into the same trap I’ve successfully created for myself over and over again.
I’m mourning for what didn’t happen with this person—deep, meaningful connection, lasting love, sharing lives. I’m not mourning for the loss of the relationship. I’m deeply relieved that I no longer will choose to put myself into such a turbulent reality.
I view this as a story of triumph, a woman willing to let go of something “not good enough”—for her—so that she can pursue what she wants.
Discussions about these issues often seem to be set up to prove a point, or at the very least, a point of view that serves the story the writer wants to tell, with no offense intended, especially since you are a licensed professional counselor and have experience helping people. Having said that, there is an avoidance of their issues of rage, disappointment, history … etc that drives all of us, and if the parties in relationship are committed to discovering the truth as well as their truth, the opportunity for clarifying ones personal responsibility for understanding their triggers should not be missed. These discussions often miss the possibility of people “needing” to own their responsibility for looking behind the curtain of their own history for the excuses they make and (put bluntly) their refusal to grow up and live as an adult, with adult feelings, and adult accountability. While I understand this article is about “letting go”, personal responsibility for ones feelings, actions, and memory of the past is critically important to include. We will only be as successful as our willingness to show up for the work that is required to get over our selves in grow into the person we can be, instead of the one that is failing us in that moment of profound confusion.
Barry, thanks for your insightful comments. No offense taken.
I encourage you to read half a dozen of the articles on our site and I think you will see that the major theme is one of personal responsibility. So I couldn’t agree with you more. Our work, and the language we teach, ReSpeak, is the language of owning one’s self and one’s behavior.
I’m sorry if the notion of personal responsibility didn’t come across in this particular article. I guess my focus was on something else when I wrote it.
Thanks again for commenting.