Three days after my birthday, my partner and I broke up.
The days leading up to it felt like a slow burn. A voice in my head kept getting louder, that I needed to do it for my and maybe, his happiness. Finally ripping the bandaid felt like a jolt on my nerves — I never thought I would have to do this for someone I believed I was meant for.
Weeks have passed, and I’m now able to come to terms with reality. Even if past me couldn’t see it, I did the right thing for myself. And writing has been a huge catharsis in helping me realize that.
Upon reflecting on my past experience, several key lessons stood out — some of which I’m about to share.
Although I’m writing them for the sake of my own clarity, hopefully, they can also be helpful to you. Whether you’re in the middle of moving on or about to embark on a new journey.
1. Classify your negotiable and non-negotiable requirements
Most of us spent the first months of a courtship getting swept up into the honeymoon phase, where literally every single thing that your partner does seems attractive.
While this is completely normal, this is also a great time to get to know the other person and see if you have the foundation to make it long-term.
Of course, the “spark” and banter are contributing factors to compatibility, but it’s going to take so much more to sustain your relationship. Instead of simply gauging for chemistry, I encourage you to be open about your non-negotiable and negotiable needs.
How to implement this:
List down what you’re willing to tolerate on a significant other and assess your partner accordingly.
For instance, my non-negotiable requirement is having a partner that is self-aware.
I grew up with a father who had all the capacity to take care of himself but didn’t, and I didn’t want to repeat that with my own relationship.
What’s negotiable, on the other hand, is my partner’s hobbies and interests. most of my closest friends have different interests than I do, so I don’t mind if the same thing applies to me and him.
Don’t be afraid to be honest about what you’d like to set firm boundaries for, especially for aspects like values, political alignment, and religious beliefs.
If you get rejected, that’s just a path closer to your ideal partner.
It’s ideal that your partner can not only respect but also live by these values, especially if you’re looking for a serious long-term commitment.
Having someone in your life that is on the same page as you will save tons of headache and doubts down the line.
2. Communicate compassionately and clearly
Communication is arguably the most important life skill.
I grew up in a passive-aggressive household, where everyone was introverted and expected the other party to magically know what’s going on and meet their needs instantly.
For me, mastering the basics of this skill helped me face my fear of conflicts and develop emotional resilience.
Relationship communication is more than just speaking up about your needs.
It also requires compassion, in that you try to deliver your message in a non-blaming way.
As much as we want our partner to accurately understand how they make us feel, there‘s bound to be irreversible damage when you use hurtful language.
Clarity is also essential. Relationship arguments can often branch out from one topic to many others, preventing you to see what the actual problem is.
How to implement this:
One popular tip is to use “I feel” statements.
That is, when you’re about to express a need or an issue in mind, you should say, “I feel neglected when you don’t reply to a text quickly.”
This sentence puts you in focus as the one experiencing the impact of your partner’s behavior, rather than making him sound like he had intentionally harmed you (which is sometimes untrue).
Contrast this with, “You never reply to me back,” which is sure to elicit a defensive response.
On a related note, avoid strong words like “never” and “always.” Sweeping generalizations often sound upsetting, especially if they contradict the evidence.
Second, focus on one topic at a time. It can be overwhelming to bombard your partner and, in their defense, feel bombarded with a bunch of information.
If you feel the conversation is heading toward a different direction, say, “Let’s backtrack a bit.
I’m bringing up an issue I have with X, but you want to talk about Y, can we focus on X first, take a break, and then go to Y when that’s done?” If needed, express that you will listen to your partner’s concerns about the related issue.
For more practical communication tips, I highly recommend the book Thanks for the Feedback. Even though most of the scenarios occur in a workplace environment, they’re also applicable for personal communications.
3. Validate each other’s feelings
This lesson is related to the previous one, but I feel it warrants its own section.
For some people, compassion doesn’t come naturally, especially in a heated argument. It can make them feel vulnerable and therefore defensive over their side of the story.
The fact is, there is no clear right or wrong in a two-way conversation. What exists are simply two different perspectives, influenced by different experiences and worldviews.
So it never helps to say, “I know you feel X, but I don’t feel that way, and I’m sorry that you do.”
This statement feels dismissive, making the other party question whether their feelings are right in the first place.
And here’s the thing — that’s what your partner felt anyway. You can’t change that just by saying you don’t empathize with them.
Your partner is shaped by a different life experience and thus made of various attachment wounds that affect how they relate to you now.
So this statement also risks making them question whether they can feel safe to come to you to express their needs.
How to implement this:
Before sharing your own perspective, begin by validating their feelings.
Say, “I hear and acknowledge how you’re feeling. Can you elaborate so I can understand better?” And if appropriate, “I’m sorry that I made you feel that way.”
At the end of the day, your partner doesn’t come to you to seek some kind of enlightenment or advice. They just want you to know the most essential things about them because you’re their partner, and ultimately, their friend.
4. Evaluate your relationship regularly
One of the most beautiful and simultaneously, difficult things about life is that people change, including your partner.
At times, we may be lucky to see them bloom into the person they always said they wanted, fulfilling the true potential you always recognize within them. At other times, your partner may go through a challenging period that affects who they are as a person, in both positive and negative ways.
Ultimately, this change can influence their relationship with you, in directions you may not expect.
When I first met my ex, he was going through a major career change. Even amid his busy schedule, he and I were able to make time for each other, something that I thought felt natural since his love language was quality time. Consequently, I made every decision related to my schedule with this in mind.
Fast forward to a year later, he went through another shift that demanded even more of his time and attention. The same level of commitment we used to establish started to wither, triggering the bad experience I had with my emotionally unavailable, workaholic father. Long story short, I didn’t want to repeat them with my own relationship.
“To love someone long-term is to attend a thousand funerals of the people they used to be.” — Heidi Pribe
When you’re in a relationship, you’re not just committing to a person they are now, but also the one they are becoming. Things may seem good now, but there’s no telling what the future holds. That’s why it’s so important to check in with one another from time to time.
How to implement this:
Check in about where you two are in the relationship. Express any doubt that has come up and communicate about your long-term goals, visions, and values. It’s best to do this in a spoken conversation to minimize any misunderstanding.
If some things aren’t aligning, it doesn’t mean the relationship’s ending. It’s possible to steer the discussion to finding a common ground and reason for moving forward.
That said, if some of these aspects aren’t aligning, you have to go back to the drawing board of your life and weigh whether this relationship is still worth pursuing.
5. Listen to your intuition
Being in a relationship doesn’t negate the fact that you’re still your own person, so it’s important to listen to your voice — especially in the most crucial moments.
There were several times I was unsure of my previous partner. Maybe it was because of my lack of experience, combined with my anxious attachment voicing its concerns. While we were able to communicate our doubts, the thoughts still came and went.
At first, I was able to remind myself of the things he said to calm me down. But after our separation, I realized there was a quiet truth hidden in these voices that got louder and louder towards our breakup.
I don’t regret our relationship, and I do think the timing was right. But now that I’m more attuned to this voice, I won’t let it out of my hearing again. Only time can tell whether he and I will meet again one day.
How to implement this:
In Brianna Wiest’s book The Mountain is You, she wrote that intuitive thoughts are quiet and calm, coming to you once or twice to induce a feeling of understanding.
In contrast, intrusive thoughts are loud, leading you to a spiral of panic and fear and asking you to react accordingly. You probably know which of the two you should listen to more.
Frankly, all these relationship articles can’t tell you much about what to do. Sometimes, we look for resources online to affirm what we want to believe in instead of being pointed in the “right” direction.
So it’s really important to be in touch with yourself and take care of your own needs even if you already have someone in your life. That way, you can recognize what truly matters in your relationships.
The best way for me to do this is by meditating and journaling, both of which are rooted in mindfulness. No matter the method, make sure it allows you to check in with your mind and emotions regularly so that you become more attuned to your own voice.
While my relationship might have ended, I am forever grateful for the learning opportunity it provided me.
It was painful at first, but I can accept that it ended for a reason.
If I could rewind time and change things differently, I would work on myself more.
When you’re new to relationships, it’s much easier to get swept in the romance of it all and have your heart broken when things don’t go the way you expect.
A relationship isn’t supposed to be salvation or a solution to all your problems.
Sure, it can be a safe place, but it’s not meant to protect you from the world or even yourself. Only you can do that.