In 2015, my already former partner and I decided to work out our differences by sitting down on a couch in a rural town in Colorado for a weeklong breakup therapy session. Getting to the therapist’s couch was not an easy decision. The breakup itself lasted for probably six months, and the couch was the last step to try to end a once loving relationship with at least a semblance of that love.
Jared and I met when I was staring through the rose-colored lenses of my early 20s. In the romantic fashion of a naive, 22-year-old, recent college grad, who had no true concept of the world and whose heart had recently been broken, I fell in love with a 30-year-old man who looked to me like he had all the answers in the world. Jared and I met at the Burning Man festival (cliche I know), we danced endless nights together, and whether it was the MDMA or the youthful belief in soul mates ― or our true love for each other ― I will honestly never know, but we fell in love.
Jared lived in Florida then, and I was on my first post-college traveling stint. I was bound for South America. It was another year before we saw each other again.
This was how our relationship unfolded for the next three years. Months would go by, and then on some random occasion, we would end up at the same place at the same time. Our relationship was a fairy tale of beautiful backdrops, accompanied by incredible intimacy and deeply introspective conversations. We camped in the Redwood forests, floated through Florida heat waves and raged across New York City. The basis of our relationship was horribly Hollywood-esque.
Eventually, the thrill of new places, new cities, new me, new you wore off and we decided we needed to either find a place to live together or move on from a relationship deeply rooted in love but physically not feasible. After a lot of thought and many nights of worry, I decided to move from my home in rural California to Jared’s residence in El Salvador. At the time he worked as a web consultant for a hostel in the small fishing town of El Cuco.
While the move to El Salvador seemed steeped in the same kind of romance as the rest of our relationship, it was actually an extremely difficult decision to make. For months I debated whether or not I should uproot myself for love. Culture had instilled this idea in me that one of the most important things in life was finding love. This is a story I’m far less attached to in my 30s, but back then I thought to miss out on this opportunity to be with someone I loved would be to miss out on one of life’s chief gifts. I had to give up a lot of my own autonomy to follow my heart, which in the end may have been what shattered us.
Up to the moment I got on the plane, I wasn’t sure whether it was the right decision. Looking back, it might have been months before I saw the move as something I’d done for myself and not entirely for someone else. The story in my head was that it would just be a short visit. Maybe a month to see how our lives fit together, or didn’t. But as the days passed and the beach sunsets grew prettier, the life of an expatriate seduced me and thoughts of leaving began to fade.
I had to give up a lot of my own autonomy to follow my heart, which in the end may have been what shattered us.
For a year and a half, we lived deeply in love with each other. I opened a cafe, I swam in the ocean every day, I had a fairy tale existence. After that year and a half, though, I was feeling the twinges of being unfulfilled. I’d wake up in states of panic and anxiety, worried that I would be trapped in this fairy tale moment for the rest of my life. After months of this anxiety, we decided to take a break.
The two of us were never really the best communicators, so the parameters of this “break” were never discussed. We left it at “I’ll see you later.” The minute I got back stateside, I knew that “later” would be extended beyond whatever our original intention was.
When I’d left the beach and the small fishing town I had called home for one year, I hadn’t thought that would be the end of all our shared companionship. But once the fairy tale was over, it was truly over. I headed to a small town in rural Colorado. By now I was 27 and those rose-colored lenses had turned an eerie shade of gray. I was starting to understand that I wanted a very different life. Heading further into adulthood, I felt a stronger desire to establish a career and a life, to start thinking more critically about not only who I was to myself but what I was putting out into the world.
It seems to me that the hardest kind of breakup is the one where no one thing went wrong. There was no specific need to part from each other.
Over the next six months, the two of us tried to navigate these changes. We had long ranting phone calls about what to do next, along with hurtful Facebook messages and resentful emails back and forth. There was pain hidden under the surface of these conversations, but we couldn’t quite see what it was we were fighting. It seems to me that the hardest kind of breakup is the one where no one thing went wrong. There was no specific need to part from each other. On some level we both still deeply loved each other, but the more we talked, the more angry and confused we both became.
Ending our relationship started to seem impossible. I wanted to let Jared go, I wanted a new life without him, yet he stayed attached to the idea of us. Perhaps the only way to move forward was to sit down together and discuss what we wanted from each other. We needed to see each other so that instead of saying “see you later,” we could say “goodbye.”
When I suggested we meet in Colorado for therapy, Jared was in Mexico. Over a long tumultuous conversation, he finally agreed that he would come back to the states and do therapy with the only therapist in the small town where I was living. The therapist happened to be my best friend’s father, which might generally go against the rules, but in this case, he was the only man in town who could have held our hands through our goodbyes.
It was December 2015, five years after we started our relationship, and Jared was with me on the couch for our first session to discuss our bullshit. There are five steps to conscious uncoupling: find emotional freedom, reclaim your power and your life, break the pattern (heal your heart), become a love alchemist, and finally, create your happy ever after. This wasn’t exactly the way our version played out, but we were able to reach a “happy even after.”
A friend once told me that the essence of communication is unraveling the long string that has been tied into knots between you and another person. He said that most times at the end of the unraveling, you’ll find that the two of you are holding the ends of the very same string. The string Jared and I held was our love for each other, which had gotten twisted over months of non-communicated pains, resentments and built-up anger.
Each day for a week, we met for roughly three hours on the couch. We hacked through the emotional garbage that had infiltrated our ability to love each other.
I don’t remember how we decided on the rules of engagement. The therapist gave us the details of his availability, and we showed up. Each day for a week, we met for roughly three hours on the couch. We hacked through the emotional garbage that had infiltrated our ability to love each other. We discovered our differences in needs and expectations.
The couch was a safe zone. It was a place where we could be honest with each other and where the therapist could help us to decipher what it was we were feeling. Often our conversations would start to deteriorate into those familiar fights. Then the therapist would quickly cut through our arguments and remind us of the intentions we had set.
We were asked to resolve questions like “Who is this ‘somebody’ I have Jared being in my mind?” and “What do I create in myself in response to his being that?” We did exercises that answered questions like these and we learned more about who the other person was becoming in the absence of the relationship. These sessions allowed us to be present for each other in a way that I had never before experienced during a breakup. I was forced to see Jared as a person unrelated to myself, which reminded me of the person I had loved from day one.
After the sessions, Jared and I would go back to my house. We would hang out with my friends, make dinner together, attend whatever tiny gathering was happening in town. It was the first time in our entire relationship that we functioned just as friends. There was no romance between the two of us. Because of that, we had the space to tell jokes, to make each other laugh, to talk about where we were in life.
These sessions allowed us to be present for each other in a way that I had never before experienced during a breakup.
The therapist would send us on special missions together. “Go for a hike” or “make each other dinner,” he would say. Spend time together remembering the person you fell in love with. There were no other distractions in December in Colorado. We gave each other our undivided attention and in return, we relearned who we were.
After our fifth and last session, we were able once again to say, “I love you.” We were able to accept the new places we were now filling in our lives with discovery and self-exploration, and finally, we could accept that the future we had once seen for ourselves was not the future we were going to have.
The therapist also suggested we leave some space for communication with each other for the next two weeks. He gave us a list of questions to reflect upon and told us to send our responses to each other. The responses helped us connect what we had been through in the past with how we wanted to move forward into our future. We were honest about what had been toxic in our relationship and what we wanted from the relationship moving forward. These emails were the most honest correspondence I had with Jared during the entire five years of our relationship. After we broke down the barriers during a week on a couch ― and told the hard truths ― it became easier to discuss emotions and our communication became bolder.
After we broke down the barriers during a week on a couch ― and told the hard truths ― it became easier to discuss emotions and our communication became bolder.
At the end of two weeks, I emailed Jared my last reflection: “I think the longer we linger over our relationship the more harm we do towards being able to move into the future with clarity.” The therapy sessions had helped me gain clarity about why I needed things to end.
For the next two years, Jared would randomly filter back into my inbox. He would say that he missed me or tell me some long story about his life. Every time I would respond by asking him to respect my boundaries and to leave me alone until I was ready to reach out to him. Meanwhile, I processed our dialogue, rereading some of our exchanges. I remembered the things that made our relationship great.
About a week ago I reached out to Jared again. We’ve been chatting and reopening our friendship. I don’t date men anymore and Jared will probably be the last hetero relationship I ever experience, but knowing someone who saw my growth at such a crucial time in life now feels valuable.
I suppose all uncoupling is conscious. It’s not fair to judge how anyone else breaks up, but holding one another in enough respect to leave space for your goodbyes can have a tremendous effect on the way in which you move forward from one emotional realm to the next. It did for me.
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