Happily Even After
by Alan Cohen
While driving through San Francisco late one night, I happened upon a radio station that played songs requested by callers. A young woman named Carol asked that a particular song be played for a fellow named Eddie.
"And who is Eddie?" asked the DJ, a mature woman with a sultry voice perfectly suited for late-night radio and romance.
"Eddie is my husband," the caller answered, "actually, my soon-to-be ex-husband--he's leaving our marriage."
"Then why would you want to dedicate a song to him?" the DJ retorted, her voice abruptly shifting from seductress to intimidator.
"Because I want him to be happy, and I want to stay friends with him always."
"You want to stay friends with a guy who ruined your life?"
"He didn't ruin my life," Carol answered firmly. "We had a lot of wonderful times together, and even though we are going our separate ways, we care about each other. That's why I'm dedicating this song to him."
"Oh, all right," the DJ answered with a sigh of surrender. The song began to play.
As I made my way along Route 101 in the quiet of the night, it occurred to me that this conversation symbolized two very different approaches to relationship: one that has dominated our culture for as long as I can remember, and one that feels new and even radical. The old way is based on the belief that when a relationship ends, it was a failure because it did not turn into a marriage or the marriage did not fulfill its "until death do us part" vow. One person is cast as a villain, and the other a victim. Blame is hurled back and forth until the two people--who once adored each other--turn their backs on one another, or one person pines endlessly for his or her lost soulmate.
If the couple divorces, brutal warfare ensues over property settlements, alimony, and child custody. Then both people go on to create the same relationship with the next partner, who promises to be different but turns out to be the same, or is different but just as bad or worse. Meanwhile, both partners struggle to pick up the pieces of their broken lives, and perhaps enter therapy to try to figure out, "Why am I so screwed up?"
Can this really be the way we were meant to live? Must heart-break and enmity be the natural end products of love? Or is there another way in which we can approach relationship parting that bestows us with strength and empowerment rather than pain and sadness?
Yes, there is. The way in which Carol chose to end her relationship is called "Big Love." The purpose of a Big Love relationship is to open, learn, grow, discover more about who we are, enjoy the unique riches we bring to each other, and expand as spiritual beings.
Big Love defines the success of a relationship not by the weight of the diamond in an engagement ring or how long the marriage lasts, but by the quality of aliveness we experience while the relationship thrives. Big Love recognizes that how we part is as important as how we were together; that love and harmony are more important than being right; and that mutual support is more vital than sex, romance, or even staying together. Big Love acknowledges that our happiness does not hinge on the actions of another person, but proceeds from a Source deep inside us. No matter what a mate does for or against us, we always have the power to choose love--perhaps not always the romantic love that we were taught to pursue, but a higher and greater spiritual love that endures forever.
Those who practice Big Love understand one crucial principle that is painfully absent in its more popular yet more limiting relative, shaky love: The key to enjoying a better relationship with your next partner is to find healing and completion with the last one, and to appreciate both the joys you shared and what you learned through the challenges. Unless you have come to greater self-understanding through your last relationship, you will most likely repeat it the next time around. Then you'll wring your hands and shout to the universe, "Why is this happening to me again?" Sooner or later it becomes obvious that we do not attract relationship partners by chance. Who shows up depends on who we are, and who we are depends on what we've learned from who we've been. Before we can expand, we must heal.
Happily Even After brings Big Love to life and focuses in detail on what it takes to move from fear and separateness to mutual empowerment. If you are ready to grow beyond struggle, this book offers you a new vision and many tools to live it. In the pages to come; you will meet more than two dozen couples who have found creative ways to love themselves and their former mates, and who have moved on to more satisfying relationships with their exes and, eventually, their new partners. They are real people, just like you and me, who in some cases ascended from the deepest dregs of bitterness and resentment and chose to get on with their lives by cultivating honest appreciation.
I hold three powerful intentions for you as you set out on your adventure through these principles and stories. I envision that you will: (1) find deeper healing, peace, and win-win solutions to the issues that have challenged you in your past relationships; (2) open the door for brighter and more nourishing energy with your next partner; and--most important--(3) learn to love, honor, and cherish yourself in the process-so deeply that there is no doubt in your mind that you're worthy of having the relationships your heart truly desires.
"Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future." – Paul Boese
On Father's Day, I took my two ex-husbands out to dinner," Danielle told me nonchalantly.
"Why not?" she countered. "Steve and Randy are the two most important men in my life; they are the fathers of my children, and we are all connected. I wanted to honor them for the good they have brought into my world."
My immediate reactions were: (1) Are you serious? and (2) We could make a mint by selling this story as a sitcom. But then as I sat and digested my friend's account, I began to like what I'd heard. The more I thought about it, the more I respected Danielle for keeping her former mates in her heart and acknowledging their importance in her life.
Let's face it: Danielle's dinner is an exception to the way you and I were taught to deal with the end of relationships. In a million obvious and subtle ways, our culture has taught us that when a relationship is over, both parties go their separate ways, and at least one is hurt and upset. One person is a creep for leaving, and the other is left out in the cold. I can envision a Seinfeld episode in which George grills Jerry during a postmortem of a recent breakup: "Were you the dumper or the dumpee?"
We do not have to dig very deep to discover the source of our programmed attitudes. Countless pop-song lyrics, novel plots, and romantic movie themes have glorified and capitalized on the villain/victim model.
While many of us were weaned on co-dependent Weepy-Waily Victim Songs, few of us have taken the time to step back and ask, "Is there an option other than the one I've been shown? Am I doomed to live out the rest of my life feeling separate from those I once cared for deeply? Is there a way I can remain friends with my ex and feel good about him or her, as well as myself?"
It is not only possible to enjoy a lasting and rewarding relationship with your ex; it is inevitable, for two reasons:
1. Once we are in relationship, we are in relationship forever.
2. All enmity must eventually give way to healing.
"But," you may sincerely contend, "you don't know about my relationship-I don't ever want to see that horrible jerk again, let alone be friends."
You don't need to ever see that "horrible jerk" again, but for your own well-being, you need to come to perceive the relationship in a way that will empower you so you won't feel drained and emotionally poisoned every time you think of your former partner. No matter what he or she is doing or feeling, you must find a way out of pain and anger for your own peace of mind.
You cannot get on with creating better future relationships unless you come to terms with past ones; otherwise, life is just one long Groundhog Day in which you keep attracting the same kind of partner--different actor, same story. Are you ready to write a new script with a more satisfying ending?
You don't deserve to live in pain, fear, or resentment, and you don't need to. In spite of what we have been taught and experienced ...
We can create our partings in any way we choose.
Rather than storming away in a cloud of resentment, you can use your experience to build what could be one of the greatest friendships of a lifetime, and become a springboard to healthier and happier relationships in all aspects of your life.
Even if your relationship did not have a happy ending, you can have a healthy ending. More and more couples are deciding that being in harmony is more important than being right. As a culture, we are participating in an all-important cultural shift from torturous endings to more soul-satisfying connections. We are paving the way for relationship completions that add to the quality of our lives, rather than destroying them. There is hope for all relationships, including yours. Nothing is so botched up that it cannot be restored to kindness and dignity through sincerity, caring, and love. Are you open to a greater possibility for love, starting now?
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