I am not usually an advocate of leaving. As a general rule, people bail on things–relationships, jobs, new habits–far too easily. When they aren’t out and out bailing on them, they’re usually bailing energetically, which is really just the same thing (examples include: staying in a relationship but disconnecting, or telling a friend that you’ll hang out “sometime” while avoiding phone calls or making actual plans; staying in a job you don’t like but not really showing up to work present; sitting down to meditate but allowing thoughts to drift aimlessly instead of connecting to the breath–it’s a form of going through the motions, but not really “being” there).
The most painful place where this shows up for most of us is in relationships. And so I’ll just out myself–Hi, my name is Kate, and I’m a recovering relationship bail-aholic.
Leaving relationships when the going got tough was my default, my modus operandi. I left friendships, more than a few boyfriends, and went through phases of not speaking to family members that lasted for months.
It wasn’t courage, though–it was my armor; my protection. Leaving was the thing that allowed me to avoid taking responsibility for my part in the relationship and seeing where I was out of integrity. It also sidestepped getting vulnerable about my desires to connect with others.
So–I resolved to stop leaving. I resolved that when I was confronted with someone who was unkind, I was going try to work it out, to start taking a self-inventory, getting in integrity, and owning my part. After all, didn’t I have flaws? Wouldn’t I want someone else to be compassionate with me in those moments when I’m not my best? Isn’t there something to be said for loyalty–for letting the people we love be seen at their worst, and continuing to love them anyway?
The line I always draw is this one: in abusive situations, none of the above applies. If someone is verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive, the compassion needs to be offered from a safe distance, and a stronger loyalty is placed on the belief that the person has the capacity to change than on a loyalty to continued interaction with them.
Recently, however, I was thinking more about those relationships that fall into some in-between space–where perhaps there are some strongly dysfunctional behaviors going on, and yet I don’t know that I’d call them out-and-out abusive; relationships where I know that deep down there is a lot of love there, and a hell of a lot of good intentions, but it just isn’t showing up in the room and hasn’t been showing up for awhile. The environment has become toxic, and not because of that “energy vampire” nonsense (I don’t believe in the concept of “energy vampires”), but rather because contempt is openly and unkindly expressed.
I was having a bit of a low day around it when I asked about this aimlessly on Facebook: What’s your criteria for leaving a relationship?
The lovely Pixie Campbell shared this: “I believe that everything we do in integrity has a benefit, whether it be releasing or continuing to work on a relationship. I find letting go hard to do, but when it happens, I allow it, accept it and move forward. We can’t control where others are at on their paths and I’ve sat at the confrontation table with some who are not at the same place I am with regard to courage to sit in the discomfort and conjure up humility. It’s just too hard for some. Yet. I never write anything off forever. But releasing a person for my dungeon so they can do their work, and releasing myself from their dungeon so that I can do mine, has always proved worthwhile. It’s always possible that we’ll meet in a clearing up the road.”
Andrea Schroeder said this: “It can be an act of love to walk away. If I were being so difficult to deal with that someone else was in pain or stressed or somehow left our interactions feeling worse than they did before our interaction – I would want them to do what they need to, to take care of themselves. I’m not talking about closing doors forever. Just knowing which room I want to be in the moment.”
And I thought: Ahhhhh. Yes. Of course! What wisdom!
One of the things I practice as much as possible is to BE my journey, which entails getting present, slowing down, and embracing all that comes into the circle of my existence as I work with this now moment…and this now moment…and this now moment…life is just a string of these ‘now moments,’ these opportunities to get present.
In the midst of my fear, I’d temporarily forgotten that which I hold dear: to be present to my choices, moment to moment. The choice to step away from relationships that aren’t nourishing is a “now moment” choice. Working with this “now moment,” where things are disrespectful and unkind despite attempts at reparation, letting go is the kindest choice for all involved. It’s one that can be altered down the road, if circumstances have shifted, in another new “now moment.”
That’s not the same as being a bail-aholic. It’s taking a step towards a bigger expression of love.
And in fact, I was reminded of one of the most important relationships that I ever set a boundary in–I’d had years of fear and conflict bound up with a family member, until the day I called them up and basically said, “Look, I love you and want us to get along. I’ve also decided that disrespect is not okay. If we have a conversation that seems disrespectful, I’m going to need get off of the phone or remove myself from the environment.” It didn’t fix everything, but it definitely made me feel stronger and more capable.
We can use our time here on this planet to love big, bigger than we ever thought possible–while being willing to love ourselves enough to say “no” to taking part in more dysfunction. If you’ve taken an honest self-inquiry, communicated clearly and openly with the other party, dropped down into your vulnerability and shared your desires for connection, been receptive to hearing others’ feedback, and allowed some time and space for change as well as checking back in (change doesn’t happen overnight), that’s some powerful love showing up in a relationship.
And sometimes, even that is not enough when the other party isn’t willing to meet you there.