It might have been a huge blow-up where you and your partner both said awful, hurtful words. It could have been a slow-building tension that brought coldness and distance. The effects are the same… your relationship feels like it has collapsed. The strong foundation of trust, communication, respect, and even love has been shaken and feels destroyed.
You might be very upset, not sleeping or eating well and fearful about your future. You may also be feeling justified about what you’ve said or done. After all, your partner did something awful!
When your relationship has fallen apart, try this:
1. Be honest with yourself about what happened.
The first thing we recommend you do after a relationship collapse is to assess the state of your union. If your mind is racing ahead to what you think the future might hold or to what you guess your partner will do next, stop. If you’re replaying in your mind your version of what went down between you two, stop. Slow down your thinking and, instead, get very clear about literally what happened.
This is going to be your biased perspective, so be as choosy as you can about what you believe is true. Think about what was actually said and the actions that really happened. Go with observations and verifiable information when at all possible.
If, for example, you’re “sure” about your partners intentions or feelings, ask yourself if you really know this. Keep returning to what was said, what was done, and how you feel about it.
2. Be honest with yourself about what’s in your best interest.
Next, we invite you to consider the wisdom of repairing your relationship. We do NOT think that people should throw away a perfectly good relationship just because mistakes (even big mistakes) were made or an argument happened.
But, we also know how important it is to make conscious choices about one’s life…this includes the conscious choice to stay in or to leave a relationship.
Think about what is in your best interest. Think about where you stand right now with your partner and also about where you want to go in the future. Remind yourself that you deserve to have the relationship you truly want.
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It’s also helpful to review what you know about your partner’s actions and stated intentions.
For instance, if your partner had an affair, get clear about whether or not the affair has actually ended. If it hasn’t, do you have any indication that your mate is planning to stop cheating? If he or she has vowed to end the affair but has done nothing to follow through, consider that as well.
The decision to stay in or leave a relationship is yours to make.
3. Be willing to own your role.
You’ve probably heard the saying that it takes “two to tango.” As uncomfortable as it is to admit, this is almost always true. What your partner said or did may have been a huge betrayal, but there is probably a role you also played in the relationship collapse. With gentleness and self-love, try to determine what your role was and is.
This isn’t about you taking the blame or being the only one at fault for what happened. That’s not helpful either! This is about you owning the part in your relationship that contributed to the collapse.
This might have been your tendency to say “yes” even when you mean “no.” This may be your habit of jumping to conclusions or to shutting down and withdrawing when things got tense. Find out what your role is and ask yourself if you are willing to make some changes.
4. Take your next best step.
The advice we’ve given you so far has all been what we call “advance work.” This is vital if you truly want to repair the damage of the relationship collapse. It is rarely a wise idea to rush to any action without taking some amount of time to get clear within yourself about where you stand, what your role is, and what is beneficial for you.
When couples have the same argument or they break up and reunite over and over again, it’s often because neither of them has done the advance work. They are merely repeatedly reacting to one another and building up even more hostility and pain. As you do the advance work we’ve recommended, you’re going to begin to know what is your next best step.
This might not be an action or decision that you are necessarily happy or comfortable with, but it will feel certain and right for you. Your next best step might be to offer your partner a heartfelt apology, to set a firm boundary, or to seek help from a professional.
Whatever it is, take your next step and keep checking in with yourself as you take another and another. This is the way to rebuild trust and connection and to re-discover your love for one another.