OPINION Your Breakup Has a Silver Lining: How to Find Hope in Painful Endings

Crystal Jackson

Photo bySinitta Leunen on Unsplash

You can dread something and hope that it never, ever happens — only to find that the thing you feared might just have been the start of something amazing.

Of course, we’re talking about breakups. I didn’t want my last relationship to come to an end. I utilized all my usual coping mechanisms to delay the inevitable — denial, people-pleasing, endlessly compromising myself, and making excuses. I’d have gone to couples counseling. I would have talked the problems out. But what I just couldn’t do — what none of us can do — is make another person love us back and value the relationship enough to want to save it.

The breakup I was dreading happened in the moment I least expected it, and I didn’t react the way I thought I would. While he ended my hopes and dreams for our future, I packed away photos and muted the line every time I needed to stop and cry about it. I felt numb and broken at the same time. If you would’ve told me that there were silver linings ahead, I would have told you exactly where to shove your toxic positivity.

I just needed to feel the pain and grieve. With healing, time, and distance, I can look back and see that there were silver linings — even if I didn’t want to acknowledge them at the time. Breakups are endings— often painful. But they can also signify new beginnings — possibly extraordinary.

Silver Linings

We get to choose how we handle life’s challenges, but that doesn’t mean we have complete control over our emotions. I grieved hard for a long time. I missed him every day, and it took a long time to stop reflexively wanting to reach out and connect. Breakups can break us, but to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, that’s how the light gets in.

Time to Resolve Old Issues

Relationships take up a lot of time. They require energy and effort, and even after the end, he took up rent-free space in my head for far too long. When I no longer had the relationship to invest in and worry about, I was able to come face to face with some unresolved issues.

If that sounds like trading one heartache for another, that’s exactly what it was like. But now that I wasn’t spending all my time wrecked as I sensed the relationship drawing to a close, I could really put the time into healing from my past — and frankly, healing from the damage done by the relationship.

Losing him pushed me into therapy. Everything was a trigger. I had childhood issues to contend with, a history of difficult relocations, a chronic and invisible illness recently diagnosed, and betrayal trauma from relationships. I couldn’t do it alone, and I stopped trying. Going to therapy was a silver lining that may have saved my life.

Time to Invest in Friendships

I didn’t have a lot of strong friendships when I entered that previous relationship. I was still new in my town, and I was also single parenting two children and trying to figure out how to balance my life. After the breakup, I realized that I needed more support and connection than I had in my life.

I didn’t just make friends. I invested in them. I scheduled lunches, sent texts, and did a better job of forming, maintaining, and nurturing those connections. I’ve built a powerful inner circle that I might not have had if I’d stayed in a relationship that was draining me of the energy to even try.

More Sleep, Rest, and Recovery

The funny thing about breakups is that we usually get a lot more rest than usual. It’s not unusual to find ourselves going to bed early or taking naps during the day. Grief is exhausting. We need to rest and recover as much as possible.

Without late-night phone calls and television viewing keeping me up to all hours, I could go to bed early — a small habit but one that’s proven helpful in managing my chronic illness. I learned to slow down and to rest because my body left me with no choice. It may seem like only a sliver of a silver lining, but it’s a silver lining, nonetheless.

Opportunities to Try New Hobbies and Interests

Endings make room for new beginnings, and I became curious about how I could spend some of the time I’d once devoted to my relationship. I found myself impulsively signing up for a yoga teacher training I’d always been curious about taking. It helped deepen my existing yoga practice and gave me a new avenue of both connection and income. I took pottery classes, too, and found an outlet for much of my anxiety.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t immediately start collecting new hobbies and interests. I had months of grief work to slog through before I found the energy or interest. Yet, I strongly suspect that some of these interests would have languished in the back of my mind for Someday had the breakup not happened.

New Dates and New Dating Lessons

New dates may not seem like a silver lining when we wanted the relationship that we had. New dating lessons seem even less like one when we’re still reeling from the last. Yet, all this “new” makes way for an extraordinary opportunity: the chance to experience healthy relationships and to break unhealthy cycles.

How did I get the last relationship so wrong? I had time to figure that out, and I began taking what I learned when I met potential partners. I couldn’t afford to make the same mistakes. I had cycles I needed to break, and it took self-awareness and effort to do it.

But I also got the chance to experience what it was like to be treated well. I was conditioned to handle neglect. I’d been love bombed and devalued, and it had chipped away at my confidence in ways I hadn’t even noticed at the time. As the relationships I chose became healthier, I saw that it wasn’t just possible to be treated well — it should be the bare minimum we expect for ourselves.

Suddenly, I had partners who wanted to show me what it was like to be secure in relationships. Communication was clear, honest, and kind. I might have lost someone I loved, but I also learned that I deserve to be someone who is loved, too.

Time for Self-Evaluation and Self-Love

If I’m honest, I was going to lead with self-awareness and self-improvement, but I reconsidered. Single people are generally tired of hearing all the ways we could stand to improve ourselves to deserve a partner. We are worthy already.

With that being said, breakups do allow time for reflection and self-evaluation. I began to be accountable for my actions in the relationship I’d lost, but I also applied what I was learning to new ones. I was able to confront my own flaws, but I also accepted that there’s a lot about me to love. I’m always learning how to be a better person — a kinder, more present one. But I’m also learning how to love myself better and how to accept that I’m never going to be perfect and it’s completely okay.

It’s too easy to sit around and count up all the things that we did wrong that might have damaged our relationships. It gives us the illusion of control to believe that if we did one thing differently, we could have changed the ending. But the truth is that we are always worthy of love, respect, and kindness — and we won’t have to convince the right partners to see it.

Time to Decide What We Want

After it was all over, I began to think about what I truly wanted for my life. If you’d asked me during the relationship, I might have said that I wanted to marry him (if I was being honest) or that I wanted a long-term relationship that would eventually lead to at least sharing space. But after, I asked myself what I wanted now. Did I still feel that way, or had I wanted the wedding we’ve been taught to believe is the inevitable conclusion to our relationships?

I still haven’t decided. I haven’t dismissed the possibility of marriage to the right person, but I am far more invested now in having safe, loving, healthy relationships. I want relationships where I don’t worry and wonder and instead feel secure, cherished, and appreciated.

But I didn’t just decide what I wanted for my relationships. I decided how I wanted to live my life. I bought a house — a purchase I had put off when my future felt uncertain with my former partner. I adopted a dog. I stopped waiting for a relationship to fall into place and started creating a happy, healthy life.

Time to Adjust Our Standards

A silver lining that can come with most if not all breakups is that it can help us adjust our standards. My standards before the relationship were fairly high. I just kept lowering the bar when it became unhealthy for me. I didn’t want to leave, so I kept adjusting my standards down to pretend that everything was okay.

After it all ended, I raised those standards all the way back up. I know that not every relationship is meant to last, but we can at least try not to damage the people we connect with along the way. I stopped tolerating unhealthy behavior, and it helped me encounter it less frequently.

Time to Recommit to Ourselves

Another breakup silver lining is the chance to recommit to loving ourselves better. It’s not just about raising our standards or accepting our imperfectly perfect selves. It’s about making some decisions about what we will and won’t compromise on in the future. It’s about making promises to ourselves that we intend to keep.

I loved even while my heart was breaking, but when it was over, I knew that I had to promise myself to leave any relationship that no longer felt loving for me. I had to learn to trust my own intuition again and to have confidence that making healthier decisions would contribute to healthier outcomes in my life and relationships.

I’d been betrayed in relationships, but I’d also betrayed myself every single time I let someone make me feel like a convenience, an obligation, or a consolation prize. When the dust cleared, I promised that I wouldn’t do that again. I deserved love, and I needed to start acting like it.

Time to Believe in Love Again

The biggest silver lining of all is that we eventually start to believe in love again. At least, we do if we’re healing. We don’t believe the last chance was the very last chance to love and be loved. We don’t think the person we wanted was the only possible match in existence. We begin to trust that we will love again.

I went through times of being cynical and jaded, times when I swore that I’d stay alone, and times when I just broke down and wanted what was gone. I ran the gamut of grief many times, and I did the healing work. I believe in love again, and it’s a silver lining I wouldn’t have expected when this journey began.

About Silver Linings

Silver linings are whatever we make of them. There are a lot of these that I could have done in a healthy, secure relationship. I could have gone to therapy, invested in friendships, and really put more energy into making my life what I wanted. Instead, I spent time trying to hold up a house of cards that was already falling apart. I didn’t want the end, but I’m taking the cards I’ve been dealt and playing them for all they’re worth.

I say all of this to remind you that if you’re still in the grief stage of your breakup, hold on. You can’t see the silver linings with tears in your eyes. You can’t see silver linings while you’re simultaneously trying to process the future you had wanted and the one that’s as yet undefined. That doesn't mean there aren’t any. Give yourself time. You’ll see them when you’re ready.

Originally published on Medium

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA

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