In A Relationship Breakdown, Try to Remember These Things

Toby Hazlewood

Things WILL get better

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Yesterday morning I woke to a text message from my daughter. I’d been expecting it all weekend - it read:

He dumped me.

I can’t pretend I was surprised (or sorry) that this episode was over. I never met the guy but I didn’t like what I’d heard about him or how he’d treated my daughter — his pot-smoking habit alone was a red-flag, even if he's from the Netherlands where it’s legal.

It’s no surprise that I was disapproving. As a dutiful (and over-protective) father, I’ve yet to meet any of her boyfriends and feel more than begrudgingly-tolerant of them. It’ll be a special individual who wins me over.

Her text made me sad though. I tried to be supportive and non-judgmental when we spoke. With the passing of a little time, I know she’ll be fine, and she’s certainly better off without him. In time she’ll meet someone else, and I’ll no doubt be as dismissive and judgmental of them too.

The lessons it takes time to learn

It struck me that we've had the same conversations before. Often in life, we go through the same difficulties and hear the same advice a few times before the lessons sink in. More often we learn by our mistakes alone, and no amount of prompting or suggestion will make a difference.

It’s tough for us parents to get our kids to absorb the lessons we want to impart when they’re young children, then as teenagers, and when they’re fully-fledged legal adults.It comes from a good place, to want to help our kids avoid making the same mistakes as we’ve made. And yet, somehow, the wisdom gets lost in the teaching.

When I was younger I resisted many lessons and kindly words of wisdom offered by my parents. I often did the exact opposite of what they advised and then lived to regret it. While I doubt my kids are any different than I was, I continue to share the lessons I’ve learned about life and hope that some of them might stick.

As awkward as it might seem for a father to offer his daughter advice about dating and relationships, I feel I have some valuable insights to offer her. I divorced from her mother when my daughter was seven, and so she’s grown up a witness to my efforts to find another relationship. At least she knows that I’ve had my share of struggles and that I’m not preaching based on an out-of-touch perspective.

Here are some of the more potent lessons that I’ve learned (so far) about relationships that become particularly evident in the midst of a break-up. When you're trying to make sense of the breakdown, understanding these truths may help to make sense of it.

1. Rely on yourself before you put your faith in anyone else

It’s easy to end up in a relationship out of a need or desire to be with someone rather than because we are truly ready for it. It’s natural to want to be partnered up with someone as we go through life - we all need companionship after all. Many seem to be afraid of being alone.

We all need to be needed and want to be wanted. Ideally though, before getting into a relationship we should feel completely contented and whole in yourself.

When your life is squared away and you are confident and happy on your own, that is the time to seek a relationship.

A relationship that starts because you need an emotional crutch or band-aid to make up for other inadequacies in your life is doomed to fail. It may feel good to begin with thanks to the temporary relief it provides, but rarely does it last.

We owe it to ourselves and to each other to be fully self-reliant and whole before getting involved in other people’s lives.

2. Don't abandon what's important to you for the relationship

Since she left home for University, I’m proud of how my daughter has got her life in order.

She's happiest when she’s meeting her own needs from life and prioritizing the right things — when she wakes early, works out, eats healthily, stays on top of her life-admin, spends lots of time with her friends and gets plenty of sleep.

It's so clear to see, that many of these things fall apart when she starts a new relationship.

When we relax personal standards it can be a slippery slope to letting other things slide too.

We stop communicating with our families as much. We don’t visit with friends as often. We’re less careful with our money, and we slacken off our efforts at school or work.

In the flush of a new romance; it’s easy to compromise on the things that used to matter. You tell yourself it's romantic to focus all your time and energy towards that new person. Inevitably it brings problems when we realize that normal life has to carry on too.

We owe it to ourselves to keep living our best lives as individuals, just as we did when we were single. When we lose sight of things that were important to us, the quality of our life suffers - that will undermine and weaken the relationship and make us unhappy in ourselves.

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3. Don't rush into a relationship or feel pressured by your age

I'm not a typical example of this, and proof of why it's important that others take their time - I was still only 23 when I met and married my daughter’s mother. We stayed together because of the pregnancy, and while we were together for a few years and had another daughter together, the relationship didn’t last.

I wouldn’t have done things differently if I could have my time over — you have to say that as a parent, after all. I love that I’m still a (relatively) young 45 years of age now that my daughter is 21. We enjoy many of the same hobbies and interests, and we find common ground in most aspects of life. Truth be told though, we made life much harder than it might have been by having kids so early in life and without any forward planning.

It put enormous strain on my relationship with her mum when we’d only just got together. It put me on the back foot financially from the very beginning of my career. I’ve always felt tremendous pressure to provide for my kids, and while I’ve done this willingly, it’s undoubtedly prevented me from taking certain risks and opportunities in my career.

I tell my daughter that her early twenties should be about experimenting with different careers, living in different places and being selfish about what she wants to do — figuring out what she wants to do and where, before finding someone to settle down with.

The same goes for people at any age - life is long and you always have more time than you think to find 'the one' (if you even believe such a person exists).

4. Physical attraction and lust wear off - don't be blinded by attention

After divorcve, when I eventually thought about meeting someone new online dating was becoming the norm. It seemed appealing to me as I lacked time to devote to dating as a part-time, single dad. I also had zero-confidence or desire to hang around bars and supermarkets trying to find ‘the one’.

It felt good when someone showed an interest in me, and it was exciting to chat and flirt online. Often I ended up meeting and dating someone who was obviously unsuitable as a long-term match, merely because it felt good to be wanted.

I see my daughter making the same mistake from time-to-time — settling for guys who undoubtedly have lots going for them but who are plainly not right for her in one way or another, merely because they’ve shown her a little attention. I’m not objective of course, but she’s smart, beautiful and engaging company. It’s upsetting when she settles for guys who’ve treated her dismissively or cruelly, having won her affection by dangling a little attention.

We all deserve to be appreciated and desired, but we have to protect ourselves from hurt by not being too easily swayed by flattery or flirtation. It's important to hold true to our standards, to hold out for someone who's worthy of us. Don't Settle!

5. Don't feel a pressure to commit too soon

I was the king of making long-term plans within the first couple of months of a new relationship and then living to regret it.

In the flashes of a new romance, I’d buy us tickets to concerts and music festivals that were far off in the future, only to have broken up by the time the event came around. It meant having to miss the events or awkwardly going together as friends, which never worked well. I invited girlfriends on family holidays and booked flights for them, only for the relationship to have fallen apart long before the vacation came around.

I’ve seen my daughter do the same, planning trips home with boyfriends, only for things to fall apart before (or during) the visit. Like me, she has a tendency to commit to things too early.

It takes time to find the right person and for a new relationship to demonstrate the potential for long-term survival.

There’s no way to fast forward the time it takes for a relationship to flourish. That shouldn’t be considered a negative.

Take the time to meet different people and enjoy the process of finding ‘the one’. Be discerning. Protect your interests and don’t settle. Don’t make your life more difficult by convincing yourself that each person you meet is your future life-partner. Don’t fill your calendar with mutual plans until you’re both convinced it has long-term prospects.

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6. Life is long, take your time and enjoy it

It all comes down to this — you’ve got way more time than you think you have to achieve everything you want to in life. That includes finding someone to settle down with.

There are exceptions of course — my best friend and his wife have been together since meeting in their early teens and remain as rock-solid as any couple I know to this day, 20 years later. Their example is unusual though.

Few people find their life partner until long into so-called adulthood. Many seem to find it takes at least one divorce or serious breakup first too - you need to experience what you don't want before finding what you do!

If you dream of conventional married life, living in the suburbs with kids and a dog it’s still easily attainable even if you don’t settle down until your thirties (or later).

Some people take into their thirties, forties or even later to figure out what kind of person they want to be with. Relationships aren’t for everyone, and that’s fine too.

Life is long. Enjoy that fact!

Final thought

In the midst of a breakdown, many feel bleak and decide that relationships aren't for them. That's understandable - been there, done that (many times).

Breakups happen for a reason though - and in my own case at least they've usually been due to me forgetting one or more of the rules in this article. When the principles are forgotten, the problems can be slow to come but they come nonetheless.

Take the time you need to work out what you want and need from a relationship. There’s no fixed schedule and no pressure from anywhere other than you to make it happen. There’s no need to rush!

Focus first and foremost on being the best person you can be, for you and you alone. When you’re contented, self-reliant and self-sufficient, you’ll be in the best shape to form a healthy and satisfying relationship.

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