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Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

A reader write in and asked:

First of all, I’d like to thank you for the wisdom and honesty you show your listeners with answering all these questions and giving insight into the fundamentals of Buddhism. I am relatively new to Buddhism, mediation (and yoga), so you podcasts and articles are very welcome indeed. With the growing audience you probably have received a question like mine before, but I’ll give a try nevertheless.

Right now I am going through a difficult time as a result of the breakup of my relationship. You can say that by attaching too much to my loved one, I face a lot of suffering now that the relationship is over. I am wondering how to find a good way to love someone with all your heart and soul (girlfriend and stepchild in my case) but not to get too much attached. I know that Buddhism won’t tell you not to love anyone but have you or other people thoughts to help me with this dilemma?

My Response:

You say you are suffering, and that’s always bad, but it’s normal and to be expected during a time of loss, even for a Buddhist.

You are absolutely right that there is a little bit of a conflict there. You aren’t supposed to get too attached to people or things, yet you are allowed (strongly encouraged even) to love others. Buddhists believe that the problem is not the attachment to others in itself, the problem is grasping too hard to hold on to these things, and suffering over the fear that you will lose them.

Death, divorce, breakups, or even just growing apart, happen to couples all the time. Sooner or later all relationships come to an end, and most of those endings will be painful to some extent. What can you do? Expect it. Plan for it. Don’t become attached to the idea that you can control it or stop it; you can’t. Sometimes you can hold back a breakup or keep the relationship going with effort, but even then, sooner or later, you will be parted. Know this, and when the time comes, accept it. After the separation comes, don’t dwell on it or become attached to the way things used to be. Look to the future; look to new relationships.



1 comment to Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

  • I think another aspect that can help is not to try to shield your heart from future relationships or suffering, but to use this to open even more. The pain you are feeling is being felt by millions of people at this exact minute. You are not alone in this feeling, and perhaps this can open up your compassion for yourself, others who are heartbroken, and even your ex-girlfriend who is also grieving. This can make you more human by accepting the pain as the appropriate and equal response to the love you have, or it could be used to harm yourself by trying to become less attached in the future.

    All things have beginnings and also have ends. There is no way any relationship cannot end – this one just ended sooner or in a way you didn’t want, and it is appropriate to feel the pain of that. Being enlightened and non-attached doesn’t mean you don’t love and feel pain, IMO – it means you don’t try to hide from the pain (both of loving and losing).