After two months of chest pains, I finally got in to see a cardiologist. The verdict? There's nothing wrong with my heart.
While I was ecstatic at the news, it begged the question: why the chest pains? And then it hit me: there is such a thing as a broken heart.
I had it when my father passed five and a half years ago -- the dull ache that wouldn't go away. The grief counselor told me it was normal. Two weeks later, the pain disappeared.
But this time...? Another man. Not my father, but my romantic partner. My heart knew it was over long before my head did. But then it should, when it comes to matters of the heart.
After my divorce a year and a half ago, I had hoped I wouldn't have to go through this kind of heartache again. And truth be told, the end of my 21-year relationship with my ex-husband didn't hurt this much. I knew that relationship was over -- it had lasted years longer than it should have.
But this time I wasn't ready for it to be over. Yes, I knew we had our challenges but I thought they could be addressed. Of course, that only works when both parties are committed to addressing them...
My heart broke when my father died; it broke again when I got divorced -- not by my ex, but by my own self-criticism about my failed marriage; and here I am again. Third time's the charm and with this broken heart I feel as though I've learned more than I did from the first two. And from where I'm sitting, these lessons were 100 percent worth the pain.
So what did I learn? So much, but for brevity's sake, I've boiled it down to my top seven:
- Always trust your intuition. You know that Taylor Swift song, "I Knew You Were Trouble?" It was playing through my head the entire time my ex and I were on our third date, a date that by all means went really well, was incredibly romantic, and lasted for hours. I had other little nudges along the way that told me things weren't right between us; nudges I ignored. I don't regret anything -- were it not for life's little lessons, we wouldn't grow and change. But next time, when my intuition is screaming at me, I think I'll pay attention.
- Always speak your truth. I think a lot of women fail at this. We think if we say what we're really thinking, people won't like us or we'll hurt someone's feelings, but by keeping quiet, or acting like everything is fine when it's not, we're not being fair to ourselves or to the people in our lives we're not being honest with. I am guilty of this myself. My ex and I had some issues -- what couple doesn't? -- but I kept quiet for fear of upsetting him until the point where my temper would boil over and I'd end up a sobbing, angry mess trying to tell him my grievances. Obviously, that wasn't the most effective means of communication and rarely led to any positive changes. Next time around, I'll know better. It's better to get it off your chest than to harbor anger and resentment.
- Put yourself first -- hear me out. I'm not saying, "be a narcissist." What I'm saying is that as women we tend to be nurturers, caregivers, and we tend to put ourselves last on our very lengthy to do list -- if we're on it at all. Your partner is not your child; he or she can take care of him/herself. By doing everything for them, not only do you deplete your own reserves and end up sick, but you also undermine their ability to take responsibility for their own lives.
- Don't try to 'fix' them -- you can't change someone else. 1) it's not your responsibility to do so, and 2) lasting change must come from within the person making the change. Christine Arylo says in her book Choosing Me Before We, "People are who they are. When you believe them to be something else, you get hurt and angry and feel deceived... It's all about expectations. Whatever actions someone takes are likely to be totally congruent with who they really are, not who you imagine them to be... Take responsibility for your reality!"
- Figure out what you really want in a romantic relationship before you dive into one. I'll be the first to admit that not only was I not looking for a partner when I met my ex, I wasn't even ready for a relationship. On the heels of a divorce, I was just getting to the point in my healing where I could begin thinking about a relationship sometime in the future. But I wasn't clear yet on what I wanted and what I didn't. So I took what I got without thinking about whether it was in alignment with my goals and desires. Make sure you get clear about what you want your ideal relationship to be like (notice I didn't say your ideal partner -- this isn't a checklist, this is more about how you want to feel in your relationship).
- You must be in a healthy place and truly ready for a relationship, as must your partner. If you're not comfortable being you or being alone, you are not ready. If you're still hung up on your ex (either longing for them or saying nasty things about them or Facebook-stalking them), you are not ready. If you are not happy with where you are in your life or looking for someone to "fix" you or "fill your holes," you are not ready. You are a complete person in and of yourself; it is not your partner's responsibility to complete you or "fix" you.
- Take responsibility for your relationship. Relationships take work to sustain; it's always a work in progress. Make sure you make the health of your relationship a priority in your life. Whether it's date night every Friday or time to talk about how things are going after you put the kids to bed, your relationship requires a sustained effort -- from both parties -- to maintain. If you're not willing to put in that effort, you're not ready. Actions speak louder than words when it comes to relationship health.
Okay, I lied about picking seven, here's my bonus tip:
8. Always listen to your body. If you're constantly sick, that's sign something is not right with your life. It may or may involve your relationship, but your body is your best barometer of not only your physical health, but your life and relationship health as well.
I hope these tips serve you. Here's to your happy, healthy relationship!