You’ve probably been hearing it since you were a kid getting into schoolyard spats: there are always two sides to a story. “Yes, mum,” you probably sighed. These days, older and wiser, we realise that mum was probably right all along.
But, sorry mum, there’s actually a pretty big exception to this rule. And it has to do with your relationship and how it ended.
That’s when YOUR side of the story is the ONLY story that really matters.
Think about it: you’re newly separated, and you’ve got it worked out: ‘he did this’, ‘she did that’, ‘who do they think they are’, ‘how could they do this to me’, ‘they’ve ruined my life’. While it’s likely all based in truth, without a doubt it’s a story that we’ve cemented in our minds. It probably has a compelling beginning, a suspenseful middle and a dramatic end to rival a Hollywood blockbuster.
And nothing your ex can say or do will change your recollection of what happened – in fact, when your ex tells their side of the story to friends and family (which, you know is a total fabrication of the truth because your story is the only RIGHT one!) it gives you additional ammunition to beef up your story; you reload and fire straight back!
Well, I get it because I’ve been there. For a long time, I lived in that place where my story was the only story. It was full of blame, hurt and anger – with absolutely zero mention of moving on.
Despite that, I did move on, and you will too. Part of the process of that is recognising the power the story you’re telling yourself is playing in your journey. When you’re armed with what I’m about to tell you, you’ll be able to get there even sooner.
First of all, if you’re reading this, the reality of a separation or divorce is probably extremely raw for you. You’re hurting, feeling lost and struggling with the weight of many new emotions. You may also be in the afternoon shadow of your split: in the I-wish-I-could-move-on boat. Either way, I’m sending you a great big hug.
All of the emotions you’re experiencing right now are totally normal. They’re all part of the process: sharing your story, unpacking the pain, and searching for answers to those unanswerable questions. You need to do this (for a little while, anyway).
The problems start when your search for answers continually turn up empty but you keep searching anyway. You keep doing the same thing. Telling the same story. Feeling like you’ll never move on. I hate to say it, but that’s the point that you become stuck in a vicious cycle that gets you nowhere.
Let’s not even get to that point–but if you’re already there, I’m going to share how to get back to a better place.
The breakup story
Five years on, I still recall word-for-word the story I would tell people about my breakup. In the past, whenever I told my story, I swear, it was as though I was reliving that actual moment when my world fell apart. My heart would pound, a wave of fear and anxiety would overwhelm me, resentment set in and my voice went a little higher pitched. Sound familiar?
Let me state for the record: although I can still recall this story and may even think of it from time to time, it no longer has the same power over me or my life. I’m free from it.
Breaking the vicious cycle
Three years ago, I learned how to break this vicious cycle after attending a personal growth seminar – and thank goodness I did because otherwise I would still be telling the same story and feeling just as raw as the day it all happened.
So, let’s talk about your breakup story: how you came up with your story and why it will keep you stuck in an unproductive past, limiting what’s possible for you in your present and future.
What’s really going on?
1. The story versus what actually happened
It’s human nature: we merge what actually happened with a story about what happened. This happens so fast it becomes hard to separate the two, and we think of them as one and the same. Pretty soon, the story has become the reality. But really, the story is just an interpretation, not a run down of the facts as they occurred (again: normal). Every time we tell the story, our pain, upset and loss of power are kept alive.
2. People look at life through a filter
As much as we’d like to believe that we’re totally objective and open minded, the way we were brought up, our values and our experiences all create a filter through which we view the events of our lives. It colours everything we see.
Stop for a minute: what filters did you look through to create your story? How about your ex?
3. We see ONLY what we see
Our past and the context of similar situations determines what we see and what we don’t see in a situation: what we consider and what we fail to notice, what we are able to do and what seems beyond our reach.
Could there be something that you are not seeing or have failed to notice when creating your story?
4. Oh, the complaining
No matter how justified, all our complaints (which is what they boil down to) are holding us back. We might get some sympathy but there’s a steep cost: our energy levels, our state of mind, our whole outlook on life (never mind the friends who are getting rather tired of hearing it rehashed for the 475th time).
Put simply, you are not going to move forwards if you are persistently complaining through story telling, no matter how hard you’re trying to fix it in another way.
So think about it: are you in any way benefiting from the attention of others through your story? Are you the recipient of sympathy or the creator of additional ex-haters to validate your story? And, how about your ex: are they doing the same?
5. The inflated power of fear and anxiety
It might sound bizarre, but one of the biggest obstacles to living an amazing life beyond a breakup is fear. No matter how accomplished, successful, or courageous we are, it’s scary entering a new chapter. And often, we allow our fears and anxieties to stop us – to determine how much we’ll risk, and to limit the range in which we live. They become super powerful in this way.
How much of your story is created from a place of fear? And, how about your ex’s?
6. Who we are
The process of who we are began in childhood, as we gradually adopted ways of being and acting to deal successfully with things that didn’t quite go the way we thought they should. By the time we reach adulthood, we’ve got habits, approaches and characteristics that make up our personality and how we react to all kinds of situations, including a break up.
No matter how well you think you know someone, when a marriage breaks up (a major this-didn’t-go-the-way-I-thought-it-would moment) both you and your ex will have different, perhaps never before experienced ways of being built into your psyche. This will significantly impact the story each of us tell.
Everyone has their own unique vantage point
So now you understand what’s happening behind the scenes, let’s take a look at how to start changing the story. It wasn’t till I learned this following exercise that I was truly able to untangle myself from my story and move forwards powerfully.
And, when the time is right, I hope this exercise helps you move on, too.
Let’s break it down:
1. Imagine you have a big cardboard box.
2. You’ve cut out four small windows on all four vertical walls of the box.
3. Imagine there is an object standing upright inside that box (lets say a mobile phone – it’s black on the back, white on the front and gold around the edges)
4. Imagine you have four people, each looking through their own window.
Each person goes on to explain what they see.
Person 1 looks in and sees the front of a phone. “I see a white mobile phone”.
Person 2 looks in and sees the back of a phone. “I see a black rectangle”.
Person 3 looks in a side window and sees the side of the phone . “I see a skinny gold line.”
Person 4 looks in the other side window. “I see a thin, tall, gold piece of metal”.
The point — there is only one object and there were FOUR right answers.
Whether an object or an event–hello marriage breakdown–the same applies. Each person looks at the event from a different perspective, a different vantage point and has a different opinion on what happened — and suddenly there are TWO or more right answers.
The way you saw your breakup can be totally different, yet just as right, as your ex’s take on things.
The thing is, as humans we then take it a step further. From here, with your differing but equally right opinions on what happened, you attach your own meaning and emotion to it (remember all those things going on behind the scenes?). Suddenly you have a story which becomes your very complex version of what happened.
With a story in hand, you’re going to have actions and reactions based on the hurt, anger, resentment and whatever else that’s crept into your story.
To help you really grasp this concept, spend a moment and draw two columns on a piece of paper. In the first column write down exactly what happened at the end of your marriage (‘she said I don’t love you anymore’, ‘he had an affair’, ‘she spent too much time at work’, ‘he walked out’ etc etc). Do this without attaching any meaning and emotion. Just state the facts — what exactly happened? In the second column, write down the meaning and emotions that you’ve attached to each of the what happened items: “He knew how much that would hurt me’, ‘It’s exactly what I feared was going to happen’, for example.
This was my lightbulb moment: after doing this exercise, I fully understood that not only was my what happened totally different to that of my ex and we were both right in how we saw the breakup… but each of us had created stories using our own filters, seeing only what our past allowed us to see.
There was no point trying to play the comparison game anymore or spend any more of my life trying to discredit his story. It was just a story. And just like that, both my story and his lost their power.
I was able to let go of my story, not take things personally, and move forwards in a really powerful way.
When you bring your awareness to all of this, reflect on what actually happened and appreciate that your ex, from his own vantage point, saw what happened in a totally different but equally right way as you. Try exercising your empathy muscle while you’re at it.
Can you imagine what possibilities can come into your present and future when you let go of your story? It’s time to start creating some exciting new stories!
I’d love to hear what possibilities you’re looking forward to welcoming into your life with your breakup story in the rear view mirror. Let me know in the comments below!
If you’re currently facing the reality of a breakup, separation, divorce, co-parenting journey, or you’re a victim of domestic abuse, Hello Mojo’s app is here to save you time, money and a whole lot of stress. The app gives you the know-how to start preparing your case and then document absolutely everything you need to – information, communication and evidence – so you’re ready for any legal obligations that may arise. Check it out now…
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If you need extra support, download my FREE e-book, 5 Separation & Divorce Hacks. It’s packed with helpful tips and advice from those who’ve been right where you are now. It will help you go in the right direction faster, and less painfully.
You’re doing just fine. Take it one day at a time. And remember, be especially kind to yourself.
Founder | Hello Mojo