Pressing pause on a relationship

CakeTue 9th March 2021

It became clear to us in December that it was time to stop. Time to stop tearing and biting each other into tiny, bitter pieces with teeth that were sharpened by trauma, sharpened by the anxiety and social isolation of the pandemic, sharpened by un-spoken needs and feelings. Having been together for five years, having created a community and a chosen family together, it was not a choice we took lightly or hastily. But it needed to be done. So, we agreed, as the old year shifted into the new, to stop being “us” and to take stock, reflect and then see what we would do next.

This pause makes our relationship transitions as unlikely and unusual as its start. Having met whilst we were both in the early stages of open relationships, mine a 9 year marriage, his a year long romantic relationship that had, hitherto, followed the typical relationship path and was at the “shall we move in together” phase, we had seen each other grow and change a lot in the five years we shared.

By taking time out, by stepping out of the connection and into a space where it is not severed but it is just paused for now, we create space to see the truth of ourselves.

The space and time allows the room to:

acknowledge the harm caused on both sides

acknowledge the pain and the suffering

see that we are both the giver and the receiver of pain

consider what we would like to keep and what we need to let go of

By stepping off the merry go round, we can gather our selves, see the ride and its motions and make a choice about how we want to continue to enjoy the ride, if at all

When our heads are spinning we can’t make good choices and we often respond automatically from a place of activated trauma. It makes sense to steady ourselves so that we can feel still and grounded before we make choices and take action. This is best started alone but can then be done in collaboration as long as there are the appropriate boundaries and safe guards in place. I began with my own yes, no, maybe list for what we might share moving forwards and any contact was agreed in advance in writing and kept short for a few weeks.

I understand not everyone can take a full, months long break from a partner but even a weekend apart or a day can be the pause in the process that is needed to get space around your feelings. We need to normalise making and taking space and time to reflect and normalise these kind of pauses and resets in relationships. It is so helpful to move beyond the binary of together / apart and, instead, to ground the connection we share in the needs of the now.

It can be too easy to be constantly triggered and to not have the non-activated space to think clearly about how you are and how you want to be in a connection. For me, one of the reasons I choose to live alone is exactly so I can take the space I need and, by consciously uncoupling with an openness as to what might come after, we can feel safe and also free. I am confident that I can heal if we do decide to end things completely. I am also confident that any further friendship or connection will be better for this time and work.

I’m hopeful that we can keep what has been working. To be able to keep the parts and type of connection that meet our needs would be a real blessing and would also be testimony to the open hearted non-monogamy that we both practice but are both still learning. I’ve never not just LEFT before when things got hard or difficult. So the pause, the reset, feels both challenging and also magical. To go beyond the binary of together / not together and see if there is a different path we can travel down that keeps us connected in a way that serves us both.

Obviously, we need to be in agreement and, obviously, this agreement can, and likely will, change over time

By having time apart we can see what is left and how are feelings are when they are not being poked and stirred up all the time. We can see ourselves and them clearly. Genuine needs can emerge as the whirlpool of wanting slows.

Things that help manage the process:

agreeing contact and time frames

communicating in writing and being clear on needs re response times

agreeing what to do “in case of emergency”

communicating the pause to anyone directly affected by it, ideally together if possible

always going at the pace of the slower person, not the quickest

For me, this is the first time I’m truly on my own since I was 26. I was lucky to meet Andrea when I did but it did mean that there was no pause between my marriage ending and the connection he and I made. The huge change I went through had to be lived through by both of us and it has meant that we have never had the time to really adjust, we have been doing it on the go all the time, like the Argonauts repairing the ship as it sails. By docking the ship for a time, we can., in the calm of part, take a really good look at what needs fixing, chucking overboard or bringing on deck.

And, if it comes to an end, it comes to an end with more calm. The pain would still need working though, to be fully felt, but we could begin to move on knowing that we did our best and that change was not made in the heat of a painful moment.

I believe that what we will end up with is no longer a relationship with a capital R but instead, a co created, collaborative and fluid thing that is better suited to us as we grow. The expectations and patterns of behaviour are stripped away and we will be committed and willing to see each other and our self in the now. Not as we were then or how we might be in the future.

These ideas draw on concepts like transformative justice, where making amends is a collaborative, community and personal project. One which can transform our lives and begin to heal the harms that are so often caused unconsciously.  Our relationships with each other can and should be mirrored by our relationships with the structures and systems around us, and with nature. The more respectful, kind and authentic we can be with ourselves, and our immediate people, the more likely we are to be able to effect the changes that the world so desperately needs.