I vividly remember an ex telling me (before he devoured my heart like a delicacy) that no one is more responsible for a person’s heart than he or she is. He was warning me of what was to come, yes, but also offering me a great lesson and truth.
Often when love doesn’t survive as we’d hoped and dreamed, we immediately want to make others accountable for our pain. We hope to retreat from the reality of our lives and the messes we’ve made. But is that behavior, though natural, the best for us?
I’ve been revisiting various tenets of Buddhism lately, taking moments in the midst of this sweltering summer heat to tap into my deepest peace. Recently I’ve mostly reflected on how we often fail to see ourselves when we need to most. Buddhism essentially teaches us that until we conquer ourselves and learn the lessons we’re intended to learn on our life’s journey, we will face (over and over) the same suffering.
This applies to love and relationships as well.
When we retreat to victimhood instead of facing how we’ve contributed to our hardships and heartaches, we fail to learn the lessons that will make us wiser and more powerful human beings. In essence, we end up (over and over) breaking our own hearts.
No one person is solely responsible for any relationship falling apart, even if the demise seems to come “out of the blue.” The truth is, the universe always gives us signs that we’re going the wrong way in relationships, even when we choose to ignore them. Here are three major signs to look for when deciding whether to advance or retreat in love.
1. We Rely on Hope
I grew up believing that being hopeful was a positive attribute. But as I’ve grown, I’ve come to understand that being overly hopeful in relationships is unwise. When we focus on hopes for the future, or incidents in the past, we’re neglecting to view our lives in the present moment, which is really all we have.
The saying from Maya Angelou—“When someone shows you who they are, believe them”—has become a proverb because most of us witness people’s character flaws long before we have been hurt, deceived, beaten and battered. In hindsight, we clearly see that the behaviors we came to loathe were present in the beginning. Yet we move forward with our hopes in tow instead of stopping that oncoming heartache in its tracks. Let’s base our decisions about love, as much as we can, in the present.
2. We Continuously Give More Than We Receive
When we operate from our higher selves and connect with people doing the same, we may be free to give openly without expectations and demands. But in our day-to-day lives, and especially in our partnerships, we must remember that reciprocity is important for our survival. Our partners and the love we make with them should become our springs of renewal. We should never feel as though we’re giving until we’re empty, even if we acknowledge that no relationship is ever 50-50.
Relationships travel through cycles; they may ask us to give 70 percent at times and expect more from our partners when we’re only capable of giving 30. If someone is truly trying to build a life with you, he or she won’t allow you to constantly give more or do more. When that imbalance is apparent and continuous, when we appear to be the only person doing the work, we should strongly consider letting go.
3. We Don’t Remember Love Is a Verb
A verb is a word that reflects an action or multiple actions. I grew up hearing my maw-maw utter often, “A pair of lips’ll say anything” without really understanding what she meant. Her aphorism speaks to one of the greatest ways we break our own hearts: which is by listening to someone’s words instead of acknowledging their actions. We have to do better.
We know that when we love, it shows through our service to our partners, and we should expect service in return. Of course, showing love isn’t restricted to any particular action. For some it may be purchasing gifts, for others it may be making dinner after one’s lover has had a long day. But the bottom line is, the actions should be visible. When we give our hearts to people who spend more time talking than doing, we’re setting ourselves up for failure and heartache simultaneously.
Acknowledging that someone has wronged you is important, because we don’t owe anyone silent suffering. But neglecting to be accountable when we make bad choices means that we’ll never learn to choose better. We can’t expect a better life or better love if we aren’t willing to conquer ourselves, and we’re liable to break our own hearts over and over again until the conquering comes.
Josie Pickens is an educator, cultural critic and soldier of love. Follow her musings on Twitter @jonubian.