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It’s uncanny how the beginning and the end mark the two times we feel most definitive about our feelings in a relationship.

Really, all relationships could be summed up like so:

We know when we start to love.
We know when we start to hate.

If hate seems a little harsh here, here’s another way of looking at it:

We know when we start to open.
We know when we start to close.

This cycle can happen several times a day or over a longer stretch of time. In relationships that are particularly challenging, we usually spend the moments between the start and end trying to get to one or the other — deciding whether we want to open or close, love or hate.

That doesn’t leave much space for being in the relationship right now.

In my experience, that single fact — not showing up in the relationship as it is or wanting the relationship to be what it is not — is the source of major heartbreak.

What it looks like to not be in the present with another person:

  • You withhold your true feelings because they might hurt your partner or because you’re not sure of his or her reaction
  • You hold your relationship to an unrealistic ideal (“We never fight” or “We can never not fight”)
  • You let things go unsaid because it doesn’t feel like “the right time” to say them

In all these situations, what’s happening in your body is simple: Your heart is scared to open so you rationalize why you won’t speak your truth.

Right now, I bet you know without even thinking what you’re currently acting out in your relationships. You can feel it before your mind realizes what’s happening.

Conscious of the unconscious

Most of the time, we act unconsciously toward those we love the most. It’s no surprise: How many times a day do you remember that your heart beats?

Through the emotional ups and downs, the heart works hard, physically, and without assistance. The Daily Love’s Mastin Kipp writes:

“Between the moment that you go to sleep and the time that you wake up, your heart will beat between 20,000 and 30,000 times — FOR FREE! … Our heart is constantly working on our behalf to keep us alive.”

It’s human nature to neglect things we cannot see, like the absolutely vital role our hearts play in our lives… like the beginning of the end of a relationship.

And, maybe, that’s what leads to the closing. We let our relationships run on autopilot yet we still expect them to fulfill our every need.

It’s silly to set and forget our relationships. Even the heart needs exercise to function at its best.

Opening at the close

When our relationship causes us pain, it’s as common to attach those negative feelings to the person as it is to a place. Long after a relationship ends, the bias can remain where you used to hang out or the song that was playing when you had your first kiss.

This past weekend, I revisited some old stomping grounds to help my friend out at an expo. I was last in the area three years ago, but the emotions I attached to the place resurfaced as if I had never left.

I didn’t feel bitter or sad or angry, though, as you might expect. Just aware. Very aware of something that had been and now something that is not. In a word: present.

It’s taken a very, very long time for me to arrive here, in a space where I can think about my past romantic relationships not with pain as the focus, but with gratitude for the happiness.

And it doesn’t always happen. There are times when I get caught up in my version of the story and use blame to excuse ownership of what went wrong.

But it was realizing my co-creation of the wrong that ultimately set me free. Free from rehashing the hurt; from holding on to the past; from not loving myself.

On my way out of town, a huge rainbow arched across the misty mountain sky. 

You come first

I sought refuge on my yoga mat both times my major past relationships ended. The first time, I was introduced to yoga. The second? I became a yoga teacher.

My yoga practice has taught me that there’s no way I can fully show up for someone else if I don’t show up for myself, first. Whether at the beginning or the end of a relationship or anywhere in between, the most important person you need to open your heart to is you. (click to tweet that)

Showing up for yourself means:

  • Speaking your truth even when it hurts someone else
  • Going with the flow and taking ownership of how your emotions affect others
  • Realizing that every minute is “the right time” to open your heart

“Take hold of this moment / Let go of the past / Everything is broken / Nothing ever lasts.” —Everything is Broken by Ollabelle

The band Ollabelle was my go-to when relationships gave way to pain, and this particular song usually left me teary-eyed by the final chord. But after I started doing yoga, I began to hear it differently.

Instead of darkness in the idea that nothing ever lasts, I began to see the lightness. The glass half full-ness. There is beauty in the inevitability of being broken, because without it we might never know what it’s like to feel fixed.

There is a rainbow despite the storm. In fact, because of the storm.

4 ways to release the pain of your past relationships

1. Own your side of the story.
Relationships take two, and that’s all there really is to it. The sooner you end the blame game, the faster you can open your heart to the love you crave and deserve.

2. Go back to the start.
When you feel ready, revisit those old haunts. Play that song or look at that old photograph. Attach new memories so the places and pictures don’t hold the same power.

3. Choose to send love.
One of the most powerful practices you can do to transcend hurt is to actually send love and kindness to the very person you once blamed for hurting you. When you’re fully able to do this, that’s when you know you’ve fully forgiven.

4. Practice yoga heart openers.
When we’re hurt, we often protect ourselves by slouching or curling up in a ball. Take the shield off your heart by practicing this heart opener.

Try this: Matsyasana, Fish Pose, variation

Full Fish Pose is an advanced heart opener that may not be accessible for beginning or intermediate yoga students. Here’s a supportive version to get your feet wet (ha!) without putting too much strain on the head and neck.

Optional: Little dog on your chest; a block on which to rest the back of your head.

  1. Sit with your legs extended in front of you, hands on the floor by your hips. If using the block, place it a foot or so behind your hips. Bring the ankles together and point the toes. Press gently into the palms and extend the spine tall.
  2. Keep your spine lengthened as you gently come down to the right forearm and then the left, anchoring the elbows underneath your shoulders. Gently lift the hips, tuck the pelvis under and set your hips back down.
  3. Press down into the elbows and forearms to lift the inner shoulder blades. As you do so, keep the belly button tucked into the spine. Gently rest the back of your head on the block, or drop the head back only if it’s comfortable for the throat and neck. Stay for four to six deep inhalations and exhalations.
  4. To come out, exhale and gently lower your head and torso to the mat. Pay attention to the energy rush in your heart center. Finally, hug your legs to your chest for a squeeze.