“When the wrong people leave your life, the right things start to happen.” ~Zig Ziglar
The end of a relationship triggers many grief emotions, but when a couple breaks up because one person decides that it’s over, there’s a very distinct pain: the sting of rejection. It doesn’t matter whether things had been difficult for some time or if the split came out of the blue; either way, rejection feels brutal.
One of my clients, Chris (not his real name), enlisted my coaching services shortly after his 10-year marriage ended. Chris had no idea that the breakup was coming. On top of the shock that the relationship was suddenly over, he carried the intense and overwhelming feeling of rejection; that he was no longer valued, wanted, or needed.
Rejection can trigger feelings of shame, low self-esteem. and diminished confidence as well as helplessness and victimization. And if your former partner leaves you for someone else (which was Chris’s experience), the intensity of rejection increases further. The anger and resentment about the betrayal can make healing feel much harder than in those situations where the split decision is mutual.
When Chris began moving through his initial grief, he found that the biggest shift in moving forward came through changing how he viewed rejection. He realized that by identifying with the feeling of rejection, he was telling himself that something was wrong with him; that the marriage was over because he wasn’t enough and, therefore, needed to be “discarded.”
Of course, that wasn’t true. But in the initial stage of the grieving process, it was natural for Chris to feel that way. However, by shifting his perspective, Chris eventually began to realize that his wife’s decision to leave was not a reflection on him.
It’s always hugely important – and necessary – to acknowledge and process feelings of grief; you absolutely cannot bypass grief. Reframing isn’t about burying or ignoring your emotions. It’s about viewing your situation differently so that you can move through pain far sooner and more effectively than simply waiting for time to be your healer.
Here’s how I helped Chris reframe the rejection.
- It’s not necessarily about you.
It’s almost impossible not to take rejection personally. Chris’s ex-wife said she left because she wasn’t getting what he needed from the relationship; she needed to follow her “truth,” which no longer included Chris. Her narrative of the breakup became about Chris’s inability to be what she needed.
This is where shame really kicks in. Rejection tells you that you weren’t enough to keep your partner from leaving and, in some cases, you’ve been replaced with someone who can make them happy.
But what if it’s not all you? As personal and hurtful as the rejection feels, sometimes it happens because the other person is unable to give enough or be enough of what the relationship needs. When someone is unable to love you fully, they’ll either reject you, or stay in the relationship and treat you badly or indifferently enough until you decide to end it.
We’re all human and it’s very rare that one person is flawless within a relationship. Chris felt far less rejected when he realized that his ex-wife had her own considerable struggles and issues that led her to choose to leave; it wasn’t all about Chris.
- Relationships are assignments.
I subscribe to the spiritual school of thought that views the people in our lives as lessons. The theory goes that we meet no one by accident; we’re all in relationship to further our growth and deepen our connection to ourselves and the Universe/each other. Partnerships with a significant other are huge vehicles for growth, but when the learning has gone as far as it can go with one person, it must end.
Sometimes people leave our lives naturally and comfortably, other times we face the pain of rejection. The lesson isn’t always obvious at first, especially through the pain of grief, but what’s initially perceived as rejection can also be viewed as a release from a completed assignment and an opportunity to learn.
Consider that you still have much more to learn, experience, and achieve, and maybe your partner wasn’t the person to join you on that journey. Perhaps being released from your relationship will allow you to find what you really need to become the person you’re meant to be.
This reframe can be wonderfully comforting if you choose to find love again in the future. If you learn your difficult lessons from the old relationship, you’ll grow, and the person you share the next stage of your path with will bring more fulfilment and different (and perhaps easier) challenges.
- Change the ending.
When someone chooses to leave you, they not only decide that the relationship is over, they also determine “the story” of why it ended. So, why did Chris’s marriage end? The event that ultimately broke Chris and his ex-wife apart was her leaving to be with someone else. However, on another level, there was more to it than that.
Chris had changed within the marriage; he had been working through a deep personal issue a year or so previously, and had come out of the other side stronger, more content with life, and ready for a happier future with his wife. He had grown, but his ex-wife hadn’t changed with him.
When Chris became aware of this, he started to view the ending as less about rejection and more about an incompatibility between who they both were. It was an empowering reframe because it allowed Chris to feel far less victimized. The way his ex-wife ended the marriage was not excusable, but it held far less of an emotional grip over him.
Think about ways that you might have been rejected, not for anything you did “wrong,” but for something that altered the nature of the relationship:
- Did you refuse to have your boundaries crossed or to put up with certain behavior?
- Have you changed for the better in a way that your ex-partner couldn’t handle?
- Were you simply yourself and refused to change to please them?
If you can view the ending in a way that empowers you, even a little bit, it can really ease your pain.
- Remember you are still whole.
The feeling of rejection is greatly fueled by the beautiful, romantic idea that two people “complete” each other. But that idea is pretty demoralizing, isn’t it? I mean, are we are no longer complete because someone doesn’t want us? What’s our role in life now that we’re not required to complete the other person?
Losing a partner is painful and the grief of loss is real, but the pain is heightened and prolonged unnecessarily when we believe that we’ve been rejected by “the other half of ourselves.” It can feel like life has no purpose or meaning anymore. When Chris began to accept that he was still whole and valuable, it took away the feeling of despair that he was somehow diminished and “less than” because his wife had decided to walk away.
- Focus on gratitude.
I love using gratitude as a tool for helping to shift into a more positive state of mind. Admittedly, in the early days of grieving, it’s not easy to feel grateful for anything at all, so you may find it easier to start with making a list each day of the small blessings in your life—the day-to-day things we usually take for granted. I really recommend this as a practice.
As your mindset starts to shift, you’ll come to realize that there are genuine reasons to be grateful that you were rejected. Chris’s included:
- Finding out about his wife’s affair and his divorce. Who knows how long Chris could have remained unaware, believing his marriage was something it wasn’t?
- The chance to learn to value himself more highly and to become aware of how resilient he is.
- The new life opportunities which came his way once he began to see the loss as an opportunity to have a better life; Chris now knows for certain that he wouldn’t have the career, and sense of purpose which he has now, without that crisis in his life.
- The chance to understand himself more fully and begin a new healthier and happier relationship.
A heart broken by rejection can be a perfect example of a blessing in disguise. The best way to move forward is to allow yourself to feel the pain, then proceed to reframe the loss as an opportunity. Trust that the right things will start to come because the Universe truly does have your back!