Failed Relationships – How to Survive and Then Thrive

Cactus Border

The Cactus Boundary © 2014 Bo Mackison

Knowledge is learning something new every day.  Wisdom is letting go of something every day. ~ Zen Saying

I sometimes rehash the rupture of a treasured relationship.

I still see this person on occasion. And the conversations on these occasions often include barely concealed criticisms – and I choose to take those wounding words to heart.  I accept them. I own them as truths. With pain and shame and thoughts of “what could have been, if only I had . . .”.

These infrequent contacts lead to intense shame — it’s all my fault, I should have ____ (fill in the blank). Why am I so crazy, intense, sensitive, blind to my own faults? I engage in obsessive thinking, sleepless nights. I indulge in over-reaction.

I know this is not the preferred reaction, the healthy reaction, the reaction based on self-love. I know it is not about me, and yet I once again swallow the hook, line and sinker. And the worm, too. Don’t forget the wriggling worm.

This morning I read a blog post on Susan Piver’s website entitled Buddhism and Heartbreak: How to Heal and Live in Love. Every word struck a chord. In fact there were so many striking chords, it sounded like a symphony chiming in my head.

Susan wrote of three ways of addressing failed relationships, all reasonable and doable, and although they require persistence and awareness, they also offer a way to refocus and return to full life living. I read Susan’s blog post carefully, took notes on how I could adapt her wisdom into my routine, and then I decided they were worth sharing. Surely I am not the only one who gets embroiled in haunting, failed relationships. So here is my take on Susan Piver’s thoughts on relationships.

1. Assert control over monkey mind.

Instead of trying to devise ways to change what has already happened, or embarking on a “program of change so I will magically become acceptable,” I can choose to practice feeling what I feel. Not only during my timed meditation practice, but throughout the day. And at night, too, when dreams and thoughts of failure awaken me from my sleep.

As Susan Piver explains, sitting with the feelings, as in the Buddhist tradition, is a “more expeditious way of metabolizing sorrow”. The pain does not disappear, but at least there is the offer of healing and moving on.

Along with meditation, I find it helpful to journal and create art dealing with the experience of “feeling the feelings”.

2. See the pain of the lost relationship as a lesson in attaining wisdom.

Even Susan admits this can seem ludicrous. There are constant reminders of what used to be; there are glimpses of what might have been. There is magical thinking; there are comparisons. There is loss.

A visit to a special garden, a place of shared memories, evokes feelings. A favorite book evokes feelings. A restaurant, a work of art, a song on the radio – these all evoke feelings. Long after the ending of the relationship.

I can allow these feelings to evolve into feelings of unworthiness, sadness, longing. Or . . . I can steer these feelings into a practice of openness and the opportunity to offer loving kindness to others.

That is the key — not how do I replace love lost, but how do I send love out into the world.

Susan promises — yes, she uses the word promise — that when one gives to others, the effects of loving kindness rebound and heal the self, too. She also reminds us not to take her word for it, but to try it out, and see the results. Yes, indeed!

3. Accept that all is impermanent and that life is change.

This is the hard part. All relationships are in flux. Living a full life is living with constant change. Susan advises “letting heartbreak transform one into a warrior god/goddess”. Know that every relationship is impermanent, but is also precious and worthy, a life-sustaining source of learning and connection.

Here is the important part. Be willing to love anyway, accepting the possibility of loss, taking the chance to love and connect. Risking all, because of the preciousness of love. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote in his poem In Memoriam, composed in 1850:

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.



About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. Bo–thank you for this deep sharing. I have some very significant failed relationships in my life story, and it is SO hard not to fall into intense self-blame, especially since these were relationships in which I was not valued and constantly shamed. There is so much wisdom in what you have shared here, and I see the potential for healing.

  2. Sandy Scherrer says:

    I wish our paths crossed more often. I often think of when our kids were small & we spent so much time doing things together. I feel as though time has moved too quickly & distance became the unravelling of a friendship that I treasured.

  3. An interesting post. As the old trite saying goes we are our own worst enemies. Yeah, me, too. I do those things you mention. Everything must be my fault. If only. Negative self talk for days and nights and seemingly forever. The exercises you bring to the fore sound positive, sound sane, sound like they might work. I must ponder this within the realm of my own failed relationships, for there are many. Thank you for sharing this with us, kindred spirit.

    • Bo Mackison says:

      We know what is good for us, but it is hard, sometimes, to follow through. Always a learning experience, tiny steps of progress.

  4. Bo: Thank you for remembering me and visiting my photo blog. I’ve been busy and neglectful of many of the photo blogs I usually visit. You reminded me to come visit you!
    I like how real the thorns look in this image.

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