Breakups and suffering: A Buddhist view on overcoming separation

Any break up, no matter how it happens, brings some pain and sorrow. These are normal emotions. Buddhists are normal people so they feel the same as everyone else. The difference lies in their perception of the break up, Buddhists are encouraged to refrain from extending their suffering.

For extending suffering, blurs their positive outlook, limits their possibilities and blocks their energy. So then, what can we learn from Buddhism that would help us deal with the pain associated with a break up?

Attachment is a cause of suffering

A break up means a change in the structure of a relationship, a relationship we once believed to be happy and joyful. As time passes the joy and happiness begin to dissipate in any relationship, and people simply don’t know how to deal with that change. Sadness and sometimes anger take over. Yet we still hold on to that person, to that relationship, to that ownership.

The only thing standing between you and happiness throughout a break up is the feeling of possession. MY mate, MY relationship, and MY partner. “MY” is a strong indicator of attachment, a very powerful origin of suffering. Buddha teaches us that the nature of reality is impermanent, and that to believe in the opposite is the cause of suffering in this world.

Many people get lost in the wonderful feelings they get from someone else, they think that their partner will finally save them from the harshness of the world. So they become entangled in toxic arrangements that only lead to more suffering. People continue to repeat this cycle until they realize that the only person responsible for their happiness is their own selves. Only when people reach this point are they able to enter into relationships with a full heart free from the need for attachment.

As we can see, suffering and attachment are two intertwined concepts. However, buddhist teachings can show us another path. 

Learn about the true nature of love

There is a very cliché saying: “If you love something, set it free. If it’s really yours, it will come back.” I want to break that up into parts and use Buddhist teachings to show you the truth when it comes to these simple words. 

Love is more than a feeling, it is a state of mind, it’s a way of life. There are no conditions for it to occur. Conditional love is not love. There is only one form of expressing love and it is without expecting anything in return for it. This is what constitutes unconditional love.

I like to picture love as an energy that originates in the heart, transcending the humble body emanating it. Eventually that same love touches everyone and everything in its path. The beauty of this energy is that it is unstoppable, the “undeserving” of receiving it are understood and covered by its power. They feel things they never did.

Some time ago, I was doing some physical therapy in a clinic near my house. There I met a lady that had her foot smashed against the curb by an old van. She suffered greatly from this accident, as most of the bones in her foot were broken. The accident was caused by an old van, which belonged to a family that used it to sell live produce.

It took her more than 6 months of 3 hours daily physical therapy to get her to walk, with a discrete limp that is. The first thing she did, is that she looked for justice. A justice that came from pure love. She sought after the family and did what she could to help them get another vehicle and to stop using the old one. She never pressed charges, and decided that she was going to change her life.

Love and greatness walk together. When we love our partner, we embrace their fragilities. There is no disappointment or deception, if you have no expectations. You respect your partner, as they are a part of yourself. They are free to make their own choices and they’re free of guilt. If they lack honesty, that’s on them to understand. If you really love, even if it hurts, you’ll understand.

The slight difference in love when it comes to couples is that it usually involves sexual energy. Unfortunately, many people let incapabilities in this aspect affect their partnership. But that’s a subject for another conversation.

Know that everything is impermanent

The way a Buddhist reacts to a break up will reflect how far they are on the path to enlightenment. The second noble truth one has to deal with is the origin of suffering, and attachment is one of them. 

If that person has already faced and dealt with a loss, then they’re able to understand the impermanence of things, they understand that nothing is meant to last forever. It is always like that, because the world around us is in constant transformation. Do you really believe a 5-year-old relationship is the same as it was in the first year? Is it only the relationship that changed?

People change. They change their values, purpose and objectives. Suddenly one day, you may even wake up and realize that you’ve reached a phase in your life where you see no meaning anymore. Because now meaning is derived when you’re doing something to bring some relief to other people’s suffering. Whereas your partner might be going through a phase in life where they believe that they’ve done enough for others and it’s time to work more on their own selves.

People with such differing perceptions about life and purpose are no longer compatible in a partnership. They surely can love each other, and maybe even feel sexual energy around each other. However, their compasses are pointing in different directions. One cannot force the other to change the course of their life.

Break ups are a natural process of an impermanent relationship. I’m not saying every relationship is doomed to end. We are transient beings, so naturally everything that’s related to us, will eventually come to an end. 

Once enlightenment is reached, and awakening happens, we come to terms with the real truth. The truth is that there is no break up, because there is no entanglement. There is no end as there is no beginning. We are part of a whole. Our partner is part of it too, therefore we are inseparable because there will always be him in me and me in him. And this whole, this unity is unbreakable.