Listen to the audio-version of this article:
“Burning bridges behind you is understandable. It's the bridges before us that we burn, not realizing we may need to cross, that brings regret.”
― Anthony Liccione
Years ago, I was brought to a crossroad, and it was truly a moment of decision.
I had just gone through a life-changing breakup, and all the past years of my life, all the experiences I'd ever had, all the mistakes I’d made … everything had led me here.
The problem was, I had no clue which turn to take.
I had burned the bridges behind me (something that had taken courage I'd never thought I had), and now I was staring at the bridges before me, not knowing which one to avoid and which one to cross.
Remaining in this “neutral zone” between the bridges was not an option, that much I knew.
But I was hesitant … and so afraid.
It had been six months since she'd left right before our wedding.
I'd gone through gut-wrenching emotional pain that I’d never experienced before, and so I made the impossible decision to stop keeping in touch with her.
That wasn’t a conscious decision out of necessity (to my shame), but out of self-protective weakness.
I couldn’t bear it one more minute:
Her cold voice, her indifference, the continual demonstration that it was permanently over, the alarming facts about her new life …
And worst of all, the obsessive pondering over insignificant details triggered by her presence.
I finally sent her a letter to announce the termination of our “friendship-attempt” and her presence in my life, and I watched that bridge burn brightly into the night.
And while I almost felt the warmth of that figurative fire on my skin, it suddenly dawned on me that I didn't know where to go from here:
“What’s coming next?”
How I Received Unexpected Help
In such moments in life, we are often offered unexpected help, people, events, and opportunities that help us cross the right bridge.
I’ve seen it over and over in my personal and professional life. We merely have to recognize and accept the help. Many people don’t.
My help came in shape of an almost long-forgotten relative of mine. He found me and he MADE me cross that bridge.
He told me that I alone was responsible for my happiness — not my Ex, not my friends, not my family.
That insight gave me the push I needed to move out of the “neutral zone” and into unknown land.
The Two Choices I Had to Face
I could not go back; there was this newly awoken pride in me and an unfamiliar will to move forward … Besides, the bridge was burned, there was nothing I could do, anyway.
So, there were only two choices left for me:
- Give up completely on myself and on my life (everyone who has ever been through massive emotional turmoil knows that this is a real choice), OR
- Use this experience to rebuild myself from the ground up.
I decided that I would use this breakup experience as a catalyst to change who I was and thus, my life’s journey.
The choice was scary — it was almost like being forced to make a trip to an unknown destination and purpose … scary and a little bit exciting.
That very day, I knew that I was going to make it.
In such moments of clarity, you feel that the WILL to make it is almost enough; everything else is just a consequence of that forceful decision.
And I DID make it … and even today, I can’t believe to what extent.
It led me to my purpose in life, which is helping others take the same path I did.
It led me to have the fulfilling marriage I always dreamt about, and it led me to beautiful twin girls, who are the light of my life.
All built on the pain that I had to overcome.
The Three Steps Into Emotional Freedom
If you are going through a breakup or divorce right now, here’s the best advice I can give you.
There are three crucial steps you must take right after leaving the crossroad, that “neutral zone” I talked about.
Before anything else, you must decide to move forward.
I’ve seen clients who were stuck here, in this “neutral zone” between wanting them back and moving forward, for YEARS —
Agonizing, excruciating, demeaning years.
Once you’ve decided that you can’t go on like this anymore, you have to burn the bridge behind you:
1. Break Off All Contact With Your Ex-Partner
Much has been written about the No-Contact Rule on the internet … mostly bad things.
The purpose of the rule is to give yourself time and space to heal and an opportunity to change your perspective.
At the beginning of the breakup, your Ex is like a harmful drug to you — you can’t break the addiction while they are still around.
Following the No-Contact Rule is nothing like “Ghosting.” You don’t use it as a tool to manipulate your Ex, you are not following a hidden agenda.
You act like an adult and inform them about your absence and your motives (an abusive Ex being the exception).
Know this: it will most likely be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, BUT at the same time, the most liberating thing you’ve ever done.
Trust me, I’ve been coaching people through this since 2005, and I’ve seen so many breakthroughs because of this one step.
Watch this fascinating TED Talk by anthropologist Helen Fisher about what happens in your brain when you think about your Ex:
Once you’ve burned this bridge, you move on to the next step:
2. Do the Work to Accept the Breakup
The recovery after a breakup progresses in seven stages, and one of the most important ones is reaching “Acceptance.”
Once you’ve broken off contact, you will go through a phase of “emotional withdrawal,” which is characterized by obsessive overthinking and dwelling on the “what-ifs” and “if-onlys.”
This does not go away until you reach some degree of acceptance of the terrifying finality of that breakup.
You can start by using this affirmation:
“I acknowledge that my partnership with [name] is over.”
Also, what I tell my clients is to slowly allow yourself to realize the true nature of the former relationship.
We tend to idealize both the partner and the relationship. This is what I call the “Pedestal Effect.”
Reaching acceptance will take work and willpower, but once you’ve made it, your next goal is:
3. Conscious Disengagement: Let Your Ex Go
This is one of the hardest steps, as it involves the decision to let someone go whom you still feel love for … it appears to be counterintuitive.
It’s also the step that most of us tend to avoid.
That’s the real reason there are people who can’t get over their Ex for several years (the all-time record I’ve encountered is 30 years!).
It’s a conscious step. You decide to let go, and then you do the work to let them go. This isn’t necessarily something that happens automatically.Sometimes time doesn’t heal all wounds.Click To Tweet
There are many techniques you can use that will help you do this, but keep in mind that it’s a process, not a one-time action that will do the trick.
Letting go is breaking the self-limiting belief that this one person holds the key to your happiness and that you cannot find new love.
I’m living proof that you can.
How scary that is, you probably already know.
But you should be excited because it’s a new beginning. It’s the certainty that you're going to gain so much more than you lost.
That’s what you must believe.
My Ex was everything to me, and yet, I found a whole new world of happiness without her.
Trust me when I tell you that YOU can too.
All you have to do is stop being afraid and start believing in yourself.
And once you’ve crossed the last bridge of your recovery as a new, strong, and emotionally free person, you will most likely discover one thing:
Someone is waiting for you at the end of that last bridge. Someone who will make having endured all that pain worthwhile:
The perfect-fit partner you were destined to be with.
Your friend and coach,