3 Love Lessons You Can Only Learn from Bad Breakups

-- Excerpted from Love Lessons from Bad Breakups

Sure love hurts so you might as well learn from the pain. Here, four women tell why they regard relationships that end not as failures but as key events that helped shape their life story:


Leaving Doesn't Mean You're Not Loyal

Noreen Shea, 44, sells TV programs overseas
It's hard to be politically correct when you break up with a man suffering from terminal cancer. Michael and I met 10 years after my divorce. During the eight years we were a couple the only divisive issue we had was that I wanted a child and, with four kids from a previous marriage, he was firm about not wanting to go the father route another time. Then Michael got sick.

After his diagnosis Michael started telling me to leave him. He wanted me to get on with my life. I'm not the type to run out on someone I love. And being with Michael wasn't a hardship. He was still relatively healthy and hopefully would be for many years before the debilitating effects of his form of cancer really took over. We were able to do lots of things together, including travel.

Then Michael became obsessed with making lots of money for his children to inherit. My father had recently died. So I knew what I was talking about when I told him, "What your kids will want after you're gone is not a huge inheritance but memories of times they spent with you."

Michael agreed, but he added, "What will you have when I finally kick, Noreen? Do you want to be 50-years-old and walk out of the cemetery, saying, "Now what am I going to do?"

He was right. It's been over a year since our breakup. Now that he doesn't have to put up a brave front for me Michael spends intense quality time with his children. Me -- I feel like I'm readying myself, that I'm about to meet someone with whom I can build a family.

The cliche that love isn't always enough is all too true. It took more strength to leave Michael than to hang on. But it was the right decision for both of us.

You Can Stop Blaming Him for Not Being Who You Wanted

Goddess Lydia, 40, Internet Radio DJ
The father of my child succeeded at splintering my heart. We were together six years. I wanted to get married. He didn't. Until he met another woman.

When he split I was devastated. Even though both of us were miserable in the relationship I would never have left. I'm a very loyal person.

It took me a few years to work through the anger and grief and to realize that the breakup was actually a gift. My ex was incapable of emotion, so I had taken on his feelings in addition to mine. The more I felt, the more he retreated emotionally. Consequently we loved each other to the worst of our abilities. The damage this caused wasn't just to me, but to him. Neither of us could make the other happy. The only way he could bring himself to leave this arid standoff was to be unfaithful.

Eventually I was able to step back and look at the limitations of this person I loved so deeply and for so long. He used to say, "Why do you love me? I'm so shallow and you're so deep." I should have paid attention to his assessment and run for cover. He truly doesn't know how to be a man on an emotional level and it's not my job to teach him. I've stopped blaming him for not being the man I wanted him to be. I'm not the woman he wanted me to be either.

For years whenever I dropped my son at the house my ex shares with his wife, a part of me died. She's a nice woman. But she has a lot of money and gives my child all the things I can't afford. It took everything I had in me not to badmouth her to my son, instead to pick up the phone and rant to my therapist or a friend about all this injustice. Now I realize the breakup has given my son a gift as well: He has another house where he feels safe and he has more people to love him.

The truth: My ex did me a favor by walking. It's my fervent belief that if I had stayed in that unhealthy relationship the stress of living in such misery would have eventually killed me.

It's About Absorbing the Best Parts of the Relationship

Rene Reid Yarnell, 56, Nun Turned Entrepreneur, author of `Til Death Do Us Part?
I've been divorced more than once. The heartbreak is just as agonizing whether it's a college romance that ends, or in my latest case when the breakup occurs when you are in your early fifties. What does change with age and experience is how you deal with the pain.

My ex-husbands are a former Catholic priest and a former Protestant minister. One marriage lasted seven years; the other for 12. What helps soften the pain of the losses is that I regard both relationships as key events in helping to shape my life story. There was much good I derived from my time with each of these men. For instance, my second husband gave me the confidence to become a professional speaker and author. I wouldn't have pursued either vocation without his encouragement.

I don't believe that when a relationship ends one partner was more at fault than the other. Wrapping my heart in anger and recriminations would be such a waste. It's not so much about learning from my mistakes as it is about absorbing the best parts of the relationship. There is something extraordinarily special about knowing there is someone out there with whom I shared such a depth of physical and emotional intimacy.

I also believe that important as a love relationship is, there is always life beyond it. When someone important exits center stage, I've learned to take hold of myself and actively create the next phase of my existence. Breakups are not failures, but steppingstones.

My goal is to leave this world a better place than when I came into it. So nothing makes me happier than when a former husband calls years later and says, "I know we did the right thing to split up but I want you to know that I'm a better person because of the time I spent with you."

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