So Hurricane Irma has come and gone. Months later, I’m sure some of us are still picking up the pieces or at least still talking about how it has impacted us.
Shortly after returning home safely after having to evacuate, I began to think about how the whole experience was like a metaphor to relationships.
I think about how we watched the tropical wave that was going to turn into a hurricane. For days we saw the storm get bigger and bigger. Eventually we started planning and preparing for this storm to hit us.
There was still so much about the storm that was unpredictable, but we knew as it grew closer to Florida, that most of Florida would be impacted in some way by the major hurricane. I began calling friends, family and colleagues to check in or to let them know my plans on keeping my family safe.
As the storm grew closer, it kept moving east and our fears started to intensify as we were learning that Tampa Bay was likely to experience a direct hit. At this point, we made the last minute decision to evacuate. I remember feeling massive anxiety about the coming storm. No one knew what would happen to our loved ones, our homes, our offices. I knew that by evacuating, I might not know what would happen but at least I knew my family would be safe.
I remember crying as I left because I knew change was coming but I had no idea what was going to be different. Everything felt out of control, I had to remind myself what was in my control: following my hurricane checklist, putting hurricane shutters on my property, and knowing my kids and I were going to a safe place. I went through my gratitude list and told myself that whatever happens I could embrace the change and be thankful that at least my family was safe, and I had lots of support.
During the evacuation, we watched and waited what was happening back home. We tried to enjoy the road trip with the boys; we laughed and distracted ourselves so we wouldn’t get caught up in the news. When you have kids, you can’t watch the news 24/7, so we had fun and played games, and we did our family workouts or really anything we could do to try and maintain some normalcy while waiting for whatever was to come. Hurricane Irma came and went, and the Tampa area wasn’t hit as bad as expected. We were all so grateful and mindful of the areas that were hit hard, as we headed back home.
I remember on the way thinking how I would want to find ways to help the areas that were devastated by the storm. I also began thinking about what I would do differently next time and just feeling the letdown after being anxious for several days. When we got home, we started picking up the pieces and cleaning up. We worked through no power for several days and no work or school. We checked in with family, friends and neighbors. We started to rebuild and move forward one day at a time. We reflected on how our lives were impacted by the storm, how to cope with change and what would be different moving forward.
Several weeks later while talking with multiple couples it hit me that this process of what had happened was very similar to what happens when an incident, betrayal or just when a relationship is starting to fall apart. It’s not as simple as a beginning, middle and end. It’s a process of holding on, letting go, accepting, preparing, distracting, crying, laughing, coping with uncertainty, and embracing change.
When we see the relationship starting to change, it’s a tropical wave that comes off the coast of Africa. We think this might be something but for now we are not going to pay close attention. So we check in occasionally, we say “what’s going on?” Is this anything we need to pay closer attention to? We start to notice that it’s getting bigger and close, so we don’t feel safe anymore. We get anxious and afraid. We hurt, we feel confused and we look for guidance on what to do.
Typically, the person that makes us feel safe is also the person that we are not safe with in the moment. So it’s important that when things fall apart, we focus on what’s in our control. We distract ourselves, we take care of ourselves in healthy ways, we start to slowly accept that big change is coming.
Just as when we prepare for a hurricane, we slowly accept a change is coming, and we start to focus on what’s in our control.
If we focus on everything that’s out of our control, we only increase our anxiety and being to see things unclearly. So, to survive we must focus on what is right in from of us and what is in our control, focus on self-care and who can help us through the uncertainty. Focusing on the little moments that help us remember to just breathe is also important.
Then the storm hits or change occurs and the first thing to do is stop and, again, breathe. Look at what’s different. Try your hardest to think of at least one thing you are grateful for and start thinking/planning about how you’re going to pick up the pieces. We look for things that will help us cope with the change. The change doesn’t have to be bad — it’s just different.
We also honor our grief and know that a second set of “waves” may come. Sadness, anger, heartbreak and relief — relief in knowing you’re not living in the holding on/letting go part of the chaos. There is also sadness and heartbreak. Accepting and embracing change can be difficult. However, doing so helps us move forward instead of staying stuck. Again, it’s focusing on what’s in our control. Sometimes we take things one day at a time, and sometimes one hour at a time.
As time moves forward, some days become easier to accept and we start to find our joy again. Most importantly, we feel our joy again. We embrace our new life and appreciate the difference. Our grief changes over the loss of the relationship and we begin to enjoy, appreciate, love and accept the life that is in front of us. We grow from understanding that every now and then you might grieve the loss, but you don’t hold on to it and you have learned from the past.
Surviving the hurricane of relationship heartbreak can be tough, but you will survive. Believe that it didn’t work out for a reason and trust in knowing that embracing the difference will help you find what is right for you.