When performance artists Marina Abramovic and Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen) ended their 12 years as lovers and artistic partners, they honored the occasion by painstakingly walking the Great Wall of China. Marina started at one end and Ulay the other, meeting in the middle to embrace and then go their separate ways — an event that lasted 90 days and covered 2,000 miles.
They did not see one another again for 23 years when, as a surprise, Ulay showed up at a performance that Marina was giving at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, called The Artist Is Present. For days, Marina sat stoic at a wood table and stared across it into the eyes of each person who waited in line to see her. Between each guest, Marina closed her eyes to wait for the next person to be seated.
When Marina opened her eyes to discover Ulay sitting across from her, her eyes lit up, then a slight smile crept across her face followed by tears that silently streamed down her cheeks. She finally broke her pose and reached across the table to take his hands in hers. The audience went wild, shouting and applauding with vigor — and more than a few tears were shed. For few things touch us more than the affirmation of love that survives separation and estrangement.
Rituals that mark the end of love are often quite emotional. Yet, we do not cry because we are sad; we cry because we are touched by the recognition that love can survive even when the form of a relationship changes. In witnessing two people soberly acknowledging an end while humbly asking for forgiveness, validating the beauty of their time spent together and offering a sincere blessing of happiness to the person who may have disappointed them the most, we are enriched.
You might think the term “breakup celebration” is an oxymoron, yet more and more people are finding ways to say goodbye that honor the relationship they shared. Breakup and divorce ceremonies give us the opportunity to create a deeply personal and soulful experience that helps everyone heal and move forward with love.
For the majority of us who want an event a little less time-consuming than Marina and Ulay’s 90-day walk, there are many simple rituals and ceremonies that can help create completion for the two of you, as well as for the community of people who have invested in your relationship.
Here are some of my favorite breakup rituals that inspire conscious completion:
1. Take a "conscious completion" walk with family and friends.
Walk a path familiar to you as a couple, and invite close family and friends to witness your journey. You and your former partner can walk together until you reach a designated end point, share some happy memories of your life together, wish each other well, and walk away separately to symbolize the conscious coming-apart of your union.
2. Create an "Un-wedding Ceremony."
Invite a close circle of friends to join you at an un-wedding ceremony on the beach or in the church where you were married. Speak from the heart to acknowledge the goodness and growth you each experienced during your time together, and offer appreciation to those who have gathered, thanking them for supporting your union. Invite your family and friends to bless you with their own words of appreciation, encouragement, and hope. You may want to close the event with a meal and drinks raised to the new futures you will each be creating.
3. Have a community toast to the relationship.
Host a dinner party for your former partner, family members, and close friends. Toast to the good times you shared and invite your loved ones to do the same.
4. Create a blessing circle.
If you are members of a spiritual or religious community, invite your friends over to pray with you both and to bless you as you go your separate ways.
5. Host a moving party.
If you are moving away from a home that you and your partner shared, invite your friends over to help the one(s) moving, and ask them to bring housewarming gifts to bless the new home(s).
6. Hold a relationship funeral.
If it’s not appropriate to host a gathering that both you and your former partner can attend, you might consider inviting your closest friends over for what my friend (and love coach) Lauren Frances calls a “Relationship Funeral,” in which you can reminisce about what your relationship meant to you. You can share thoughts about happier times, burn photos of the two of you together, give away reminders of your romance, and toast to happier days ahead.
7. Try a more private ceremony.
If you are seeking something more intimate, you can also create a private ceremony between you and your partner, or a special ceremony that you can do on your own.
No matter which type of ceremony you choose, creating a completion ritual to symbolize the end of an era paves the way for healthy closure to occur. As you have the courage to say goodbye to your past with a soft and forgiving heart, you open the doorway to a happier and healthier future for yourself, your former partner, and all those who love you.