Grief is a natural part of life. Most people don’t get through life, avoiding it.
Surprisingly we don’t just grieve when a person has died. We also grieve when a relationship has died, and you’ve separated or divorced. But sometimes you’re still in the trenches of the relationship processing its demise.
Perhaps the last thing you want to do is grieve that dysfunctional and toxic relationship. That person has had enough airspace.
But maybe grieve is just what you need to.
Grieving is normal at the end of a relationship.
The Unwelcome Visitor
Ultimately maybe you’ll have no choice in the matter. Grief has a curious habit of creeping up on you when you’re least expecting it.
The knot in the throat. The tears are pushing against the back of the eye like water against the dam wall. The feeling that your stuck and rooted to the ground and you can’t manage to put one foot in front of the other.
Suddenly, you’re caught out by surprise. If you escape the pain of grief by day at night, it catches you in your dreams.
Then there are the predictable days; anniversaries, birthdays and other significant days. They may have long since been erased from the iPhone and social media. And you’ve heard decluttering is excellent and so you’ve decluttered like crazy. But the body stubbornly remembers that maybe, just maybe you are grieving.
And there are some days you can’t avoid like Christmas’s and New Years. So this time of year especially might be connecting you with loss. It’s not a happy time of year for everyone.
In her book Necessary Losses, Judith Viorst writes about the loss of imperfect connections. It can be hard to accept that letting go of an emotionally challenging relationship doesn’t mean that you’re not heartbroken and hurt.
Because you might experience or fear the loss of:
- The lifestyle
- The good times, no person is all one thing, and no relationship is all bad or good.
- Your hopes and dreams
- Your home
- A job or the ending of a career
- Your identity
- Relationships with family members
- Your relationship with your children
- The possibility of having children
- A family pet
- Companionship and intimacy
- What you always wanted from the relationship but never got
- The presence of this person in your life
- You may feel that all the good parts of you walked out the door with that person or they’ve drained that out of you over the years.
Most people understand the pain of grief in the context of the death of a physical person.
What people don’t say about grief is that when you’ve lost a relationship, you need to grieve that loss.
Just like a physical wound, the pain of grief needs attention.
What is Grief?
Grief is a natural response to the loss of someone or something close to you.
A theory developed by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross suggests that we go through five distinct stages of grief after the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.
It is essential to know that you do not travel through the stages of grief in a neat linear fashion, spending a fixed amount of time on each feeling. It’s more like a spiral. You may find yourself re-experiencing pain. Just when you think you’ve moved on then out of nowhere, you’re hit by a stop sign, and you’re back in the thick of it again.
But each time, the pain transforms, and you have a deeper understanding of your grief. Gradually it’s less painful.
It’s important to remember that no two losses are the same, and everyone experiences grief differently. Well-meaning friends might tell you to get over it. But it’s your grief and you get to navigate your grief journey in your time and in your way.
Grief takes time. It might be seven weeks, seven months or seven years. As long as you are on the path.
It might be tempting not to touch your grief. I get it. A range of emotions is stirred in response to the loss, fluctuating in intensity and duration. Who wants to feel pain? But then we get stuck on the path.
Unexpressed grief leads to longer-term emotional complications such as depression, anger, anxiety, addiction and self-destructive behaviours. Then your grief seeps insidiously into your next intimate partner relationship and friendships. The past is ever-present.
The Grief Landscape
The five stages of grief outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross are:
After the initial shock, denial typically follows. You try to minimise the loss and carry on as if it hadn’t occurred or that it doesn’t matter. Often the denial is coupled with the feeling of numbness.
Anger is an essential part of the healing process. You must let it in and feel it as much as you can. The more you honestly feel the anger, the more it starts to dissipate. In that jar, labelled anger is a lot of hurt and pain. You might be feeling abandoned or betrayed.
You may become angry with yourself, with the person who left you, or with someone else that you are close to.
The bargaining stage is filled with regret and guilt. You try to figure out what could have happened if you had done something differently. Desperately you wish that you could turn the clock back and make a different decision, or appreciate the relationship while it lasted. Perhaps you might even blame yourself for things you can never do over again.
Once you start focusing on the present, depression is what typically sinks in. It is very typical to feel an intense amount of sadness and depression particularly when you focus on the gap and emptiness in your life.
Depression can become even more significant when you start to realise that the relationship is over and your husband or partner will not be back. The finality of it all may be very hard to accept and let in even if you wanted the relationship to end.
Acceptance is acknowledging that there is a piece missing in your life and then integrating that fact into your life. It is not about moving on and being okay with the loss. It is about making new relationships with other people and also with yourself. During this stage, you may start to reach out to others and become more involved in your life. Friendships and relationships will begin to change and evolve. Life will take on a deeper meaning because you have given the grief time to heal.
Mind The Gap
Loss leaves a gap in your life.
Your task, once you recognise that you need to grieve, is to learn how to navigate it understanding what has happened and remembering what it is that you have lost. That takes time.
Along the way, you might fall into the gap. But sharing, talking, counselling and other tools you pick up along the way you’ll know how to get out and back on the path.
Over To You
Are you struggling with coming to terms with the pain of grief in a relationship? If you want a safe space to discuss and explore what are your loss and grief, get in touch, and book your first counselling appointment. I offer video sessions online via a secure platform. Coronavirus (COVID-19) doesn’t need to put your therapy sessions on pause.
Or call me today on 07535 864836.
Leave a comment below; I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. PASS IT ON
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© Sandra Harewood 2020
Soul Centred couples counsellor Sandra Harewood specialises in working with couples and women with childhood wounding that impacts their adult relationships. Sandra provides a soulful space for her clients to explore and discover creative solutions to their difficulties and create a great relationship.