Grieving the Loss of a Relationship

Jennifer Foust, PhD, MS, LPC, Director of Clinical Services

Posted by: Jennifer Foust, PhD, MS, LPC
Director of Clinical Services
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You may associate the idea of grieving with a death.  You may be thinking – a relationship or marriage is ending, but no one died.  Why do I feel so bad?  Do I have a right to these feelings?  Shouldn’t I just get on with my life?  People have relationships end all the time.  What’s the big deal?  Well, any loss no matter how big or small triggers a grief process.  And, a person does not have to die for you to feel grief.  You may have been living with someone for a year or have been married for 20 years. If the relationship was a significant one, you are likely going to feel a variety of emotions when it ends, much like how it feels to grieve a death.  This tip specifically addresses when a relationship ends somewhat suddenly, such as when your partner suddenly asks for a divorce, when a partner suddenly dies, or when you suddenly end a relationship due to an infidelity, or other type of deception.

These types of endings can feel as if your world has been turned upside down.  One day things are typical and seemingly fine and the next day, everything is totally different.  Your first reaction is likely shock and denial.  When you are in shock or denial, you may be thinking things like:  he or she is just angry.  They are going to come back (in some cases, he or she may come back. However, it is often best to not hang on tightly to that thought).  Or in the case of a death, there must have been a mistake.  They have the wrong person.  There is no way he or she is not coming home.  In the case of some sort of betrayal, you may deny that anything happened and think that you must have been mistaken or minimize what has happened.  This reaction is temporary.  You are beginning to come to terms with what has happened.  Your eating and sleeping patterns will change and your motivation and concentration will also be affected.  These changes are normal and are also temporary.  If you find that you are having problems managing every day, refer to the keeping a routine. tip.

When you no longer are denying or in shock about the end of the relationship, you will likely experience a variety of different feelings including anxiety, anger, bitterness, sadness, despair, loneliness, and even guilt.  You may also find yourself feeling excited about the future and relived to be free of the issues in the relationship.  Many of these feelings can be very intense and for some people frightening.  This mixture of feelings is also often confusing because of the number of different emotions that are experienced and how unpredictable they are.  This variety of feelings is very normal.  They are a part of your grieving process and come from experiencing a significant loss and being forced to make the major life transition of being without this person. 

Along with the feelings come the thoughts.  Some of the thoughts that may be going through your head are: how will I manage without him or her?  Can I make it on my own? How could he or she leave me?  Am I unlovable?  Will I ever be happy? How could he or she do this me, I am nobody without him or her etc.  These thoughts are also normal and part of the grief process.  It is your psyche’s way of trying to understand and make sense of the loss, as well as trying to comprehend how you will manage without this person.  You may also find yourself continually thinking about and analyzing the relationship or marriage in attempt to figure out what went wrong and who was to blame.  You may be very tempted to contact your ex to try and understand, reconcile, lash out, etc.  Often, contacting your ex is not beneficial.  If you are thinking of contacting your ex, ask yourself what your goal is for the contact and if you will likely achieve it (sometimes there are real goals such as getting belongings back, communication about children, separation and divorce proceedings, etc).  For example, if you want him or her to take you back or to apologize, ask yourself how likely it is that is going happen.  Sometimes people want to contact their ex for closure or to understand why the relationship ended.  Again, ask yourself if talking to your ex will really bring closure or answer further questions.  Will contacting him or her help you in your grief process and accepting that the relationship is over?  If you will likely not achieve your goal and/or if it will not help with the grief process, it will mostly likely set you back. If you really aren’t sure and think you should try it, make sure to assess after the contact if it helped or was more hurtful to you.  Repeated contacts to understand what happened, get an apology, or get him or her to take you back are rarely helpful and often tend to be very hurtful as well as keeping you stuck in your grief. 

Relationships are typically very important and significant part of our life so it makes sense that we would feel this deep hole in our life.  These emotions will last until your mind can understand and accept the loss which is a different timetable for everyone.  The timetable also depends on how the significant and important the relationship was in your life.  While you are grieving, it may feel like you will never feel back to normal or that you will never be happy again.  It is normal to think and feel that, but don’t believe it. Grieving is hard work and you may feel like you can’t make it through, but you can.  And you don’t have to do it alone.  Lean on your family and friends.  Maybe even join a support group, see a therapist, or talk to a pastor or rabbi.  This is the time to use your support system.

The good news is that as you move through the grief process and you will begin the process of restructuring your life and creating/adjusting to your new identity.  You may try new things or ways of living as you begin to create this new identity and you will eventually settle into a place that feels right.  Nothing about the grief process or this restructuring process is smooth.  One day you may feel like you have things all figured out, just to have another day feel like you are back at square one.  This is also very normal and as you continue through the process, you will continue to transition and feel more of a sense of normalcy.  As you recover from the end of your marriage, you will likely find that you can be more objective about the relationship and be able to see your role in the end of the relationship.  It is important for us to learn from every relationship we are in to develop awareness of our strengths and weaknesses and to keep from repeating mistakes. 
Having a relationship end, especially unexpectedly, can be a significant shock.  The loss is painful and the grieving process is work.  But, you can get through and learn to feel good in your life again.