The Breaking Up Blues: Grieving a Relationship
Originally Published on Psychology Today
When an intimate relationship ends and truly ceases to be, the fantasy of “what could’ve have been” quicky becomes the ordeal of grieving the relationship. Grief is all around us. When touched by it, all we want to do is flick it away. Yet, when a relationship terminates, either abruptly or in slow, discordant moments, the emotional residue can lead to––and are not limited to––confusion, anger, obsession, relief, and anxiety. All potent pieces of grief’s mosaic.
What my broken heart has taught me during the times when it’s locked down and blocked is how necessary it is for me to be with it — especially during this time of loss. It can sound a bit corny, the idea of having a relationship with the self and with the psyche, yet what we tend to do is quickly find another to replace the yearning and the now vacant role we had as a partner. This type of grief in relationships invites and demands the depths of personal confrontation. It’s far easier to do the jump from one relationship to another. Serial monogamy seems a far better and easier choice than meeting and dating the self.
I’ve learned how important it is to take a social time-out to grieve the loss of a relationship. It’s never easy to confront yourself, especially when the desire is to blame or accuse the ex-partner for the downfall and ultimate end of the relationship. What if, the first person to assess is the self. It’s the “I” quotient, looking at “me” as the first course of action, rather than being in the rampant role of executor and proctor with a watchful eye toward the other. Perhaps the answers to what went wrong lie not within the blame, rather in solitude and reckoning with what happened to you as the relationship went south.
Eight Questions to Ponder
The taking leave from a relationship offers an opportunity to nourish parts of the self that have been hidden away or ignored. I find, taking tiny moments in my day to be inquisitive about the receptors of loss within me allow for revelation and ultimate freedom.
Here are eight questions to ponder when working through grief in relationships:
1. What physical, emotional or psychological similarities did your ex have with other folks in your life? Think parents, siblings, aunts, uncles –– there’s lots of information here!
2. Identify what feels lost within you. When the relationship ended, which parts of you were shattered? What are you grieving about?
3. What is your tiger’s gold side? What is your tiger’s black side? (Referring to Amy Tan’s quote).
4. How did sex change as the relationship changed? Did it get better? That sometimes happens. Or did it become non-existent?
5. What role did sex play in the relationship? Did you use it to diffuse issues, use it to manipulate the partner, or use it for power? How else was it used?
6. What attempts did you make to reconcile or change the relationship? Was this a real attempt or an attempt out of choosing the status quo?
7. If blame is taken off the table, what part of you participated in the break-up? (Take a look in the mirror.)
8. If dating yourself is an opportunity to understand the choices made in the future, what kind of time needs to be devoted to dating the self before moving on to real dating? (How long can you keep a plant alive?)
You have many choices in how to handle a break-up. There’s a learning curve here. You can continue to repeat the same pattern or do it differently. Don’t remain in despair and the fear. When the darkness of grief appears, there’s a gift, actually a golden opportunity to meet illustrious parts of yourself that are either unfamiliar, unidentified or yet to be discovered. Now is a time for curiosity to be invited into your inner sanctum.
Allow for the journey of relationship grief to unfold and meet it head-on. Grief becomes a place of learning and evolution. The evolution allows you to shed light on the dark moments felt deep within your core. The dark moments allow you to begin a shift from Grief into greater Grace! Grace is one of those concepts that is personal and defined by each individual. I like to ask the question, “What can grace offer me?” Grace reveals a calm, forward movement, a kind of dance, deliberate, knowing and resilience.
Edy Nathan, MA, LCSWR, is a therapist and the author of It’s Grief: The Dance of Self-Discovery Through Trauma and Loss where she expands Kubler Ross’ stages of grief definition into 11 phases.