Ask Elizabeth: Overcoming Relationship Grief
I’ve been on the slow path to recovery for a few months now. I have been working on rebuilding my life after having given my relationship everything and only to have my life disintegrate when my husband decided he’d go ahead and dump me for reasons that I am just OH SO OVER trying to grasp as there was just so many of excuses it does my head in. Anyways … its been 4 months now since he left and I’m doing my best to move on and forward, I’ve come a long way from the sobbing heap I was, but I seem to keep hitting a bit of an irritating snag. Although I’m trying out new interests for self betterment and to bring some enjoyment back into my life, I think I’d still like to do some simple things like going to movies, go for a drive or visit our favourite restaurants (the food has got to be good to make it onto the favourites list right?) but I’m finding it really hard not to get upset due to the the flood of memories that we used to like(?) love(?) doing these activities together. Even if I went with a friend, the tears still threaten to burst out. Is more time the only solution here before I can undertake these once shared activities and interests again without risking tears and embarrassment breaking down in public?
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Losing a relationship is like a death only it is worse than death because the person is still living. If they have left you, then you have the despair and powerlessness of the end of the relationship. Worse still if you have children, there is still a connection, and you may see them at family occasions, such as birthdays, funerals and christenings. Our lives are so much more public than they have ever been, so Facebook can also be a source of contact as well-meaning friends can ‘fill you in’ on all the gossip thinking they are doing the right thing.
Grief has been popularised By Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her very famous book from 1969 called On Death and Dying. Elizabeth talked about grief as being in stages, and I am going to talk about those stages here regarding relationship grief. However modern thinking is that grief is more transitional. Rather than travelling from one stage to another we view grief as circular where we can move from one stage to the other and back again, or we might even skip a stage in no specific order.
The stages of grief (in no specific order)
Often if our partner leaves us he has already been through this stage he just hasn’t communicated well with us. So it can seem as though he is calm, heartless and ready to move on when in fact he has already processed how he is feeling. Unfortunately, your feelings are mismatched because you are only just in a place of processing how you feel. The feelings can be overwhelming and so disempowering as your right of reply may be taken away from you.
Anger is often felt after the process of doing whatever you can to repair the relationship. There is a resentment that you partner seems to have made up their own mind to go without even giving the relationship a chance.
This is where you will do anything and everything to try and save the relationship. Sometimes we even compromise ourselves as we try and hold onto our relationship.
This stage is the stage of absolute despair. It can mimic the symptoms of depression, or a person may develop a very real depression based on the circumstances they find themselves in. This can include all the symptoms of feeling as though you cannot get out of bed, cannot move, don’t want to socialise, or cannot stop the floods of tears.
In this stage, you accept what has happened. It doesn’t mean that you are necessarily happy with what has happened to your relationship, but you feel as though your feelings are more manageable.
Our common understanding of these stages, that have infiltrated into popular culture, mean that we can analyse where we are up to and think we should ‘just get over it’. In fact, friends and relatives can be so upset seeing you upset they can pressure you to get over it. You can feel so debilitated by your feelings you can pressure yourself to just get over it. As you say “I don’t want to embarrass myself by breaking down in public.” We are even socialised to have a stiff upper lip and get over it.
Grief has its own timeline there isn’t a lot you can do to ‘speed it up’ and get over it. Repressing grief can make your feelings worse, and prolong the process of moving past the grief. Some cultures encourage grief because they know, in their wisdom that you need to process grief and let it out.
Suggestions to help you process your grief.
Go to all the places that you remember and find a quiet place and let the feelings flow. Practice your self-care to get as much understanding about the relationship and what happened as you can. Write a journal; you would be amazed how downloading how you are feeling, onto paper can help you not to hold so much inside. This in itself can give a huge amount of relief. See a counsellor, and give you feelings to her. I often say to clients that they can give whatever they are worried about to me to hold, so they don’t have to worry about it. It can help give a sense of relief for a time as you work through your emotions. Eventually with time, you will still feel the pain, but it will have become processed into who you are and more manageable.
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