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Grieving after the loss of a relationship

Grieving after the loss of a relationship

As a counsellor, I see many clients, both men and women, who are finding it hard to get over the loss of a relationship. Individual situations differ, it may have been a long term relationship or much shorter term –  but the after-effects can be like experiencing a death, of sorts.  Even if you are the one that initiated the breakup and believe that the breakup is the best thing for all involved, grieving after the loss of a relationship follows the same process as mourning a death.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (who died in 2004) was one of the first people to write about the stages involved in grief – she worked for much of her life with terminally ill people and identified 5 stages. In later life she applied this theory to all kinds of losses, including the loss of a job or a relationship. She also said that we don’t necessarily go through all five and that they can occur in any order.

  1. Denial

We are trying to adjust to the idea of life without the person we’re losing but although we know the relationship is over, we really don’t believe it.  We can’t help but entertain fantasies of things somehow working out – maybe she’ll change? Maybe if we just sat down and had a real heart to heart, we could find a way of making things work.   (This is the phase where we are most susceptible to late night texting!)

  1. Anger

This may be mostly towards our ex-partner (“How could he do this to me? Why can’t she stop being selfish?”) but also towards other people or situations associated with the break-up  – your ex’es new partner, towards joint friends who seem to be taking sides. This is the phase where we tend to want to see everything about our partner and our relationship as negative rather than a mixture of good and bad – and we want to apportion blame.

  1. Bargaining

Bargaining often goes hand in hand with denial and may involve looking for any possible way to make the relationship work through negotiation or promises. You might tell your partner that you will change or are willing to go to therapy.

  1. Depression

Just like grieving after a death, we can often experience physical symptoms: For example feeling tired all the time, feeling disconnected from people even when you’re with them, feeling tearful, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, loss of appetite or overeating, increase in drug or alcohol use and hopelessness.  Hopelessness leads us to believe that nothing will ever be or feel different than it is right now, that we will never move on and that nothing will ever work out for us in the future.

  1. Acceptance

This is the phase in which we are able to make peace with the loss. It often happens gradually, little bit by little bit.  While there is almost certain to be lingering sadness.  Acceptance entails making peace with the loss, letting go of the relationship and slowly moving forward with life.

So knowing our phases of grief can help normalise our break-up experience.  There are no time limits and no rushing the process. The only thing you can do is try to get through it. But take heart in the fact that this, like everything else, will eventually pass.

Need some advice and support?

If you are struggling with difficult feelings after a relationship break-up, and would like to talk it over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.


Book a counselling session today!


See also Grief and Loss, All you Need to Know about Relationships, Couples Counselling