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Dealing with the End of a Relationship

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This article explains the feelings surrounding a relationship breakup and how you can effectively deal with the end of a marriage or relationship.

The end of a relationship is experienced as a loss. Loss can occur when:

  • someone important to us dies;
  • a pet dies;
  • we move household;
  • a dream is shattered;
  • a relationship is over.
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Loss is not a feeling. It is an event that may induce positive or negative feelings - or both.

The negative: rejection, confusion, frustration, anger, rage, fury, regret, shame, hurt, remorse, sadness, depression, melancholy, desperation, anxiety, fear, betrayal, humiliation, bitterness, alienation, insecurity, loneliness, self blame, grief ?

The positive: relief, contentment, lightness, refreshment, aliveness, hopefulness, optimism, peace?

Recovery is a Process, Not an Event

Loss will descend on you like a wave then recede until next time. Each wave will pass and each wave helps diminish the pain.

If what you are doing feels wrong or right it probably is. Even though you still feel terrible, persist in what seems right and reconsider what seems wrong. It takes time.

The process is made smoother if you:

  1. Accept pain is normal ... Do not waste energy denying it or fighting it.
  2. Accept that recovery will take time ... How long is a piece of string?

Task 1 - Help Yourself

  • Make an active decision to do something - as reluctant as you might feel (e.g. read a book on loss). Learn how have others dealt with this. You feel crazy. Is that normal? Browse the bookstores till you find something that seems to talk to you. Or, better yet because it is free, go to the council library.
  • Try to continue some of your normal routines. Go through the motions if necessary but avoid withdrawing entirely from the world.
  • Distractions are okay if they do not become avoidance of the pain.
  • Spend time alone and use it to go over the loss. You will not be drowned by the grief even though you feel like once you start you won't be able to stop.

Task 2 - Make a Conscious Decision to Say Enough IS Enough

Caught on a merry-go-round? Feel like you are going nowhere? Nothing is changing? You are as depressed as the first day? Then you have to make an active decision to do something?

  • "It is time to move on - time to say Goodbye."
  • "It is time to let go."
  • "I am letting this destroy my life. I will not let it do that."
  • "I am losing what is left. It is time to get on."
  • "That chapter is over. I need to start a new one. I deserve to start afresh."

You must want to let go. Do not pretend.

This is not easy but sometimes its easier to act your way into positive feelings than it is to feel your way into acting positive. Do what feels right to you.

Warning! Beginning a new relationship before healing after the end of an old one can often lead to even more remorse and pain. Temporary distractions are fine - you do have to move on - but be careful about using other people to avoid your pain. Try to see being single as an opportunity not a life sentence.

Task 3 - Acknowledge the Hurt ... Confront It

By doing this, you are beginning to assume control - not being controlled. You might choose to:

  • Talk about what is going on with a close friend, with a counselor, with yourself.
  • Spend time alone - Important: This is a positive, active choice not to be done when you are utterly depressed (that is when you should seek out someone to talk to).
  • Meditate - focus on your physical feelings - identify your emotions.
  • Go into the country or walk on the beach. Spend an hour with yourself.
  • Rituals - using symbols in rituals can be a powerful way to let go. Rituals can mark the last stage of recovery and the first step forward.

1. Gather together items that represent something about your relationship (letters, photos, jewelry, a book, a record.

° When it is time to let go, burn the item, throw it into the ocean, bury it, send it to someone needy.

2. Write a "Goodbye Letter" - write to your ex and express all that you feel now. Remember the good as well the bad. Do not send the letter right away. Wait for some time to pass. If you still feel it would be helpful to send it, do so. Preferably burn it or bury it as part of your ritual closure.

3. Visit a place of significance to your relationship to mentally say "Goodbye."

Task 4 - Moving On and Rediscovering Life

Loss leaves a huge vacuum in your life. You need to replace the emptiness with positive experiences. Emptiness reminds you of the loss - go walking, jogging, bushwalking, surfing , try cooking classes, meet with friends, catch a movie, go to the museum, join a drama group. Stick with it for six weeks.

Remember the Things You Enjoy

Slowly start returning to some things you have probably neglected for a while. At first you will not feel anything - persist. Eventually you might discover you are looking forward to the future and not running from the past.

The Role of Counseling

Counseling is not an essential part of recovery. Try to help yourself first. However, if you are stuck or feeling destructive, if you think your friends have heard enough, if you have no close friends or do not want to bother them with your worries, a counselor may be able to give you the support you need.

Sometimes loss can trigger emotions that seem way out of proportion to the event. That is because traumas can accumulate until you have no more capacity to deal with the next one. Hidden memories can tumble out and feelings become confused and frightening. Issues which arise out of relationships often revolve around self esteem, dependency, submissiveness, self blaming, fear of rejection, feelings of worthlessness.

next: Divorce: When the Marriage is Over