Relationships are like computers and phones. At times, they need to be rebooted. We are quick to restart or turn off a device to repair the problem then returning to where we left off. Relationships deserve the same thought process. When frustrated, irritated, angry, and helpless we need to stop and focus on the importance of the individual who at one time rocked our boat. Here are the stages we go through when grieving a relationship.
In this phase our heart rather than our head rules our belief system as we try to adjust to the idea of life without the person we’re losing. Even though we know the relationship is over, we really don’t believe it. Against the better judgment of everyone around us, we can’t help but entertain fantasies of things somehow working out. We see hidden glimmers of hope buried in clear indications that it’s over. (Yes, this is the phase where we are most susceptible to late night texting.)
Anger can manifest in many different ways—anger at your ex (“How could he do this to me? Why can’t she stop being selfish?”), anger at God or the universe (“Why can’t anything ever work out for me? Why am I cursed?”), anger at people or situations associated with the break-up (anger at the “other woman”; anger that your partner lost her job, because that is when she “changed”), and anger at other people who don’t agree or stand with your anger (“Can you believe George and Jane still want to be friends with him after what he did to me?”). This is the phase where we think it’s a great idea to tell anyone and everyone what a psycho-crazy vixen our ex was. This is also when we think it’s crucial to send our ex hateful emails because we don’t want him thinking he got away with anything.
Bargaining often goes hand in hand with denial. Bargaining can be looking for any possible way to make the relationship work through negotiation, threats, and/or magic—for example, telling your ex that you will change, or move, or go to therapy, or telling him he is hurting the children, his family, your family, and the dog by leaving. And, of course, this phase is not only limited to bargaining with your ex. Many people bargain with The Powers That Be, promising to be a better person if only the ex will come back. During this stage, you may take a new interest in astrology, tarot cards or any type of voodoo that will forecast a reunion. This is also when we attempt to enlist all friends and family to “talk some sense” into him.
Depression, like anger, also surfaces in many different forms, for example feeling tired all the time, not wanting to do anything but lay in bed, feeling disconnected from people even when you’re with them, being on the verge of tears most of the time, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, loss of appetite or overeating, increase in drug or alcohol use and—the big one—hopelessness. Hopelessness is the most pervasive and debilitating; it is the thing that leads us to believe that nothing will ever be or feel different than it is right now. Hopelessness makes it feel like you will never move on and that nothing will ever work out for you in the future.
5. Acceptance /“I’m done”
Finally, this is the phase in which we are able to make peace with the loss. It doesn’t always come on suddenly; it often happens gradually, little bit by little bit, interspersed with some of the other phases. Acceptance doesn’t always involve harmony and flowers—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 your life. Sometimes it feels like this phase will never come, which usually means you’re still struggling in an earlier phase.
Knowing your phases of grief can help normalize your break-up experience. It’s also important to know that there are no time limits and no rushing the process. Grieving is like digestion: there is nothing you can do to hurry it along. It takes time and 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.
Women tend to go through the stages of grief and loss while in the relationship. A wide assortment of techniques will typically be used by women to “wake-up” their partners. Nagging, threatening, begging, pouting, accepting blame, discounting, victimizing, crying, over-communicating, repeating, emotionalizing, empathizing, hinting, apologizing, warning, yelling, and suggesting. Women want connection, and when this is not present, they feel a huge void.
I observe this in couples counseling with comments from women, “I tried to tell you”, “You don’t listen”, “It’s all about you”, “I am not important”, “We are not connected”. Women tend to shut down, stop the arguing and nagging, withdraw emotionally and physically, and cease on the nurturing and “taking care of you” stuff.
Men begin the grieving process generally after they are hit in the head with a two by four and told, “I have filed for divorce”, served divorce papers, have finally “decided it is over”, return home from work to an empty house, or their significant other has vanished and will not return phone calls or texts. Their grieving process begins with shock and tend to respond much differently to a break-up. I have seen many men visibly devastated – crying like little boys – when they feel their significant other is truly “done”. Yes, men are capable and do feel intense sadness, confusion, self-doubt, unworthiness, anger, emotional numbness, and self-doubt. They don’t freely exhibit these feelings. Guys deeply desire to please and when they feel they are not pleasing their significant other, they feel defeated.
I observe this with couples with comments from men like, “All I am is a pay check”, “Can I do anything right?”, “I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t”, “Here we go again”, and “Are you ever happy?”
Couples counseling appears complicated on the outside but when inside, it comes down to one basic truth… Commitment and the willingness to search for, identify, own, and change the crap you as an individual bring to the relationship table.
For further reading, check out “Stages of Grieving: Take the Steps to a Resourceful Life” found here: inlpcenter.org/stages-of-grieving-take-the-steps-to-a-resourceful-life/
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CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.