Relationship Grief Stage 1: Denial - how to deal with it

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Relationship Grief Stage 1: Denial

Grief is part of life.

Whether it’s the consequence of breakup, separation, divorce, or death, we experience grief every time we lose someone (or something) that held special meaning to us.

Despite being an unpleasant and challenging process, grieving helps us integrate the loss we suffered and adjust to the new reality.

To help you navigate this process and overcome loss, we’re going to look at each of the five stages of grief separately. In other words, this piece is the first in a series of articles that will give you an in-depth look at grief as a perfectly normal aspect of loss.

So, let’s start by looking at the first stage of grief – denial.

“I’m fine. It’s no big deal.”

Whenever events such as divorce, breakup, illness, or death rob you of the person you love, your first reaction is shock.

On the one hand, your mind can’t accept the cruel reality of loss. On the other hand, there’s no way to escape the new reality in which your significant other is no longer with you.

Denial is the first wave that accompanies the pain of a breakup. At this stage, it almost feels like your entire world has become heavy, overwhelming, suffocating, and without logic or meaning.

The future seems blurred, completely covered by the past, and you feel numb and confused most of the day.

Every day is a battle with yourself, a battle in which the best thing you can do is hold your ground, survive, and wait for the day when the pain will no longer break your spirit.

In a nutshell, some of the telltale signs which indicate you’re in denial are:

  • You continue to hope that they will call or text you.
  • You’re in shock and refuse to believe this is happening to you.
  • You feel devastated, helpless, scared, and confused.
  • You cry a lot, and you keep telling yourself it can’t be real.
  • You cling to the hope that, in the end, you will reconcile with them.
  • You fantasise about them showing up unexpectedly at your door, willing to patch things up.

Even though denial is a universal stage that every person dealing with loss will experience, the reason behind it may differ from one individual to another.

Some deny because they want to remain (mentally and emotionally) where they were before the pain associated with loss, while others deny because it’s soothing to ‘look in a different direction’ even though deep down we know it’s completely irrational.

But regardless of the reasons, denial is a natural defense mechanism against overwhelming pain or the shock you experience when you lose someone you care about deeply.

However, giving up hope (that they will come back) is probably the most challenging part of the process, and, at some point, denying the end of your relationship or the passing of your loved one will only delay the inevitable and result in complicated grief.

They are no longer with you, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.

Here’s how you can navigate the ‘denial’ stage:

1. It’s ok to feel weak and vulnerable.

Given that you’ve experienced a potentially traumatic event that left you in shambles, you’re probably feeling weak, helpless, vulnerable. This is clearly not the time to move on, begin new projects, or make dramatic life changes.

It is a time for mourning, self-compassion, and acceptance; a time to seek help from those who care about you and are willing to support you throughout this tough period.

2. If possible, take a couple of days off to process your loss.

Dealing with loss requires a massive amount of mental and emotional resources. That means there will be little left for academic or professional activities. Although you might be inclined to work overtime to distract yourself, your productivity will be low to nonexistent.

If possible, take some days off work or school to mourn your loss.

3. Be patient with yourself

In essence, denial is not just a way to avoid the excruciating pain associated with loss but also a mechanism that facilitates understanding. So, take your time and allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you’re feeling.

The more you exercise patience and self-acceptance, the higher the chance to process relationship grief healthily.

As soon as you begin to integrate the painful experience of loss and accept that the person you love is no longer there, you will slowly transition into the second stage of grief.

Stay tuned for part two of our series.

Please note that the information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and should not substitute professional medical or mental health advice. If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or needs assistance, please reach out to a mental health professional or helpline in your country or state.

About the editor, Amelia Cambrell

My name is Amelia and I'm a Senior Psychologist at Counselling in Melbourne. I have over 18-years of experience in the mental health space. I am very driven to get the best outcomes for my clients which can be long lasting by using a range of modalities such as CBT. There is nothing more satisfying than helping adolescents, adults and couples who are feeling confused, frustrated, stuck or overwhelmed, to find more clarity, confidence and happiness in their lives.

Find out more about Amelia Cambrell

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