5 Steps to Deal with Relationship Grief

How to deal with relationship grief

We all know that relationships are a source of happiness, fulfillment, and emotional support. Our significant other is the one we share our joys or achievements with and the one we rely on to be there when the going gets tough.

But relationships can also be a source of pain and emotional suffering, especially when love runs dry and things turn sour at the end of a relationship.

Everyone who’s been through a breakup or divorce is familiar with the aftermath. The sleepless nights, constant self-loathing, depression, the overwheling feelings or any other unpleasant consequences that result from losing the person you care about. As you can imagine, each has its own way of dealing with relationship grief.

However, a few tips can help you transition the post-breakup period successfully, regain your confidence, and even get back in the dating game.

Stats About Separation and Divorce:

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2019, roughly 110.000 couples decided to tie the knot, and about 50.000 filed for divorce. Furthermore, data collected in 2020 revealed a 31.9% decrease in marriages.

If we crunch the numbers even further, we notice that the highest divorce rate is among people aged 25-29 years, which tends to remain relatively stable across the 30-50 years age group and decline as couples enter their 50s and 60s.

Relationship divorce rates in Australia

As for duration, it seems that approximately 60% of the couples who separate and 40% of those who divorce will make this decision within the first nine years of their relationship.

Relationship Duration Australia

One (somewhat intuitive) conclusion that we can draw from the tables above is that, as couples grow old, they are less likely to split.

But regardless of the reasons why couples choose to separate or divorce, it’s obvious that the end of a relationship impacts one’s mental health and well-being.

Breakups and Divorce Are Not the Only Causes for Relationship Grief!

In general, the people who suffer the worst consequences of relationship grief are those whose partners pass away. It’s one thing to break up with your significant other; it’s another thing to lose your partner death from to illness or accidents.

The loss of a loved one is one of the most painful experiences a person can go through and, even though the world has never been as safe and peaceful as it is now, death caused by illness or accidents is still a reality. But even those who die of old age leave a big emotional hole and feelings of emptiness in their partner’s life.

Each of us goes through grief and loss differently. Most manage to integrate the loss into their life; they cry, suffer, may feel angry, carry guilt, and slowly recover as the emotional turmoil fades over time.

However, for some people, the grieving process becomes more painful and complicated. The emotions and feelings we mentioned earlier can last for years, especially if you don’t accept the loss and refuse to move on with your life.

It’s important to know that unresolved grief can exacerbate already-existing mental health problems like depression, PTSD [1], anxiety, substance misuse [2].

Fortunately, with the help of friends and family and the support of a relationship psychologist, those who struggle with complicated or unresolved grief – and the emotional problems that accompany this condition – can get their life on track and, once more, look towards the future with optimism.

The 5 Stages of Relationship Grief

Among mental health professionals, the five stages of grief model is known as the Kübler-Ross model. This theoretical framework allows grief counsellors and psychologists to assist grieving individuals in overcoming loss.

Let’s take a closer look at how this five stages of grief model applies to relationship grief.

 1. Denial

It’s the first stage of relationship grief, and it can sometimes be accompanied by emotional shock, especially when the breakup or death happens abruptly. During this stage, your mind will deny the rupture, making it difficult for you to accept the new reality.

2. Anger

During this stage, you being to contemplate and process the consequences of your loss. When you’re in the anger stage, you tend to aggravate the situation and exaggerate the adverse effects of your breakup or divorce. The good stuff is forgotten while the bad stuff takes center stage.

3. Bargaining

Since the previous stage has fueled your anger and resentment, you will most likely want to find a culprit. And who’s the first to blame for all the pain and suffering that you experience? Him or her, of course!

However, deep down, you’re probably holding yourself responsible for not seeing red flags or not doing certain things that you believe would have saved your relationship.

Long story short, you go back and forth between blaming yourself and resenting your ex during the bargaining stage. And that’s why this stage of the process is when you’re most likely to try to patch things up.

4. Depression

In terms of emotional pain, this is the stage where you reach your lowest point. You begin to realise that the person or partner you loved and cared about is forever gone. As your loss becomes real, you experience a range of feelings; a sense of loneliness, regret, and you feel somehow… lost.

But despite all the sadness and guilt that’s tearing you up inside, soon enough, you will discover there a whole new life at the end of this dark tunnel.

5. Acceptance

Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process. It’s when hope blossoms once more, and the healing process can begin. You’ve battled your daemons, learned what you could from your failed relationship, and decided to move forward.

One of the signs that indicate that you’ve entered the acceptance stage is that you no longer feel resentment or anger towards your ex and are also at peace with yourself.

How to Deal with Relationship Grief:

1. Stay out of the dating game for a while

During the first few weeks or months after the breakup or divorce, the last thing you want to do is jump back into the dating game.

Given that you’re hurt and vulnerable, there’s little you can gain out of dating someone new. The fact that you’re still grieving makes it difficult to create a romantic connection. On top of that, being in an emotionally vulnerable state means you might get triggered and hurt easily.

It’s vital to constantly remind yourself that you are the most important person in your life. In other words, allow your feelings to come to the surface – allow yourself to cry, sulk, grieve, and feel whatever your body and mind tell you to feel. Whether it takes weeks or months, do these things at your own pace.

There’s no set time for how much suffering should last, and each of us reacts uniquely. Be patient and allow yourself to experience those feelings and emotions, no matter how unpleasant or painful they might be.

2. Focus on self-growth

One of the most popular ways people overcome breakups and relationship grief is by focusing on self-growth. And for good reasons!

The post-breakup period can be the perfect time for self-care and personal growth. You’ve lost your significant other, reached the lowest point, and now, the only way left to go is up.

Furthermore, you might want to jump into the dating game pretty soon, so you probably want to be the best version you can be.

From yoga, meditation, and exercising to journaling, painting, and dancing, there are countless self-care practices and activities that you can add to your routine.

Not only that these practices help you reconnect with yourself, but they also consolidate your new identity and set the foundation for your future self.

3. Remember what used to bring you joy

Overcoming breakups and divorce doesn’t mean you must reshape your entire identity and adopt entirely new habits.

Sometimes, all you have to do is remember what used to bring you joy and satisfaction in the past.

Maybe there’s a hobby you used to enjoy when you were younger, or perhaps there’s someone you used to be close with but lost touch over the years.

In essence, the resources you need to reinvent yourself and move forward might be closer than you think.

4. Allow others to be there for you

One study revealed that social support plays a vital role in helping divorced women overcome guilt or other unpleasant emotions and cultivate hope and optimism. [3]

But help doesn’t necessarily have to come from support groups.

Close friends and family are typically those who know you best and the ones in front of whom you can unburden your soul. Allow them to be there for you, encourage you, and remind you how valuable you are.

Charge yourself with their positive energy and rely on them to help you regain your self-confidence.

5. Talk to a Grief Counsellor

When dealing with a breakup or divorce, each person reacts differently. While some manage to work through the five stages relatively quickly, others may feel like they need more time to readjust and process their feelings. When you’re having trouble moving on, and the emotional pain associated with loss becomes a serious obstacle in your day-to-day life, perhaps it’s time to consult a grief counsellor or therapist.

A mental health professional specialized in grief counseling can help you identify and harness the inner resources you need to overcome loss, consolidate self-confidence, and redesign your future.

Final Thoughts

A breakup, especially when we weren’t the ones who initiated it, can be a painful event, and the emotional pain that comes with it can linger for years.

The good news is that we all have internal resources that can help us regain emotional balance and recalibrate our perspective. Sometimes, this happens with the help of close friends; other times, we might need support from a clinical psychologist or grief counsellor.

But regardless of how you choose to cope with relationship grief, it’s important to know there’s always something beyond pain, suffering, and despair – you just need to move through the five stages of grief at your own pace.

References

[1] P. Lubens and R. Cohen Silver, “Grief in Veterans: An Unexplored Consequence of War,” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 109, no. 3, p. 394–395, 2019.

[2] A. Parisi, A. Sharma, M. O. Howard and A. Blank Wilson, “The relationship between substance misuse and complicated grief: A systematic review,” Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, vol. 103, pp. 43-57, 2019.

[3] F. Yarinasab and M. Shams, “Social Support in Iranian Divorced Women,” Journal of Divorce & emarriage, vol 62, no. 3, pp. 216-226, 2021.

About the editor, Amelia Cambrell

About the editor, Amelia Cambrell

Amelia Cambrell, Psychologist & Counsellor, BA; BSc (Hons); M Psych (Counselling); Dip Clin Hypnotherapy, is a senior psychologist at Counselling in Melbourne and with 15-years of experience in the mental health space is driven to seek client outcomes.

Find out more about Amelia Cambrell

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