Regardless of whether you are the one who wants to leave or the one who is left behind, feelings will play an important part in a relationship breakup. You might have thought you had met The One, only to be told that it’s over. If you didn’t see it coming, the shock of the decision is like someone putting a bomb under your life and it is now lying around in little pieces. Even if you hadn’t been getting on well for a while, the news can still be very upsetting. Although the loss that is experienced through death can be devastating, the grief that is accompanied by a breakup can in some ways be a more complex loss. After all, the other person chose to leave. If you are the one who has left, you may have already experienced anguish for some time prior to finishing it and hopefully will have tried to address this with your ex before making your decision. You may have a clearer idea about why it happened but it doesn’t mean that it won’t be upsetting for you too.
Even if we are normally relatively happy individuals and ‘in control’ of our lives, when we go through this, it is quite natural to be flooded with feelings and have moments, days and even weeks when we think we are going mad and life will never be the same again. We feel powerless and want the pain to end. One day we notice that we seem to be okay, only to be plunged back into misery the next.
The Importance of Grieving
Although everyone has their own way of dealing with loss, grief is not straightforward, but once the initial shock wears off, it is quite natural to experience confused feelings such as anger, relief, fear/anxiety, blame, guilt, relief, rejection and loneliness. Both parties can feel this, with the person who left usually feeling a stronger sense of guilt, whilst the person who was left feeling utterly rejected. What can be very alarming is the tumble of feelings that descend, sometimes all together in one day. How much we grieve will depend on how important that person was to us. If we were in a committed relationship where there were expectations of a life together until death, it will be painful no matter how rational we like to think we are. However, healthy grieving does involve experiencing the pain of the loss, difficult as that may be. For example, if anger is suppressed, it may take root and grow into bitterness which can stop you from moving on. Some people find it hard to ‘do’ feelings – it is not acceptable somehow but when feelings are ignored they tend to get acted out anyway e.g. excessive drinking, eating, sex, etc.
Healthy grieving requires the mourner to accept the fact of the loss and adjust to life without the lost person. They learn to re-position that person from being the centre of their life to somewhere more distant … at the fringe of your life if not gone from it altogether. This can be more difficult if you are still in contact with them if, for example, you have children or work together, etc. Although it can be excruciating when you still love them, it is best to keep minimal contact if you cannot cut all ties.
Healing from the Loss
Somewhere along the line, we will begin to withdraw emotional energy from the other and re-invest elsewhere. People notice this when they realise that they have been on an enjoyable night out and forgot they were heartbroken (most of the time anyway). Or that they were starting to sleep better and not checking their phone as much. Or simply, that they are not crying anymore. I cannot tell you how important it is to notice these changes. You may still be grieving but these shifts, no matter how small, are telling you that you are healing. You may even feel momentary pangs of guilt that you don’t think about the ex as much anymore (or you may even be delighted). It is okay and you are okay. You are just getting over it.