• The end of a relationship is always a very difficult time

  • Saff Mitten offers some advice on what you can do if you are struggling with a relationship crisis

  • If you are experiencing relationship problems or have recently suffered a break up, you can find a therapist here 

When you are going through a relationship crisis and you don't know if the relationship is over, or if you are in fact dealing with the ending of a relationship, it's an incredibly difficult time. 

You may find yourself struggling to cope emotionally, which of course has an impact on your ability to deal with day-to-day life. At such times, some people find they have trouble sleeping or eating, while others may start to over indulge with food as a way to stuff down the feelings and numb the pain. 

Some people start to drink more than usual to block out their feelings - something that inevitably makes them feel worse once the alcohol wears off. Some throw themselves into work and try not to think about what is going on in their personal lives, whilst others have real difficulty functioning as normal at work. Some find themselves feeling very anxious, even suffering from panic attacks, at the thought of the relationship finishing. While others may find their emotions are very changeable, one minute they may be feeling sad, the next they may be feeling angry. 

All of these reactions and a multitude of others are common reactions to what is a very traumatic situation.

How did we get here?

Even if there have been signs that things have been difficult for some time, often it comes as a big shock when things reach crisis point and one of you says maybe things should end. Dealing with this scenario and deciding together (if possible) whether to end the relationship or to try and work on things, can be difficult. There may be so many mixed emotions that it can be hard to see things clearly and gain some perspective on what the issues are, as well as what each of you wants and needs from a relationship and from each other.

What are you feeling and is it normal?

In these situations it's common to experience overwhelming waves of sadness, grief, hurt and pain. However, if you're the person who is facing being 'left', somewhere in the mix there is often also disbelief and anger, or even a feeling of betrayal that the person you have committed to is thinking about letting go of the relationship. 

While these feelings may be very valid, if you find yourself becoming angry and defensive as a result, this could get in the way of facilitating open communication to examine and discuss the problems that have brought you to this point. As such, expressing what you're feeling to your partner in the heat of the moment may only serve to create a bigger rift and cement the end of the relationship rather than opening up the potential to work things through (if that is an option you would like).

A role for therapy

So what can you do? Some people find couples counselling really beneficial, providing both parties are willing to seek therapy and want to work on the relationship. However, when things may feel very heated and antagonistic, not all couples are necessarily ready for this. 

If it doesn't feel suitable, individual counselling may be a better option. Why? Because you will have a space to be able to openly express all those feelings of betrayal, anger, hurt and other possibly less positive thoughts and feelings about your partner, within a safe and non-judgemental environment. This is something you can't always do with family or friends who may have an investment in the relationship and have views or opinions about you both. 

Often people find when they can express what they are feeling without judgement, their emotions may lessen in intensity and they can then start to examine what has gone wrong and what they would like to happen next, if there is a choice to be had. Therapy can also help you to cope with and work through any negative feelings that you may be having about yourself and your place in the world as a result of this relationship crisis. It's not uncommon at times like these for insecurities to surface and for people to find themselves asking: what is wrong with me? Am I unloveable? Am I a failure? 

Additionally, many people also find themselves feeling ashamed and worrying what others will think of them when they hear that they are experiencing problems. Similarly it's also quite common to feel scared that if the relationship ends you will never meet anybody else. Not surprisingly then, at such times many people describe feeling as though 'my world is going to end'. 

That may sound over dramatic but it's a genuine reaction to the trauma of a potential relationship break up. Just in the same way that grieving the end of a relationship is much like grieving the death of a loved one. It's impact cannot be overstated, and for each person the process may be different. Although it cannot make the pain and other emotions go away, therapy can help you feel supported whilst you work through this process and come out the other side - be that through coming to terms with the end of the relationship, learning from what went wrong and grieving the loss, or deciding to work on things with your partner and making positive inroads to improving the relationship you are in together.

A good therapist will work with you collaboratively, tailoring their approach to meet your individual needs and circumstances, and helping you work out how best to navigate your way through this time of crisis.

Further reading

How therapy helped me after a bad break up

Finding personal space in a couple relationship

Humanistic therapy helped me break harmful relationship patterns

Breaking up with a sociopath