Understanding and Managing the Loss of Relationships
Loss is an undeniable part of life. It is unpredictable, uncertain and appears in many forms. From an early age, we experience loss in different guises, and it is argued by some that our very entry into the world is the first loss we experience: the loss of the security, warmth and comfort of the womb. It could also be argued that loss on some level continues throughout life, and that life is about adjusting to loss, and managing to find ways to accommodate and integrate it within ourselves.
We all have relationships of varying degrees of emotional closeness, but whatever the nature of our relationships, there is a reality within them all, and that is, as with life, they will come to an end.
Grieving for relationships
However a relationship comes to an end, it will be a difficult process involving many feelings and emotions, and will no doubt prompt significant change in all areas of our lives. Our natural human reaction to any sort of loss is to grieve. In fact, there are many similarities between the death of a loved one and the ending of a significant relationship. Our feelings will often wildly oscillate between anger, guilt, regret and sadness to name a few.
Loss will occurs on many different levels depending on the individual, and the depth of the relationship:
- Loss of companionship and shared experiences, which may or not have been consistently enjoyable
- Loss of support, whether financial, intellectual, social or emotional, or all the above
- Loss of shared hopes, plans and dreams, which can be even more painful than any practical losses
When a relationship comes to an end, it is important to allow ourselves to feel all of our emotions, thoughts and feelings. Engaging with the different levels of loss is frightening, and you may fear your emotions will be too intense to bear. However, this process is important, and is part of what we need to experience in order to begin the healing process, allowing you to gradually let go of the old relationship.
An opportunity for growth
When a relationship ends, whether a friendship or a romantic relationship, it can feel as though our world has been turned upside down. We may be led to question the relationship, and wonder why or how we got to our current position. Often we find ourselves heavily scrutinising ourselves or beating ourselves up for things we should or shouldn’t have said, or for how we behaved. We may decide that we are not worthy of attention or love, or feel as if we will never have a successful or happy relationship again.
In the absence of a relationship, it can feel as if we no longer know who we are. Where there was once a ‘We’, there is now an ‘I’. We can be left with a sense that a partnership, with shared goals, hopes, dreams and direction, has now been replaced with a sense of directionless, as if we are now lost at sea. Due to the closeness of human relationships, it stands to reason that we would struggle with separating from another. We can become entangled within romantic relationships, lost within another. Our sense of self was previously weaved closely with another’s, and is therefore hard to prize free or examine objectively.
However, while it doesn’t seem so at first, the breakdown of a relationship can offer an excellent opportunity for us to grow, learn and communicate more freely to ourselves, our own desires, needs and wishes. This is not an easy process, and takes different lengths of time for each of us. But, by giving ourselves time to breathe, think and feel, we can begin to discover aspects of ourselves which within the relationship may not have been given as much attention, or parts of ourselves we augmented so as to please another.
Therapy can offer you the chance to explore your relationship history, from your earliest ones, to your most recent. You can begin to make sense of patterns, and decipher how you function with another, or whether you are choosing certain types of people. As well as considering your romantic relationships, you can also explore your friendships, and relationships you have with your family. A therapist will work with you to assist you in unpacking your thoughts, feelings and ideas in a safe environment, and allow you to gain clarity and insight into your difficulties.
Over time, we can learn to regrow our minds, tend to the wounds we experience when we lose love, and begin once again, to have a fuller more complete sense of who we are, as individuals.