“Breaking up is hard to do” even when a relationship is totally spent, loveless, or obviously doomed.
So how about those times when circumstances demand the split, even though love and passion are still in evidence? We like to think that “love conquers all” is a truism, but anyone who has loved and lost knows it is not. In our modern world there are too many intervening factors that may prevent people who truly care for and revere each other from being together. Mourning the loss of these sorts of connections is like mourning an unexpected death; so much left unspoken and undone.
I had the fortunate experience of knowing my Father was going to die. Yes, I DO mean fortunate, because going through the grieving process with people who have lost beloveds unexpectedly is even more heart wrenching than losing your own when the death was already on the calendar, so to speak. There was nothing unresolved or unspoken when Dad died; and knowing the clock was ticking gave me the option of freeing up my life as much as possible to be with him during his final months and days. This allowed for closure that people who lose someone unexpectedly may never feel.
The same is true of a long-term relationship that slowly dies.
There is still pain in the loss, but the time period in which the inevitability of it was in awareness mutes the final blow; preparations have been made. But how about when we lose a relationship unexpectedly, for any reason? When someone we counted on being there tomorrow is suddenly gone, how do we cope?
In 1969 Elisabeth Kublar-Ross detailed the 5 stages of grief in her book On Death and Dying. This guide was meant to specify the sorts of emotions a healthy person can typically expect to feel when dealing with unexpected loss. Although they were assigned particularly to loss of connection due to death, they certainly can also apply to loss of connection due to break-up as well. When we lose someone we love in any manner or form, it is both appropriate and necessary to grieve.
Here are the stages of grief for break-up, as adapted from the Kublar-Ross model:
Hell, yes, denial! When the person you love is still living and “out there”, denial may be the longest and most difficult phase you encounter. When someone is actually dead, denial cannot last very long in the healthy mind. But while the beloved still exists, the hope for reconciliation is acute; anyone who points out the reality of why the relationship ended becomes persona non grata. As long as you and your lover still draw breathe, denial is a strong coping possibility.
Hell, yes, anger!
As reality sets in that the relationship is no more, anger at the other is inevitable. No matter what the reason for the parting, no matter how reasonable, practical and sensible it may be, railing against its injustice is a healthy, normal phase to go through. Things that may be keeping you apart (children, jobs, ex/current spouses, family obligations, cultural incompatibility, addictions, etc.) now fall into the cross-hairs. How DARE they exist and be valid! Isn’t love a fairy tale? The inconvenience of REALITY is too much to bear!
I will accommodate the children, job, ex/current spouse, family obligation, cultural incompatibility, addiction, etc. Just so I don’t lose you! I will sacrifice my sanity, my standards, my preferences, my will…just so I don’t lose you! I will lose myself to gain you back.
But then, who will you be with if not the real me?
Reality sinks in: this is not going to work and losing myself is no way to gain anything sustainable in life. I love you but I cannot be with you for perfectly intelligent, logical reasons and as a result I don’t know why I am even bothering to go on. If I cannot be with a person I adore for perfectly rational reasons, than being rational is an idiotic stance. What use is there in a world where passion is not the driver? What point is there in going on when obstacles seem to conquer all instead of love?
This never comes all at once; it comes in waves that recede back into depression.
We stop looking backwards and trying to recover the relationship with the beloved and understand that there may be another new beginning for us at some point in the future. This is a classic example of “two steps forward and one step back”; for each few steps we take into acceptance of new possibilities, we take a step back into mourning “what might have been.”
The end of a love relationship is never easy or fun; we all play woulda-coulda-shoulda with our hearts, the innocent victims of Cupid’s arrow.
Because we truly cannot change who we fall in love with, we also cannot present a timetable for recovery from the fall; it takes as long as it takes. It is important to be gentle with ourselves in the process but also to understand—there IS something that comes next. The “lost” love is not the end of our story. It is a stepping stone in our self-discovery and should be appreciated as such. Even in the depths of our misery at the loss, we can still find treasure.
Or perhaps especially then, if we know what we are looking for.
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