Throughout our lives, we go through different types of losses – the loss of a loved one, the loss of a pet, the loss of an object that we hold close to our heart, etc. However, not all kinds of losses are treated alike. Society is more sympathetic towards the loss of persons or things that can be seen or felt. However, losses of abstract concepts, such as the loss of a relationship are often not treated with the same sensitivity.
The ending of a relationship can be extremely distressing for any individual. Unlike death, losing a partner as a result of a break-up/separation comes with a set of different challenges. It can, in fact, be harder, as the person is still around (often in your social world itself), but not a part of your life anymore. When romantically/maritally involved with someone, we often become dependent on the other person and start to see all aspects of our lives in relation to this person. We may even build all our future plans to be centered around this person. One can say that when one is a part of a relationship, the relationship too, becomes a part of them. Thus, losing such a relationship may feel like losing a part of oneself which can leave an individual feeling debilitated.
What happens when it’s not a clean break
Things become even more difficult when a relationship has ended on an ambiguous note. For example, a relationship wherein the couple simply grew apart over time and one of the partners then ends the relationship without any explanation for the same. At times like these, the partner who gets left behind may not have stopped loving the other person and was still living in hope that the differences could be reconciled, even though both people have changed over time. When things end on an ambiguous note, the partner who gets left behind continues to hold on to an idealized version of the partner (and indeed the relationship) which may make the process of moving on, even more complicated.
- Grieving the loss of a relationship
Research on loss of different kinds (losses through death and through other causes) have identified that societal understanding of loss is usually limited to death and that there are elaborate rituals that help the individual grieve the loss of the loved one and seek/receive help from others around them. However, the loss of a relationship is neither recognized nor are there any rituals/avenues for the grieving person to reach out and seek help from their social circles. This further isolates the person going through this loss. In situations like these, the distress of an individual is just as magnanimous as in the case of death, but the onus of going through the experience of the loss is often left on the person themselves.
Here are few ways in which you can offer yourself as a source of support to someone who is experiencing the loss of a relationship
- Normalize the grief
It is important that an individual’s loss is acknowledged and that they are allowed to grieve. Often people are asked to get over their loss and their unsettling emotions are dismissed. Grieving is also perceived to be a sign of weakness. It is important to convey to them that grieving is absolutely alright and that there is no one standard way to grieve.
- Encourage expression
Encourage the individuals to describe their unique experience of loss rather than comparing it with some external societal yardstick for the same. Actively listening and conveying compassion through one’s tone and body language helps in identification and expression of one’s emotions.
- Grief education
It is important that the person is oriented to the different stages of grief and how they affect one so that they are somewhat equipped and prepared to handle them as and when they experience it.
- Encourage them to seek support
Encourage them to rely on a network of friends and family members who will accept their pain. It may also prove helpful to connect such individuals to friends and acquaintances who are sensitive to their pain and can be more empathetic and insightful during such situations (Egan and Arnold, 2003).
- Self-care monitoring
Encourage them to take care of themselves physically through rest, diet and exercise. This can help in preventing the escalation of the person’s distress as any deterioration in the health can further prolong the grief period (Kaczmarek and Backlund, 1991).
- Watch your words
It is important to be mindful of the language used while communicating the relationship loss. Using harsh words may stimulate memories and lead to the escalation of the pain experienced during such occasions (Worden, 2009).
- Look for signs of high-risk behaviors
In some cases, persons going through relationship loss may have thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Here is a useful guide to help you identify at-risk behaviors. Encourage the person to seek professional help if you notice any of these signs.
Seeking Professional Help
Often, the process of coming out of a bad break-up can be long and arduous. Supportive family, friends, and peers, while essential, may not be able to help the person emerge from this on their own. In such situations, seeking professional help of mental health practitioners is advisable. Individuals going through such a situation may not be readily willing to talk to a counselor face-to-face. Contacting an anonymous and confidential helpline such as iCALL may be just what is needed at this time. The team of trained and qualified psychologists at iCALL can help provide immediate containment of grief as well as long-term support through the process of grief resolution and emotional growth. Reach out to us today on 022-25521111 or over email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Boss, P. (2009). The Trauma and Complicated Grief of Ambiguous Loss. Pastoral Psychology Pastoral Psychol, 59(2), 137-145. doi:10.1007/s11089-009-0264-0
Egan, K. A., & Arnold, R. L. (2003). Grief and Bereavement Care. AJN, American Journal of Nursing, 103(9), 42-52. doi:10.1097/00000446-200309000-00015
Flynn, A. Disenfranchised grief in response to non-death loss events (Unpublished dissertation).
Kaczmarek, M. G., & Backlund, B. A. (1991). Disenfranchised grief: The loss of an adolescent romantic relationship. Adolescence, 26(102), 253.
Perilloux, C., & Buss, D. M. (2008). Breaking up Romantic Relationships: Costs Experienced and Coping Strategies Deployed. Evolutionary Psychology, 6(1). doi:10.1177/147470490800600119
Robak, R. W., & Weitzman, S. P. (1998). The nature of grief: Loss of love relationships in young adulthood. Journal of Personal and Interpersonal Loss, 3(2), 205-216. doi:10.1080/10811449808414442
Worden, J. W. (2009). Grief counselling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner (4th ed.). New York: Springer.