Is It Grief or Obsession?

Understanding your reaction to the end of a relationship.

Posted Sep 24, 2019

It is normal, and even natural, to experience a sense of loss after the end of a relationship. This may be a long term relationship such as a marriage or living with a partner, or it may be a short term dating relationship.

The impact of a breakup or the end of a relationship can be more or less significant and pronounced based on several different factors. Typically, the person who orchestrates the breakup is better prepared for the emotional aspects of the decision than the person who is surprised or even unaware of the potential end to the relationship.

In most cases, the person who is most likely to display grief over the loss of the relationship is the person left trying to cope. Most people who have a supportive network of friends and family have some grief, but they also have emotional support and coping mechanisms in place to process the grief and move forward with their lives.

Individuals who lack this type of social and emotional support, or those with less developed coping mechanisms, often have more significant levels of grief with the loss of the relationship. For some of these people, codependency, and love addiction issues may also be in play, which adds to the distress, anxiety, and sense of being overwhelmed that can come with the end of a relationship.

Some of these people may develop unhealthy ways of coping rather than working through the stages of grief. One unhealthy aspect of dealing with a breakup is to begin to obsess over the relationship and the individual. This is a pervasive and ongoing process of playing back over the relationship and constantly thinking about "what ifs" and "I should haves" as a way of continuing to feel engaged in the relationship.

Healthy Responses

A healthy response to the end of a relationship is to experience sadness, sorrow, and even regret, and this may last for a few weeks to a longer time period. However, the grief over the loss is not pervasive, and it follows a similar pattern to the 5 stages of grief as developed by Elisabeth Kϋbler-Ross. These include denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

In addition, the individual still engages in their regular routines, finds time to spend doing things they enjoy and looks forward to activities in the future. In time, they even begin to look forward to new relationships, although this is not likely to be in the immediate future.

Unhealthy Obsessing

When grief and thoughts about the relationship seem to take over all areas of life, it is morphing into an obsession and is typically associated with codependency. These individuals find thoughts about the ex intrude in all aspects of their life, and they often have difficulty in concentration, which impacts work and their social interactions.

There are some practical ways to break this negative spiral about thoughts of the breakup. The more of these you incorporate, the less likely that grief over the breakup negatively impacts your life:

  • Journaling – write down the thoughts you experience about the relationship and use this as a way to clear them out of your thought process.
  • Talk to others – talking to others and express your grief and sense of loss. This is essential in the emotional healing, and supportive friends or family members can lend that shoulder and allow you to vent.
  • Do something you enjoy – commit to doing at least one thing a day that is just for you. This is about rebuilding your sense of autonomy and self, eliminating the focus of defining yourself in terms of the relationship.
  • Get into a routine – getting up, going to work, getting regular exercise, and spending time doing things you enjoy is all part of not only healing after a breakup but also in breaking obsessive thoughts.

It is also helpful to talk to a therapist or counselor. These professionals can provide a framework for making positive changes in your life.


Cleveland Clinic (2019, January 23). Retrieved from Cleveland Clinic Health essentials:

Kessler, D. (n.d.). The Five Stages of Grief. Retrieved from

Maertz, D. K. (n.d.). Surviving A Relationship Break-Up - Top 20 Strategies.Edmonton: University of Alberta.

Montero, M. D. (2010, November 11). Obsessing Over a Breakup? Here's How to Stop. Retrieved from HuffPost: