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9 Ways to Help You Process the Loss of a Love Relationship

View loss as a challenge to help you become a stronger person.

Passages through loss are among the most difficult life events we may encounter, underscoring the primacy of our bonds to others.

The internal events that accompany loss, what goes on inside of us, unfold in their own time frame, often extending beyond the actual external event. Ending an intimate partnership can be a devastating emotional experience; even in a seemingly amicable breakup or divorce, life is turned upside down. Aside from the many practical matters that one has to deal with, issues of loss of identity and self-esteem, feelings of having failed, and anxieties over the loss of commitment and security abound.

Loss of a love relationship is particularly significant since it is through our encounters with intimate others that we most readily access significant parts of ourselves. We see ourselves mirrored back through the eyes of others. Our deepest relationships inform us about ourselves and often shape who we are and who we are to become. In addition, the loss can be felt on several levels: physically—the loss of the actual person; emotionally—the commitment and reliance on the attachment to this person; and psychologically—the sense of self-esteem, well-being, and security as well as your hopes and dreams for the future.

So when a significant relationship ends, either because of a conscious decision to move away from it or because of circumstances beyond our control, we are left alone, often feeling as if an essential part of ourselves has been cut away. Working through this painful loss, drawing upon resources that can facilitate the process, and bearing in mind that one can gain much from loss is the ultimate challenge.

So, how to get through the loss of a love relationship, and in many cases, the loss of hope and the sense of a loss of a future? And how to begin the difficult work of starting over again and moving forward in your life?

Accept what happens as it unfolds, just as it is. Give yourself the time to grieve and heal, and know that it may take a long time. Suspend any expectation of what should happen and how you are supposed to feel because it will change over time.

Grief is not a linear process; you don’t just go from one stage to another. You may get to stage three and then slip back to stage one. Grieving is a cyclic process that has its own timetable. Grieving is a normal response to profound loss. The idea is to find your way back to your life even while you continue to experience grief.

Allow yourself to feel the feelings. Understand that you will experience many different emotions. Grief, hurt, sadness, resentment, anger, fear, and other emotions normally accompany the ending of any significant, committed relationship. You may feel that someone you once loved and depended upon, and maybe even still do or want to, disappointed and/or betrayed you; they stopped being present for you. (Or maybe it was your initiative that ended the relationship.)

The ending of such relationships may feel like a death. In the beginning, when everything feels intense and raw, you will feel these emotions more often and more powerfully. Over time, they will lessen and fade. It may take a very long time to process all of the emotions and to sever ties in as healthy a way as you are able.

Moving on is your goal. Regardless of how stuck you may feel in the present, keep in mind that the end result is to move through and beyond your loss. Keep reminding yourself that your life has meaning beyond your relationship. Once you’ve worked through the experience of loss, you will be capable and ready to rejoin life, maybe not the way you initially thought, but certainly with a sense of a future.

Keep a regular routine. I know you may feel like not getting out of bed. But it’s essential to keep going with the routine of daily living. If nothing else, it will give you a sense of structure and an immediate reason for being. Remember, that loss of a love relationship can feel devastating; your world is turned upside-down, and nothing seems to make sense. Everything you knew in the relationship will feel different than it was. So participating in the activities of daily living will help keep your life moving forward.

Don’t make a radical change. This applies to just about everything. The impulse to shake things up in order to move away from the drama-trauma of your loss is probably fairly common. After all, if something you were so sure of failed you or didn’t turn out the way you had thought it would, why not try something new and different to fill the hole?

Clearly, making a radical change in the throes of the chaos of the ending of an intimate relationship is not the thing to do. In fact, no big change should be undertaken until most of the dust has settled, and many of the emotions have been dealt with. Once the fog has left your brain, and you can see things more clearly, then you can begin figuring out how you want to proceed.

Put yourself first. Many of you are told that being selfish is not a good thing. But the word “selfish” is totally misunderstood. Obviously, what’s meant is not to think only about yourself but, rather, to be considerate of others, taking their needs into consideration. But somehow, this notion of not being selfish has morphed into being selfless, and here’s where many people get into trouble, by bending over backward, especially in very close relationships, and neglecting their own needs, which are as important, if not more important, than those of others. After the loss of an intimate relationship, when you have the time to take care of only yourself, it’s a good idea to think about what you need.

Take care of yourself. This may be the opposite of what you feel like doing. When the end of a relationship happens, you may feel rejected and unloved, and that may even translate into feeling unattractive and unworthy of attention. You may feel like neglecting your appearance and your health. It may feel like a real chore for you to take the time to care for yourself. But again, this is essential to help you get back on your feet and to heal the parts of you that feel broken as a result of the loss of a relationship.

A little introspection goes a long way. Learn from your experience, especially what you do not want to repeat. What part did you play in making the relationship what it was? Did you repeat patterns (mistakes) from past relationships? Did you have realistic expectations of your partner? What can you do that would significantly enhance your future relationship(s)? It’s often painful to examine our responsibility, especially when something goes wrong, but ultimately, it’s this introspection that makes us more honest and healthier for ourselves.

Understand that what you may think and feel you want and need at any given time in your life may not be in your best interest, and that goes double for needing and wanting another person. There are many reasons for wanting to be in a relationship with a significant other, but if it’s because someone makes you feel complete, or you believe there’s no one else but this person for you, or you’re incredibly dependent upon this person, that’s simply not good enough or healthy enough. Ultimately, you want a respectful, caring, supportive, sympathetic person who is whole unto themselves and honors and values you as a complete person unto yourself.

Don’t indulge in unhealthy coping mechanisms. Simply put, don’t self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, food, or anything else that occupies a lot of your thinking and time and is meant to distract and numb you. If anything, this kind of behavior delays the healing process and, worse, may lead to behavior that spirals out of control. Better to feel the feelings, as painful as they may be, and, if necessary, get professional help.

Remember, there is always a future. It will surely be a different one than you thought, but who knows, it may be a much better one than you imagined.

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