Starting over after a relationship ends

photo of Gwen Randall-Young

by Gwen Randall-Young

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. – Joseph Campbell

When a relationship ends, it does feel like starting over. It is much harder if you did not want the relationship to end, but even if you knew it was time, there can still be pain and a period of readjustment.

There is a sense of loss, not only of the partner, but a loss of the future that had been planned, envisioned or assumed. There is a time of deconstruction, a process of coming apart. There may be grief, anger, hurt, disappointment and sometimes a sense of betrayal. If the ending comes as a shock, it can leave one in a state of confusion. If one’s life was totally wrapped up with another’s, it can be hard to think about what the future will look like.

In coming to an acceptance of what is happening, one may go through the stages of grief Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlines: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The stages can occur in any order. We can cycle through them, thinking we are through one stage, but then go back or remain stuck in one of them.

In order for healing to happen, we have to give ourselves time to grieve and to experience the stages mentioned above. We cannot heal, however, if we become stuck in one of the stages. I have had situations where clients cannot accept a partner does not want to stay or has moved on with another. They will say the partner is not well; something is wrong with them because they would never do this if they were in their right mind.

When the denial lifts and it all seems real, the one being left may try to convince the other that things will be different. He or she may make promises to change behaviours, habits or attitudes that have created problems in the relationship. And, yes, clearly I believe there is a place for positive change and individual or relationship counselling. However, here we are talking about when one partner in the couple has decided it is really over.

With that realization often comes anger. This is based on pain, of course. There is anger because it cannot be fixed; the other won’t even try or they have already moved on. When bargaining does not work and the door is closed, depression often sets in. There may be remorse about one’s own part in the demise of the relationship. Now that it is over, the one who is grieving may see for the first time how much of their own self they compromised. They may realize how hard they worked on the relationship and how little understanding or commitment was shown by the other.

Then it is time to accept and move on. Some reflection on where it all went wrong is natural and important. However, becoming obsessed about it, focusing on how one was victimized or how unfair it all is will only serve to keep one stuck in the past.

What is needed is to begin to deal with the things we have to do. It may mean learning how to do things we did not do before. It means reaching out for support. One step at a time is the goal and there may be a lot of stumbling at first.

Just remember how many others have made this same difficult journey and survived. You will too.

Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more articles and information about her books, “Deep Powerful Change” hypnosis CDs and “Creating Effective Relationships” series, visit Like Gwen on Facebook for daily inspiration.

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