We often associate grief with the death of a loved one. But what about the death of a love?
Breaking up with a romantic partner can certainly feel like death!
Here, a 12th Century poet, Yehuda HaLevi, proclaims the inevitable tenderness and holiness that comes from loving and losing the object of our hearts desire.
Tis a fearful thing
What death can touch.
To love, to hope, to dream,
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
But a holy thing,
To love what death can touch.
For your life has lived in me;
Your laugh once lifted me;
Your word was a gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love.
A holy thing,
What death can touch.
What is grief–beyond reeling from the physical death of someone close to us? By definition, grief is “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret.”
In my last blog, Understanding Grief: Why is Grief Important?, I examined how our “flatline” culture denies death and grief at every turn, preferring numbness to pain. It’s a society that’s been known to shame us for grieving for too long or too hard, or for the “wrong” reason.
Many people also feel this shame when they are trying to get over a breakup. Often grieving an ex can include a complex mix of feelings like anger, resentment, weakness, embarrassment, self-judgement and intense longing.
But what if this complex mix of feelings that make up grief is more than sorrow and pain? What if grief is a gift?
In Entering the Healing Ground: Grief, Ritual and the Soul of the World, Francis Weller writes: “Grief says that I dared to love, that I allowed another to enter the very core of my being and find a home in my heart.”
Is this the holy thing spoken of by 12th century poets? Is this the gift?
Dealing with a Breakup
People change. We’re not static beings by any means. Even our cells die away and are replaced. We’re ever-changing and always renewing at our core.
So why expect a romantic partner to remain the same? Why expect our relationships to be evergreen?
The truth is–love and relationships cycle just as nature does. The very core of a relationship can wither away. Sometimes it’s renewed and another chance appears. Sometimes it simply dies.
This doesn’t always mean the love you feel for your partner is gone. Often, you can love someone intensely but realize the relationship isn’t working.
You might argue that you should stick around because you’re still in love. But just because you’re still in love with your partner doesn’t mean you should stay. Love certainly isn’t enough to guarantee a healthy, fulfilling, functioning relationship.
If you’ve moved past the stage of trying to make it work, don’t delay the inevitable. Sometimes we hold on to our partners too long, in order to avoid the pain of letting go. But the only way out is through.
Take heart–the pain you anticipate is often worse than what you actually feel, when you commit to the grieving process.
Be curious about what you may find when you turn toward your grief. You may be surprised to feel lighter and more alive when you lean into your pain.
How to Recover from a Breakup
If you’ve ended a romantic relationship, you need time to properly grieve. It’s okay to take as much time as you need–no matter what anyone else says. Even your well-meaning loved ones can seem insensitive during this time by telling you to move on and cheer up.
Own your grief. Own your process. Only you can say when you’re ready to move on.
Here are healthy ways to move through your relationship grief:
Establish a period of no contact: Break off all contact for a month or longer. This distance helps break habitual behaviors like calling, texting, spending time together, and continuing your sexual relationship. By breaking these habits you’re loosening the grip of physical and emotional dependence on your ex.
Take a real break: During this period don’t start online dating, taking on new or old lovers, or distracting yourself with sexual or romantic relationships, in order to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Rebounding is not a healthy response to grief and only muddles the process. Take this time for yourself.
Set clear boundaries: Be vocal with the people close to you that you’re taking time to grieve your loss. Think of it as a retreat. Let them know you may be inclined stay home, rather than go to the party. You may be less social and available for connection. Or ask them if they are available to listen to what is moving through you, or join you in a ceremony to burn old letters or pictures.
Sit with it: Take time every day to go sit by the the river of grief that flows through you. Turn toward your painful feelings and really sit with them. You might meditate on a quote, such as this one from Martin Prechtel: “Any grief is a form of praise of life. It means you loved the thing you lost.” Allow your feelings to meet and find peace–feelings of love, anger, hope, and sorrow.
Channel the energy: Find creative ways to express your sorrow. You might journal, sing, play an instrument, dance, or paint. What matters is that you’re allowing the emotions to move inside you and expressing them through your creativity.
Embrace Grief as a Sacred Time
Finally, embrace your grief as a natural and healthy part of a life well-lived. Let the mainstream opinions flow away from you and focus inward. You are what matters. Your feelings and your health. Allow healing yourself to truly be your focus for this time.
Francis Weller writes: “It is our unexpressed sorrows, the congested stories of loss that, when left unattended block our access the the soul. To be able to freely move in and out of the soul’s inner chambers, we must first clear the way. This requires finding meaningful ways to speak of sorrow.”
Grief when denied only causes more pain. Resist the urge to deny your grief and numb yourself with distractions. Giving grief the space, time, and attention it needs to move through you is the only way to the other side.
Need Help Moving Through a Breakup with Your Ex?
Grieving the loss of a relationship can be an exhausting and overwhelming process. It’s okay to ask for help from a loved one or a professional when you need it.