Honoring the Loss of a Relationship That Wasn’t That Great
I was in my backyard this morning when I discovered that the giant tree branches, downed in last summer’s tornado and in the Halloween snow and ice disaster, are now dry and light enough to drag with one hand. It made me consider that sometimes
the breakage from a great storm needs to be left as it is for a time, until it is light enough to carry. Sometimes relationship break ups create emotional damage that need time to heal–to become lighter, too. You can’t just pick up the broken pieces, carry them off and be done with the whole business quickly. You need some time.
Leaving a relationship is always painful, and there is a unique pain that comes from leaving an unhealthy relationship.Unlike the many people who leave a relationship when they realize they have nothing in common, or that they are no longer attracted to each other, or that they have grown apart, or that they simply don’t like each other, when you leave an abusive, addicted or
emotionally unwell partner, you tend to face a more powerful set of emotions.
You may well have to, for example, come to terms with leaving someone to whom you are still attracted, with whom you had much in common, and to whom you felt very bonded or connected when he was not destroying himself or being mean to
you. This means having to say good-bye to much that you liked, were attracted to, or felt so connected to. I want to support you in grieving those losses. Grieving takes time. Sometimes the breakage from a great storm needs to be left as it is for a time, until it is light enough to carry.
Planning for Grief
Your emotional well-being is in your own good hands. This means you will need to embrace and structure time for grieving. Now that you have decided to let go, let’s make room for grief by naming some of the many things there are to grieve in leaving a destructive relationship.
We know that a relationship that has been so troublesome can lead your friends and family to offer a form of support that isn’t really helpful, however well meaning it may be. It often goes something like this: “Thank goodness you left the bastard; now you can move on!” Just weeks later, they may already be saying, “Are you still dwelling on the past? It’s over!”
But that’s no how grieving a destructive relationship works. We know that there are many losses to grieve and that there is much wisdom for you in this pain. We suggest that you plan for a year of grieving. It might take you shorter or longer, but we ask that you plan for support from a couple of trusted friends, or find wider support through a group for women recovering from abusive relationships, or Al-anon, or a therapist, or a spiritual leader to help you through each of the four seasons of the year following your leaving. Planning for this as you get ready to go can make the entire journey not only more manageable, but fruitful and loving.
First, name what helps you.
Read the statements below and figure out the statement that feels most right for you, that you would most like to hear from other people as you begin to grieve:
“We are sorry that he wouldn’t change.”
“We are sorry that he threw it all away.”
“We are sorry that he wouldn’t step up, that he refused to ‘man up’.”
“We are sorry that he decided he didn’t want to go through all that work and that he chose what he knew already rather than risk a new way of being.”
“We are sorry that he couldn’t go any faster, or do any better.”
“We are sorry that he can’t offer to continue to lovely moments that you shared, because he is unreliable or unsafe.”
You don’t have to—and shouldn’t—attempt to rush yourself through the process of getting over the grief of leaving a destructive relationship. The slower you go, the faster you will heal. Begin by naming what it is for you that you most need to hear. That will tell you where the grieving needs to start.