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When It's Over


When It's Over: The 5 Stages of Grieving the Loss of a Relationship

Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, the time comes when we realize that the relationship is over. Sometimes this is a mutual decision and others the choice of only one. Rest assured though, if you have been in this relationship for any length of time, both people are experiencing a form of loss to varying degrees. Typically, we view this time as an ending. The chapter has concluded and now it is time to turn the page.

Turning the page on a particularly deep relationship, especially if you were not ready for it to end, is often hard. We, the one left behind, ask ourselves many questions laden with self-doubt. Our ego has taken quite a hit and now we are left with a swirl of questions, and often, few immediate answers. Friends or family will tell us the old, worn-out saying, "There are plenty of fish in the sea", but at this point in our lives we don't want "other fish". We want "the fish" that we may well have believed was the "big catch" we had been fishing for and finally caught. Though our friends mean well, they are pushing us to move too quickly past what can be a time of healing and self-discovery.

Modern psychology tells us the second most intense life stress (after death) is divorce or loss of a love relationship. The feelings of excruciating pain, loss, and depression are real emotions not to be ignored, buried, or minimized. We must allow our emotions to run their course if we are ever going to regain our ability to get on with our lives.

Though you may not realize it, you are grieving and that grief is perfectly healthy and normal.

Everyone deals with grief differently. Some people cry. Some people bond with their anger and scream until their throat is sore. Some of us crawl into bed and try to sleep the pain away. Some withdraw from social settings and others over eat. What we are all clearly in search of is to experience some form of comfort during a time when it seems like nothing will ever makes us feel safe and secure again. A great love has left us and we don't expect to get over it; ever.

David Kessler and Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in their book, On Death and Dying, provided the modern psychological world with a widely accepted model of the five stages of grief. Below is my personal adaptation of these stages as it pertains to the loss of a relationship:

1. Denial

The body's natural defense system works to protect us from threatening situations during the initial stages. You may find yourself operating on "cruise control". You are going through the normal, everyday activities of your life, but you are only vaguely aware of what is happening. You are, in all actuality, only "going through the motions". It is common to expect him or her to call or show up at any time and this whole situation will be explained as a simple misunderstanding.

2. Anger

This is the beginning of the heartache. You will allow your anger to rage. You might rehash details of the relationship over and over again questioning everything that was said or done. You might beat yourself up over ever allowing yourself to get involved with "any one like that" in the first place.

3. Bargaining

It is common in this stage to rehash the past, but not in the way you did before. Now you are reliving the good times and often with rose-colored glasses. You remember the good times and you begin to view the bad times as not that bad after all. Here you may find yourself plotting ways to get your lover back, but often by sacrificing your needs. You might think, "If I could just get him to take me back, I will never be jealous about his affairs again."

4. Depression

Your anger and scheming has finally subsided and now you have hit bottom. This is, with out a doubt, the most painful stage. Here you will question if you can ever be happy again. The finality of the situation has set in to your mind. It is over and now you know it. Often, this stage is where the feelings of loss and hopelessness are strongest.

5. Acceptance

Time can heal all wounds, but time alone will not be enough. During this stage, we come to grips with the raging tide of emotions. We have ended the internal struggle and have completed the healing process of grief.

If you have recently ended an intensely emotional relationship, you should see yourself within one of these five stages right now. It is important to remember that the emotions you are feeling are natural. You are emotionally healing. Embrace this time and allow yourself to move steadily through each stage.

You should be aware that continuing to struggle with your grief may cause you to remain within one stage for an extended period of time and even cause you to fall back into an earlier stage. As is always the case with human beings, everyone is different. You may progress quickly or you may linger in each stage far longer than you would like. Whatever the case, it is important not to put a time limit on yourself. Your mind and body will know when it is time to move on and forcing yourself to move on before they are ready can lead to further complications.

Facing the end of a love relationship is difficult to say the least. But, it is my sincere hope that you will find comfort in knowing that the overwhelming range of emotions you are experiencing are completely normal, healthy and most importantly temporary.

And so the chapter has finished. It's ok to pause and collect your thoughts. It is not the end of the book. Ahead of you lie many more pages of joy, fulfillment, and adventure. When you are ready, you will turn the page and whole new chapter will begin.

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