The end of any relationship is difficult and some endings are more difficult than others. There are also some endings that are spoken about a lot more than others. While we often talk about the explosive endings, the ones with raging arguments and scandalous infidelities; I’d instead like to talk about the other, less notorious endings.
Sometimes, relationships break down for quieter, less explosive reasons, and those reasons can be just as, if not more, difficult to come to terms with. You might have been putting in the effort and trying your best, but the relationship still broke down and the surprisingly sad part about it, is that it’s most likely not even your fault.
Hopefully, reading this will help if you are, or have been, in a situation where a relationship has ended prematurely, to know that you aren’t on your own, that your feelings are valid.
Who am I to talk about this? Well, it turns out, I’m a bit of a pro when it comes to this type of relationship ending. From unexpected deaths to losing friendships and, most recently, a very important relationship with someone I believed to be my soulmate. I’m using my own experience, and a little research, to talk about some important things to remember if you’re grieving this type of relationship loss.
Just a head’s up! This post will focus on lost relationships, but may also feature some points about grief and mental health.
You struggle to understand
If a relationship ends and it isn’t on you, it can come as quite the surprise, especially if you didn’t see it coming. Relationships can end for a whole bushel of reasons, maybe someone you care about is moving away, maybe they can’t handle commitment or even an unexpected death of a loved one can prematurely end your relationship. Whatever the case, you now have not only the grief of the relationship to handle, but also the initial surprise of what’s happening in the first place. That shock delays you facing the loss and can make the whole process a lot more complicated, so make sure to give yourself extra time for this as you grieve.
While more complicated, it’s still the same process. Keep an eye on those stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and remind yourself that everything you’re feeling is valid. You may not experience all of them, you may flit between stages and it’s unlikely to be a linear journey. I’ve personally found that bargaining is a lot more prominent in the breakdown of a relationship than it is in bereavement.
You internalise the problem
Humans are very inquisitive creatures. Our brains like to make patterns and understand anomalies. A broken relationship is an anomaly that our brains will not stop assessing until they have a ‘valid’ reason why. The problem with the it’s-not-you-it’s-me relationship ending is that the brain doesn’t have anything real to pin a reason down to, especially if you’re left with generic excuses or a lack of answers.
Rather than having a big ol’ question mark, our brains will look inwards for a reason. You might start asking yourself, what’s wrong with me? What did I do to cause this relationship to break down? My advice here is to be persistent with yourself. If someone said it’s not you, it’s me, believe them. It’s them. And at the very least, if it’s not them, it’s the situation, which you can’t change. Redirect that beautiful brain power onto ways to make yourself feel better and feel loved. Don’t make yourself a scapegoat for your own mind!
You lose confidence
A natural progression from internalising the problem is a loss of confidence. Having a friend, partner or family member who no longer wants to spend time with you is going to hurt, even if the reason why has nothing to do with you.
When my most recent relationship ended, I was confident and happy with my body. I felt sure of myself and, even though I was a little busy, I felt like I was thriving. I had even started an actual skincare routine that wasn’t just splashing water on my face every now and then… that’s like high level adulting!
Nonetheless it ended, somewhat mutually, with the cause being that age-old commitment issue reason. It had nothing to do with me and the person I was and despite an unbelievable amount of effort on my part, there was nothing I could change to make it work. This loss hit hard. I struggled with my appearance, felt unattractive, boring, annoying and became really critical with myself. In trying to find faults with myself to understand why the relationship had ended, created new ones. After a while, I had started to believe them, which left me feeling even worse than before.
If this is something you struggle with, speaking to friends and family and asking them to describe their view of you is a good method. You’ll probably find that most of the faults you had listed are either missed out completely, or are vastly outweighed by the positives.
The world can seem crueller/ emptier/ colder
When an important person in our life leaves, we can feel their absence as a figurative gap in our bodies. The windy gusts of everyday life can howl within that gap, reminding us that it’s there. The world can seem a little more grey, a little more empty and people can seem more cruel, uncaring or distant.
“I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread”
-Bilbo Baggins, The Lord of the Rings
I’ve had my fair share of boy trauma and, after losing some fundamental relationships, there have been times when the world around me has felt a lot more sinister. Without the warmth of the people that I knew were safe and the trust we had built, the world itself began to seem colder and more dangerous.
Losing one relationship does not condemn all of them.
Look to the people who you might’ve cried to, who’ve texted you to check in, who send clapping emojis to your Instagram stories of your morning walks. People are generally good, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. Set yourself the challenge of proving that sinister world view wrong. It’s something other than the lost relationship to focus on and you’ll thank yourself for it later.
It can be just as painful as if they had cheated
You didn’t have to find them in bed with another person to make this loss painful or, if applicable, acceptable. Being dishonest comes in lots of forms and even just springing a break-up, a move, a ‘sorry we can’t be friends anymore’ on you is not cool. The pain is there and it’s valid. There are reasons other than cheating and explosive arguments for relationships to break down and the subtler reasons may be just as harmful to your trust and mental health.
While we’re experiencing this pain, it’s easy for us to experience tunnel vision. We narrow down our thoughts to our own feelings and neglect the feelings of others. This is normal and friends and family will understand if you don’t check in as often. That said, it’s useful for you to break out of that tunnel vision and shift the focus from yourself and your bad feelings. Recognising other people’s problems will realign you with the network of life that you exist in and may help to break you out of a downward spiral.
They aren’t always a villain
A less popular, but very important point is that the other person might not always be a villain. This can be something that we acknowledge and struggle with straight away or come to realise in time.
People aren’t entitled to other people.
If someone chooses to leave you, they’re allowed to do that. The way they went about it may have been wrong, but the choice itself is theirs alone to make and they aren’t a bad person for choosing what is best for them. This truth is a difficult pill to swallow, but it’s essential. It means that you can forgive them more quickly, accept the loss more easily and get back to looking after yourself. It also means that you are not obliged to stay in relationships that are not good for you either.
An important note is that they’re also not 100% the hero either. Be careful not to idolise a lost relationship. Imagination and hindsight are not reality. Remembering their flaws will help you move on and be kinder to yourself. It might take a little longer, but you could also realise that they weren’t the best person for you anyway.
Break-up playlists don’t fit
Trying to piece together a relatable playlist to your misery can be hard, there’s a definite cheating breakup bias. You’ll find yourself skipping a lot of ‘go back to the other girl’ and ‘were they worth it?’ lyrics; at first you might even be skipping over the ‘plenty of fish in the sea’ lyrics to find a nice, tailored, depressing soundtrack.
I’d recommend revisiting your angsty teen playlists. Not only will you be able to indulge your feelings, but you’ll also be able to reconnect with a part of yourself that you may have forgotten about. For me, this involves listening to a LOT of My Chemical Romance, Bullet for my Valentine, Five Finger Death Punch and all of those Kerrang! favourites that got me through my teens.
Some recommendations that I’ve found useful for each stage so far:
You can have some pretty dark thoughts
Bad thoughts are never nice to have and they are something that are generally taboo in general society. But just because they aren’t talked about doesn’t mean that they don’t happen. They do. It’s normal for them to creep in after a big, negative change in your life, as you try to wrap your head around the shock of it all. You might feel completely numb at times and it often comes from a place of total overwhelm. Think about it, all of your plans, your routine and outlook on life have been shook up- that’s a lot to process.
When you’re feeling terrible, numb, fed up with the world or completely overwhelmed by how negatively you feel and how long it’s lasting- it seems endless. I know. It feels like nothing will ever feel right again, that things have fundamentally changed forever and that there is a light that has gone out that will never light again (Combine this with that lack of confidence and growing self-doubt and you’re having one fantastic stressy depressy party). To some extent that’s right. There have been changes, there is darkness and your feelings are completely rational. But, it will change.
Rare flowers will grow from the cracks in your foundations. Other lights will glow, dance and flicker. The one candle that went out will be replaced by hundreds of fireflies and, as future You sits and reflects on that, looking at the beauty of your own survival, you’ll be glad that you stuck around and believed that better things would come.
You do not have control
This is the hardest part of a relationship ending in this way and it applies to all of those one-sided losses, including grief.
You cannot prevent someone from passing away, as much as those thoughts in your head may tell you otherwise. Similarly, if a friend, family member or someone you love chooses a new lifestyle, relationship or themselves over you, you can’t control that. No mind game, new hair style or social media tactic will make them come back, despite what 99% of online advice will tell you, and in trying, you only risk hurting your confidence even more.
You do have control with yourself though. You control how you cope with this dump-truck of inconvenience and heartache that’s been quite rudely dumped on your emotional doorstep. Whatever your method, make sure you keep yourself at the centre of your mind. If you want to work out stress with daily runs, battle-screech at the punchbag or glam up with a new eye shadow palette- don’t do it to show them what they’re missing, do it to show you what you’ve got.
You also control who you invest your time in and I’d recommend investing in people that put in the same effort that you do, the people who love you and the ones that make you feel safe. You can mix it up with people who know your situation well and others who are less involved with the lost relationship. It’s always nice to reminisce memories of a grieved loved one with someone who didn’t know the person too much; you have a whole blank canvas to paint.
You also control the relationship you have with yourself, and have the ability to make it a good one! Even if there are times you might hate yourself, or feel like you do, you have the power to change that. Buy yourself flowers, pay yourself compliments and praise yourself for every small win. That last point will be draining at first, but it’ll slowly claw you out of the bad place you might be in. Remember, you’ve been happy before and you’ll be happy again. Take each day as it comes- write gratitude lists, correct those negative thoughts and plan plenty of treats for yourself.
I’m sorry that you’re going through this and you aren’t alone. My best advice is to speak to people. It seems simple but it’s something that we can easily fall into avoiding. Nothing has helped me more than talking, moaning and crying all over my mum, sister and friends. You feel like a burden and they’ll tell you that you’re not, that’s what they’re there for. Just make sure that down the line, you’re there to repay the favour.
My email and inbox is always open to you. As I said, this is something I’ve been through and talking to someone who knows your struggle can help in amazing ways. If you’re struggling and the pain starts to feel like something more serious, there are helplines to reach out to. Samaritans even has a messaging service if you don’t feel like calling.