From a Broken Heart to a Healing Heart: Dealing with Relationship Loss

Updated: Apr 20, 2020

CW: mention of suicide & abuse

Relationship losses can feel like a huge dent in the vehicle of life. Memories made, inside jokes cracked, experiences shared, lives built. Today, when our phones and social media profiles store pretty much every detail of our lives, how does one deal with relationship loss? This post addresses various dilemmas and questions that one is faced with when dealing with a loss of this nature.

Image source: Mari Andrew (Instagram)

Is my relationship loss a valid one?

The term relationship loss is used here, as opposed to a break-up, because the former creates more room for a whole range of relationships, apart from conventional romantic relationships - loss of friendships, extra-marital relationships, friends with benefits relationships, polyamorous relationships, or any significant relationship that has had an impact in our lives. Loss of a non-intimate & non-romantic relationship is also as valid a loss as an intimate one. In addition, the word loss allows us to acknowledge that we need to heal from it. For any kind of loss, it is essential to allow yourself to grieve because you are dealing with the absence of a significant part of your life. The void that such a loss leaves can be difficult for many. This is why it’s okay to feel weak and vulnerable while going through a tough time like this.

Image source: Mari Andrew (Instagram)

Is it okay to miss them even though they were not the nicest to me?

We tend to feel a whole range of complex emotions while going through a relationship loss and more often than not, we struggle to make sense of those emotions. We may very well acknowledge that the relationship may have been toxic or the person involved may be abusive, but we still crave it in a strange and twisted way. It’s okay to crave for something that was unhealthy for you after it goes away from your life - regardless of the nature of the relationship, its significance cannot be discounted and it is this significance that also contributes to the craving as well. The constant feeling of sadness and emptiness while going through this loss does not help either. The most important thing in such moments is to acknowledge that there has been a loss and along with that acknowledge that we need to be kind and compassionate with ourselves while we deal with this loss.

Is distracting myself from the pain & hurt an effective way to move on?

Image source: The Artidote (Instagram)

Feeling any kind of unpleasant emotion is a difficult process, as a result of which, running away from it seems tempting. While this may bring momentary relief because of distraction, in the longer run, the wound has not received the care it deserves. Think of back when you scraped your knee as a child - the immediate response was to address the wound, clean it and wrap it up to heal. When we have such abstract wounds like relationship loss, the impact of which we unfortunately cannot see in the form of scraped skin, it is important to give the same care and allow ourselves to heal by sitting with the pain of loss and not hurry through the process of healing. Some wounds are so deep that they leave an uncomfortable feeling even years after one has healed from it and that’s okay. Some reminders may open the wound again and the pain hits us as hard as it is the first time, and that’s okay too!

How do I deal with the feeling of self-blame and guilt?

Image source: Mari Andrew (Instagram)

While looking at things in retrospect, it is natural to come up with a list of all the things we could have done differently or done better to avoid the loss. This results in a cycle of ruminating about the past and results in a massive dip in our self-worth. The amount of self-blame in such moments is immense. In an ideal world, it would be possible to go back in time and fix things but realistically, it helps to take responsibility for whatever we may have done that contributed to the loss. How does one do that? It helps to hold yourself accountable for your actions, learn from them and work towards not replicating those in the future. The first step towards that is by forgiving yourself. Forgiveness, especially self-forgiveness is not an easy process with a clear path. While acknowledging this, it is also important to remember that every human being in this world has made a mistake of different magnitudes, hurt other people at different levels. We cannot be devoid of mistakes - it is what is common in all of us. This is what allows us to foster a sense of compassion towards ourselves. If a friend is beating themselves up about a similar loss, the natural tendency is to soothe them. How often do we engage in soothing ourselves?

How do I let go of the relationship even after the person has left?

Image source: Mari Andrew (Instagram)

After going through a relationship loss, it may seem like the only way to keep it alive in some way is to hold on to the memories and mementoes. We tend to go back to old texts when the relationship was rosy, we flip through old photos and can’t part with even faded movie tickets because it reminds of a time when things were not so difficult. On the flip side, any reminder of the relationship also feels like being hit by a strong wave of sadness and it becomes difficult to pull ourselves out of this pit. Social media is not particularly helpful in such times, when we find ourselves stalking their profiles and scrutinizing every word in their Instagram caption, trying to find some hidden messages in them. The harder you hold onto something, the faster it slips through your fingers. It also helps to think of times when the relationship was not in your life but you were still functioning well as a person - if you could live your life without that rela