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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.

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.

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?

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?

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?

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 relationship earlier, you are equipped to do the same now as well. It’s okay if blocking them from your social media directs you towards moving on. While we learn (and unlearn) ways of living in a world without this relationship, our algorithms also take a while to understand that this relationship needs to go on our archived list of things we’d rather not look at.

Will I ever get over this? Will I move on? Will I ever be happy again?

While it is natural to feel an immense wave of hopelessness while going through a relationship loss, I’d like to draw some attention towards our inherent ability to foster hope and resilience. It may seem tempting to completely wipe out all the memories of a relationship and start afresh and unwounded, but there is a greater possibility to come out of it with a wide range of learnings and reflections. There is always a glimmer of hope in any situation - a hope that one day, we won’t feel so wounded anymore, we won’t feel so broken anymore, and on that day, we will honour our resilience and our ability to keep going. Any loss brings with it a huge wave of sadness and while it may seem tempting to fight that wave and power through, in the beginning it is more important to let the sadness run its course. Allow yourself to float in the sadness and eventually learn to swim through it.

How do I look after myself while dealing with this loss?

Most importantly, be kind to yourself - accept that it is a significant loss for you and you need some time to heal from it. Treat yourself with love and care while you heal. Sometimes, the feeling of hurt is so immense that even waking up every morning feels like a huge burden - in those moments, it is important to not put too much pressure on yourself. Set small goals, break up all big tasks into smaller ones, and most importantly, allow yourself to take a breather and look after yourself. This is a time when self-care becomes extremely important. It may mean different things for different people but it includes simple things like cooking some food for yourself. Sometimes, even doing things that came naturally to you earlier may seem like a challenge. In those moments, it is okay to reach out for help as much as you can. Reach out to your friends or family to lend a helping hand so that you can navigate through this loss in a healthy way.

Many people also find solace in art, literature and cinema to make sense of what they are experiencing - it may help to vent your feelings in a creative way by writing about it or making some form of art about it. This is not only a cathartic process but also allows you to create some distance between you and your pain - earlier, it was living inside you but now it lives in this creative space that you have created. It may also be useful to lean on other people’s art and creative expression to understand how to navigate through this loss - this inculcates the belief that you are not alone in this struggle; there are many people in the world who have felt the same things that you are feeling right now.

It is also important to note that if you find yourself engaging in self-destructive behaviours (like excessive substance use) or having suicidal thoughts, or simply not feeling equipped enough to cope with the relationship loss,, it is essential that you reach out for professional help. While it may seem daunting to go for therapy, it is a process that fosters self-reflection which ultimately contributes to healing.

Ultimately, it comes down to assuming a self-compassionate stance while dealing with a relationship loss - acknowledge that the loss is a valid and significant one, allow yourself to sit with the pain and discomfort because the situation warrants you to come face to face with it rather than run away from it, forgive yourself for your personal shortcomings in the equation and believe that the relationship helped you grow as a person. No matter how bitter and painful a relationship loss is, we learn to hurt a little less everyday and in that, we build hope for a better life.

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