Work Through Your Relationship Grief

Last summer, my marriage ended. I didn’t want it to, but the gap between our lifestyles kept widening, and splitting up soon became the obvious course of action. I was heartbroken, but from the start I recognized that there was great value in my grieving process.

I’m sharing what I went through in the hope that the process that helped me recover relatively quickly may offer some comfort to others who are hurting. It took me four months to heal, which is far better than four years . . . or forever. You can recover from a broken heart. You can heal. You can be whole again.

A great poet once said that we need to lean into the fire of our pain . . . and burn. I wholeheartedly concur. In quiet, solitary moments, find the strength to allow your suffering to wash over you, to move through you. Then brace yourself, and walk into it.

If you’re going through hell, keep going.
Winston Churchill

It takes courage to explore your suffering, to peel away layer after layer of beliefs, behaviors, and assumptions and rigorously hold yourself accountable to life.

In my experience there is no way around grief—there’s only through to the other side.
Beth Nielsen Chapman

It also takes persistence. For four months, on a daily basis, I drilled as deeply into my grief as I could. I challenged myself to discover how much of my grief was genuine and how much of it was just me feeling sorry for myself. Wallowing in my emotional pain, even just a little bit, was a huge barrier to healing. I asked myself questions like:

• What is the source of my grief and why am I so invested in whatever that is?
• What exactly have I lost and how much do I need whatever that is in my life?
• What exactly am I missing—her presence or what she or the marriage represented?
• What exactly am I afraid of? Being alone? People’s reactions? Not being able to find another soul mate?

• What are the expectations I had that are making me feel this way?
• Were my expectations of her realistic?
• Where did those expectations come from?
• How and why did my expectations differ from hers?
• How did I fail to meet her expectations?

• In what ways have I impacted the relationship by being selfish or self-absorbed?
• What did she need from me that I was unable or unwilling to give her, and vice versa?
• What did she need in her life that was unacceptable to me, and vice versa?

It made a big difference that we both had been completely upfront, honest and authentic with each other from day one. There were no untruths spoken, no betrayal of trust. We were just two people who crossed paths at precisely the moment when our needs and desires perfectly overlapped. For fifteen months, we were in perfect sync. But all along, we both had kept subtly moving, in opposite directions, toward the life we each desired to lead. It was only a matter of time before we both started to step beyond the boundaries of the common ground we shared.

You may be wondering how I could marry someone and not know her lifestyle preferences. The truth is, I did. But because we were clicking on all levels, I naively assumed that no major changes would take place and that I could handle any challenges that did come along. So that’s on me.

After the relationship ended, I saw clearly that I had seen only what I wanted to see, and that I had ignored red flags that, in hindsight, were painfully obvious. We simply had different ways of looking at relationships and at life in general. It was only a matter of time before we both began expressing ourselves in ways that added distance between us.

To her credit, she was always willing to answer all my questions even as the relationship deteriorated and my grief deepened. I will always be grateful to her for that. Those discussions provided much-needed insight and clarity that greatly accelerated my healing. Most people trying to recover from a broken heart do not have the luxury of open, honest communication with their former partner. I fully realize how fortunate I was.

Toward the end, when we both knew it was only a matter of time before we would part ways, I told her that if I had known from day one that it would end up like this, I would still have signed up for it in a heartbeat. “So would I,” she said. That meant a great deal to me.

Looking back, it’s obvious to me that everything unfolded exactly as it should have. I see the perfection in why we came together . . . and why we came apart.

And what if I did run my ship aground; oh, still it was splendid to sail it!
Henrik Ibsen

One of my most important realizations is that I needed to experience the fulfillment of what I wished for in a relationship so that I could be liberated from wanting it so badly. That doesn’t mean that I don’t ever want to be in another relationship. It simply means that I will now be in control of my desire for a wonderful relationship rather than having that desire control me. In other words, if I do ever enter into another relationship, it will be because I want to, not because I need to.

Before our relationship began unraveling, I thought I was walking my talk with regards to living a spiritually mature life. During my grief, I realized how much more work I had to do in order to embody the principles I planned to write and speak about. If I had not gone through the breakup of my marriage, I would not have been able to become the person I need to be in order to do the work I feel called to do. I would have lacked the authenticity and credibility to confidently speak to others about spiritual and personal growth.

Some of the specific lessons I needed to learn were:

• Look at every moment as a gift. If I believe that everything happens for a reason, and I do, then I must demand of myself to look for the blessings in every situation.

• Be unconditionally accepting and loving, even when another person’s words or actions hurt me deeply.

• Remain peaceful and joyful in even the most challenging and stressful of times. In Paramahansa Yogananda’s words, I needed to learn how to “stand unshaken midst the crash of breaking worlds.”

• Be ruthlessly honest about my own flaws and work hard to correct them.

• Be more concerned with wanting what I have, not having what I want. I now repeatedly affirm: Whatever God brings to me, I want.

• Expect nothing from people other than to be authentically who they are.

• Detach from outcomes. I can’t have my heart set on having my time with someone turn out a certain way. Trying to control what is outside of my control will always end badly.

What is vitally important to remember is that just because a relationship ends does not mean it was a failure. Indeed, each relationship allows us to express and experience our deepest desires for emotional and physical intimacy. Each relationship, no matter how long it lasts, expands our self-awareness and clarifies what we do and do not desire in a partner.

When a relationship ends, you are presented with a tremendous opportunity for growth. Step out of your emotions as best you can and challenge yourself to interpret what happened with symbolic sight. Not only will you gain clarity about why things unfolded as they did, but also about what you want the rest of your life to look like.

Granted, activating your symbolic sight may be difficult to do in the midst of an emotional maelstrom. Still, the instant you unplug from reacting out of pure emotion and begin objectively observing a situation, your fears and anxieties loosen their death grip and you start to reclaim your mental clarity.

Finally, do not allow the fear of heartbreak to stop you from pledging your love to another. If another opportunity presents itself, trust in God and dive headlong into the ocean of romantic love. The waters may be choppy from time to time, but an exhilarating world of unimaginable beauty awaits.

When love beckons to you, follow him, though his ways are hard and steep. And when his wings enfold you, yield to him, though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you, believe in him . . . though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
Kahlil Gibran

Click here to view all my posts about romantic relationships.

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23 Responses to “Work Through Your Relationship Grief”

  1. Work Through Your Relationship Grief | jdTVu Says:

    […] colbystream wrote an interesting post today on […]

  2. Darcy Says:

    What a great starting place for those in a tough relationship spot Phil! Of course, not so amiable endings and children certainly play a role in the learning curve… With children, the relationship is extended on and on…

    Very nice!

  3. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Completely agree, Darcy. There are so many factors to be considered that add additional layers of complexity. You’re right that this is a starting place. That was my intention. If it can help others in some small way, that’s all I can hope for.

  4. Gina Says:

    Thank you, Phil. This is definitely of great use to me now.. so much of what I’m already aware of, so much of what I hope to remember should it come to this for us. Meditating regularly, trusting in, as you quoted ” Whatever God brings to me, I want”… surrounding myself with people espousing messages of authenticity, awareness, the ever-present availability of Love itself… no matter what it may look like… all are very helpful to me.

    Thank you again.

  5. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, Gina. Best of luck to you!

  6. lovinginthenow Says:

    Thank you for your genuine and honest words. You are an authentic human being! Love and peace to you~

  7. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thank you for the kind words, lovingthenow. It’s nice to connect with you.

  8. Jackie Walker Says:

    Shivers ran down my spine, and my heart opened reading this. What a truly fantastic posting which I can relate so wholeheartedly to – we’ve learned so many of the same lessons! Unfortunately I didn’t have an ex who could explore and understand with me and still doesn’t/won’t – I navel gaze apparently!

    I’ll write a blog with reference to you, and would love for us to keep in touch.

    Keep shining! Jackie x

  9. Phil Bolsta Says:

    That would be wonderful, Jackie. I’m glad you found it meaningful. Thanks so much!

  10. Laura Says:

    Thanks Phil for being so open to sharing your experiences. Wow.

  11. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks, Laura. If someone else can learn something from what I’ve gone through, that’s all the reason I need to share it.

  12. Martha (TAZ31263) on twitter Says:

    You are an Inspiration…….
    Been there, done that, and worked through it myself, and with the love of family, friends and god…..

  13. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks so much, Martha. Hugzzzzz backatacha!

  14. @HRMargo Says:

    I’ve been telling my friends, “Don’t go see the movie, ‘It’s Complicated’ unless you are absolutely over your former spouse.” For me, that was the feel-bad movie of the year. I was divorced in 2002, and well, it was complicated. I loved him as I love my own breath of life. He was my everything, he was my world. I adored him, and worshiped his every success, and applauded his every achievement. When the marriage ended, I was in shock too much to experience the pain that ultimately followed. It’s been 7 going on 8 years. The grief, while put to rest long ago, still comes back in waves. The day after Christmas, when I saw that film, the wave hit me like a tsunami. It made me realize that I am still very much IN LOVE with my former husband. I never really got over him (even though I thought I had). That could be because he was my first true love, my true north, and I invested way too much of myself in the relationship. The relationship was broken. I could not repair it, and all I can hope to do now is accept that fact, and move on-and most of the time I do. Yet, every now and then, particularly during the lonely holidays, I miss him, and miss him terribly. Your post was beautifully written, and very healing. Phil, I love your tweets. You are a remarkable spiritual being, and I hope to meet you one day.

  15. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Margo, it’s heartbreaking to read about your loss. I hope that you continue your healing and get to the place where you want to be.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Margo. I know that it will touch others as well.

  16. Lissa Coffey Says:

    This is so insightful. Thank you, Phil! We’ve all been there at some point in our lives. I actually blogged about “It’s Complicated” because it was such an example of a couple who need CLOSURE! My new book is all about Closure, so I hope that your readers will check it out: “Closure and the Law of Relationship: Endings as New Beginnings” available on amazon.

  17. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Thanks so much, Lissa! I look forward to video-interviewing you about your new book!

  18. Laura Stellmach Says:

    Just read this, going through a divorce and your insights have been a blessing. Thank you.

  19. Phil Bolsta Says:

    I’m very glad to hear that, Laura. It’s why I wrote it. I hope your recovery goes as well as it can.

  20. Kristin Anderson Says:

    Thank you.

  21. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You’re very welcome, Kristin.

  22. Serena Says:

    Reading this entry reminded me of a part of an affirmation that I review from time to time: “Everything in my life is working toward my ultimate good.” We might not see it when we’re going through difficult moments, but those tough learning experiences contribute tremendously to the healing and growth we need.

  23. Phil Bolsta Says:

    You just nailed it, Serena. Thank you for contributing those wise words.

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