Grief is one of the hardest, most human experiences you’ll ever go through. It comes to us all, in one form or another.
I recently bumped into a family friend in the supermarket. For a few years, she has been in conflict in her sister. She has been given the silent treatment by her sister and several passive aggressive expressions of her feelings have amounted to a frustrating, slow death of their relationship. My family friend doesn’t shy away from confrontation and so it was natural to ask her sister several times, what the problem was. The response was more silence and a reluctance to engage. I asked her how she felt about it now but the impact on her was clear. She was grieving the end of the relationship and perhaps even the future she had envisaged with her.
Grief and conflict can become entwined. After somebody that you love dies, conflict can arise during grief because of the devastation that it causes. If you have ever lost somebody you love, you know exactly how vulnerable you felt, how raw and ravaged by a pain that seems to have no cure. In those sad moments, you may have realised that those you thought were your best friend or a caring relative, were not as supportive as you hoped.
When relationships end, you may feel grief, even if you feel angry and vengeful towards the other person. It’s not surprising. Conflict done badly can destroy trust and intimacy. The stronger the bond between you, the more likely you are to feel hurt and betrayed during conflict. When that subsides, as it always does, you may be surprised to feel the loss of a person you used to care about.
This blog post is about allowing yourself to grieve after a relationship has ended. Accepting loss with empathy and compassion is the only way to live with it. Grief doesn’t go away but it does get less overwhelming, a bit more manageable and ultimately, it becomes part of you. Here are four ways to help you get to that stage.
Recognise that you feel grief
It’s not always obvious that you feel loss, especially after an acrimonious breakup of any kind of relationship. Even if you are happy that the relationship has ended with that particular person, you may be grieving the loss of your hopes and dreams for the future whilst in that relationship. You may grieve the sense of intimacy you felt or you may be grieving lost opportunities. Take some time to reflect on what it is you feel about the ending of the relationship.
Talk about your grief
If you can’t do that with a close friend who you can trust with your feelings, write it down. I find it helpful to start off writing the phrase “today my grief feels like….” Allowing myself to write freely, knowing that nobody will read it, gives me access to it and the space this powerful emotion needs to let off steam.
Find ways to cope
This may take some time because you are adjusting to the reality of your loss. Grief can feel particularly painful when you are reminded about the person you have lost through a conflict or otherwise. On their birthday or on yours, you may feel their absence even more; when you hear a song that they loved, you could feel a tremendous sadness or even when you see them in person but no longer greet each other. These are difficult moments and knowing how to cope with them can help you deal with it better.
Get some distance
It is often helpful to block the person on social media or to unfollow their newsfeed. Avoiding being in the same places as they are will help you to heal. You might want to take a break from mutual acquaintances or friends who talk about the person you were in conflict with, at least until your emotions have calmed. Distance gives you the space and time to allow yourself to grieve in peace.
Grief is the hardest journey I have ever gone through. It’s like a tsunami that comes out of nowhere and destroys everything that you once believed was indestructible. It changes who you are and how you view the world. Some days you may be walking along a road, your mind focused on getting to work on time and all of a sudden, somebody or something reminds you of the person you have lost. Other days, it’s a struggle just to think straight.
It’s not all hopeless. It gets easier. Grief broke my heart open and showed me how beautiful intimacy and vulnerability are. I never really believed that before until my own grief forced me to admit that I wasn’t doing as well as I thought I was and that I needed support. Grief doesn’t weaken you, it makes you more emotional resilient if you accept it for what it is now. That’s how we can learn from our suffering.
As always, let me know what you think or tell me about your own experiences of conflict and grief.