Grief and Relationship Breakdown

Grief and Relationship Breakdown

Grief is a normal reaction to divorce and relationship breakdown. The psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, proposed that there are 5 stages of readjustment following the loss of somebody through death. The same emotions are experienced following on from separation and/or divorce.

The 5 stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Most individuals experience most of these stages, often many times over. There is no order to them, and the stages will often re-emerge throughout the grieving process. It is a process that involves not only emotions, but also involves physical, social and cognitive reactions as well. It is not only you that will go through this process. You may find that your children also experience some, or all, of the same stages. They apply to both the leaver and the person left. Being aware of them can help you view your emotional healing as a normal, human process.

The stages:


Not always, but usually the first stage in the grieving process. This is not happening to me. An individual may tell themselves that something is not happening, and may say things such as I know they still love me, or they will come back etc. You may believe that the situation in which you find yourself is only temporary. Denial can take many forms, from denying that separation is taking place to denying the emotional pain involved. You may well find that even when you think that you have grown to accept the situation, denial will emerge out of nowhere and come back to visit you.


Anger is normal. There are many different sources of your anger. You are allowed to get angry, even if you have been brought up being told that anger is not good, and taught to channel it elsewhere. An individual may be angry about the cause of loss. Anger that things have come to an end, and with it your secure future. Anger at being left to bring up the children. Anger at being kept away from the children. Anger at being rejected. Anger over the latter part of your relationship, and what took place. Anger comes from many sources. What you have to try and remember is that whilst anger is normal, it is important to try and act in a respectable manner for the sake of all concerned, and especially so if there are children.


Often, a partner will try to come up with a way of negotiating a reunification. There may be beliefs that if you change you will win your ex back. Lose a few pounds, behave in a different way, say yes to your partners demands etc. If you change who you are just to win someone back, the chances are that it will not last, that you will not be able to sustain the changes.


This is a time of extreme sadness and loss, and often loneliness. An individual may feel that they are unable to stop the loss, that they cannot function without their ex-partner, that they will never be in another relationship, that they are unattractive. Such feelings are normal. Be aware of their intensity and duration, and seek professional help immediately if the feelings become too much to cope with, or if you feel that you may be suffering from clinical depression.


Simply, you have come to terms with the divorce or separation. It can take a long time to reach this stage, and you may have thought that you had accepted things, only to find yourself thrown into one of the other stages unexpectedly. You may bump into an old acquaintance and be back to anger, or even denial. When a person reaches acceptance, they try to make the most of their situation. You may not like what has happened, but you can make decisions that life will go on.

The process of grieving is different for every individual, and should be respected. The time is takes to go through the grieving process varies enormously from individual to individual. It takes a lot longer than you would expect.

It is perfectly normal to bounce back from one stage of the grieving process to another, and then back again.

Getting through the grief can be hard. Be gentle with yourself, and move at a pace that is right for you. Allow yourself to go through the full range of emotions that are part of grief. Learn as much as you can about grief so that you know what to expect. Get adequate support, from family, friends, or even professionals. Sometimes keeping a diary helps, as you can track your progress. Often, people do not realise how much they are changing and growing until they see things written down. Sometimes the opposite is true, and you are stuck but don't realise it. That in itself can be the catalyst for moving on, or seeking help to do so.

However long it takes, it is important to remember that you will get through this.