Stress seems to be the buzz word of the year. The level of trauma is at an all-time high. Many people are struggling to manage the pandemic, racial tension, economic stresses, loss of friends and loved ones, and a host of other difficulties. Another concern showing up time and time again is stress in intimate relationships. In an article from Psychology Today, it notes that 50% of all first marriages, 67% second marriages, and 73% of third marriages end in divorce and divorce is on the rise. The United States has the 6th highest divorce rate in the world. It is no wonder that during these unprecedented times, the divorce rate has skyrocketed.
Quarantine tensions are no match for the already fractured relationships. This nationwide crisis leaves relationships in a vulnerable state, and some couples are deciding to throw up their hands and terminate long-term relationships. Discontinuing a longstanding relationship is yet another stressful event during an already taxing time. The flood of referrals that are pouring into my office has increased exponentially. The complaints like “we are not able to connect anymore, this quarantine has shown me who he/she really is, we have lost the spark, we don’t talk anymore unless we are in an argument, and we have not had sex in weeks, or months, this is not the way I want to live my life.” “Therefore, we are coming to you to dissolve this relationship.” While the couple may wish to conclude the marriage, they are unaware of the short-term and possibly long-term effects this may have on them.
In a recent episode of Red Table Talk- The Estafans, Gloria Estafan’s family talked about the divorce of her sister, Lili. Lili’s husband was having an extramarital affair. The family reveals the pain that ensued as a result of the loss of the twenty-five-year marriage. Lili shared the excruciating agony that happens when you love a person who is no longer part of your life. And yet, you know the person is alive. The suffering was unbearable. Lili poignantly expressed her grief.
When we think about the ending of a relationship, we don’t think about the trauma. Albeit a small “t” trauma, perhaps, it is indeed trauma. It is the death of a relationship. There is a mourning process, whether we decided to end the relationship amicably or contentiously. The loss of a person we spent many years with is as painful as losing a loved one in death. You lose the connection to someone who once occupied a significant part of your life.
There is no concrete way to grieve after a relationship ends. However, we may go through grieving stages. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s seven stages of grief include shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, test, and acceptance. As a person processing through these stages, one may not flow through the stages in a particular order. You may vacillate between stages in different patterns, skip some stages, and even revisit some. Give yourself permission to experience each stage that you enter when you enter it.
There are times when you may cry. If you need to engage in that, usher yourself into the experience, acknowledge the pain that accompanies the experience, and take the time you need. Remind yourself that this is what you need and is only one stop in the healing process. As you do this work, establish strategies to move beyond the crying. Keep in mind that something or someone will remind you of the lost relationship, and you may experience a minor set-back. This is absolutely normal. Know that the pain will disappear in time. Each cry and set-back is part of the healing journey.
Suffering alone does not heal the pain or anguish. If you need support, consider participating in a divorce support group or individual counseling. These interventions will help you process through this life change with the support of others going through the process with you, in a no-judgment, safe space.
You are the captain of this ship, your process is your process. While others may advise you about moving forward, be mindful of what you need for yourself. What will make you help you in this transition?
- spending time with family or friends
- time alone
- participating in some sort of therapeutic activity
Whatever it is, do it for you, not for the approval of others. The destination to singleness is yours to navigate. How you need to experience it is yours. Embrace every stage, every emotion, and every moment of pain and peace. Time will heal the wounds of ending a relationship. Trust the process. You will make it.