When Relationships End

Often people will come to therapy at this critical juncture in their lives

Are you in a relationship which is coming to an end or maybe in the process of recovering from a relationship breakdown?

Often people will come to therapy at this critical juncture in their lives as it can feel important to find a space to put into words the difficult and sometimes unbearable feelings that they have been left with.

Talking this through with a professional in a non- judgemental and confidential space can provide enormous relief when friends and family, who wish to support you, might find it hard to really stay with all the feelings that you are struggling with. Often people will try to cheer you up or encourage you to look to the future. Though this may be well intentioned, it could leave you feeling more and more alone with your despair.

When we are grieving the end of a relationship, we may not realise it but we can often be reliving old experiences of pain and loss which we have never had the opportunity to work through. As a result of this, people are often bewildered by the intensity of their emotional reactions. Talking about your feelings with a therapist can be a helpful way of beginning to make sense of some of these painful emotions and perhaps reflecting on the way they echo earlier experiences of loss or bereavement.

Whilst this is often a very painful process, it can also be the beginning of a new way of understanding yourself and perhaps knowing more about the way you relate to other people. Whilst most of consciously wish to be in loving and nourishing relationships with other people, old patterns can get in the way of finding what really want from life. Some of this may be related to early childhood experiences and what we learn unconsciously about forming attachments to other people.

A lot has been written in recent years about how our early experiences of attachment can have a significant impact on the way we feel about ourselves and relate to other people. How safe we feel as children that those near us will be there to protect us from all that life may throw in our way, affects the way we will feel as adults. If we have been insecure as children, these old fears may emerge in our adult relationships and compromise our ability to feel safe and trusting of others.

This may also influence our capacity to form stable and lasting intimate partnerships. If we are frightened of separation or abandonment we may behave in all sorts of ways that are ultimately unhelpful because we are trying to protect ourselves from experiencing loss.

We may also experience deep feelings of pain, fear and rage at the end of a relationship and relive emotions that are related to the loss of earlier attachment figures. Infants experience deep misery and trauma when they are separated too soon from their loved ones and this may manifest itself in adulthood in all sorts of ways. Some people may avoid lasting relationships and others may wish to cling desperately to people even though they feel unhappy with them. Separation, even from a relationship that wasn’t working, can feel like a deep bereavement and force us to question who we are and what our place is in the world.

At these moments in life, it is possible to feel that everything has broken down and that we will never feel ok or able to function properly again. Whilst this can be a devastating experience, it can also put us on the path to knowing ourselves better and forming more healthy relationships in the future.

This is not easy and is not always a quick process but it can also lead to new ways of being and seeing the world and ultimately, be a moment of breakthrough.

Written by a therapist in Brighton

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