How Grieving Your Relationship Can Help You Move On 

Learn more about how a break-up can trigger a grieving spell and how to make the most of it.

Published January 30, 2023
Serious young woman behind glass

From losing your favorite pacifier as a toddler to saying goodbye to a loved one, everyone has to work through grief at many points in their life. When you get out of a relationship, there's a substantial loss there, and our bodies are hard-wired to kick-start the grieving process. Since relationships aren't tangible things to lose, it can feel counterintuitive to accept the grief that comes with their loss. Yet, grieving a relationship is the best way you can ensure that you'll be ready to take on a new relationship when the time comes.

Grief Is a Natural Part of Losing Something

Largely, we've been taught that grief is something saved for monumental losses, like a loved one's death. The enormity of the emotions that our grief stirs up feels like they should derive from life-altering events. Yet, feeling is what makes us human, so it's only natural that we'd draw up feelings of grief for all sorts of scenarios.

Grief is just another emotion in your processing toolkit, and it doesn't come with any exclusions. So, when you come out of a relationship, whether because you broke it off or your partner ended it, your body will want to go through a grieving period. The best thing you can do to care for yourself at the time is to let yourself experience the purging your body needs to move on properly.

How Do You Grieve a Relationship?

Everyone grieves differently, but there are two main theories that try to define the process.

Five Stages of Grief

In 1969, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross proposed the 'Five Stages of Grief', which has taken on a whole new pop culture meaning in the intervening years. You've probably tossed a few of these around in conversation, but you might not know the order they're supposed to happen in. Kübler-Ross explained that people went through five different stages while they were grieving:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Dual Process Model of Grief

Although you very well might connect your own emotional journey working through your lost relationship, not everyone does. It's perfectly normal to skip between stages and linger in only one altogether. That's why, when grieving a relationship, you might better connect to the rollercoaster nature of the Dual Process Model of Grief.

Margaret Stoebe and Henk Schut first proposed the Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement in 1995, which follows a less rigid style of processing grief. In this method, people go back and forth between 'loss-oriented responses' and 'restoration-oriented responses.' Loss-oriented responses are wrapped up in deeply emotional feelings and the way they manifest. Think things like crying, screaming, over-sleeping, apathy etc. Restoration-oriented responses swing the opposite where you engage in actionable things like hobby-making and socializing with friends.

The important part of this method is that people will rapidly swing between both stages throughout their grieving process. You might wake up in one stage and swing to the other in just a few minutes or hours. Or you might stay in one stage for days at a time. This roller-coaster way of healing is not only normal, but a great way to fully purge the emotions the loss has caused.

Practical Ways to Grieve Your Relationship

What's important to remember when grieving is that you don't have to come out of it feeling worse than when you went in. If you use this time properly, then you'll come out restored and ready to take on a new period of life - whether that includes a relationship in the near future or not.

Document Your Emotions in a Journal

A super important part of grieving is letting yourself feel every emotion that comes to the fore. Emotions are terribly fickle things, and you won't always be able to make sense of them right away. So, instead of trying to reason with your emotions, take a journal, open a document on your computer or a note on your phone, and write exactly what you're feeling.

Let yourself ruminate on those feelings as you write them down, and copy any thoughts that come to mind while you're sitting with them. Taking the extra time to document them will make sure you actually let them hold space inside of you instead of pushing them down and away. Because you can't eventually let go of something you've decided to carry around.

Release Your Grief Into Nature

If you're a spiritual person, then you might benefit from a less clinical approach to processing your grief. Nature is incredibly restorative, and since our happiness literally depends on getting enough sunlight, you can use the outdoors to your advantage. Find a calm area outdoors (preferably in the dirt/grass) and take a comfortable stance. Take a few deep breaths and call up the emotions you've been experiencing. Take all those frustrations, fears, and regrets and imagine you're pouring them into the earth with every breath you let out. Do this as many times as you need to feel like you've let go of some of the weight.

Woman walking barefoot in nature

Dedicate a Specific Mourning Period

It seems rather silly, but a practical way to actually grieve your past relationship is to intentionally set aside a period to mourn it. All too often, we let ourselves get swept up by life and put off grieving until a later date that never ends up coming. During this period, you'll want to allow yourself to sit with each emotion that you're feeling and let it go once you've finished feeling it. But you'll also want to refrain from getting into any new relationships while you're going through this time. Don't numb yourself by jumping into another entanglement; you can't process an old relationship while you're starting a new one.

Look Back at the Mistakes in Your Past Relationship

It's important to acknowledge where your grief is coming from. For some, that might be losing the potential future they'd planned for. For others, it might be rooted in guilt, knowing they didn't compromise in areas they needed to. Grief can stem from a myriad of things, and you shouldn't judge whatever those things are. Rather, take the time to list specific areas that your grief is rooted in, and contemplate how you can change or improve on them in the future.

Pensive woman sitting on sofa feeling blue

Rebuild Your Self-Esteem by Doing Estimable Acts

Coming out of a break-up and feeling mournful will do a whammy on your self-esteem. Feeling poorly about yourself only compounds the hurt you might be feeling. So, one way to build back your self-esteem is to engage in estimable acts. For example, you can help out an older neighbor, donate some old toys to a local shelter, or get involved with a community garden. All of this is meant to give you external gratification that can translate into internal satisfaction.

Grieving Is Supposed to Be Healing

Because grieving doesn't bring out the prettiest and best-feeling emotions in us, many of us can shy away from delving deep into it. Yet, it's one of the most natural processes that our bodies go through, and every once in a while, you need to use grief to transition from a past life you've already lived into a new life you're setting up in front of you.

How Grieving Your Relationship Can Help You Move On