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Is it possible that I’m grieving a relationship?

Couple Griefing A RelationshipIn any close relationship, whether that be friendship, family or romantic we form an emotional connection with the other person. This connection can be formed around meaningful experiences, shared hopes, plans together for future dreams, support in times of distress and moments of vulnerability that develop trust. So, what happens to us when this connection breaks down? People report feelings of shock, anger, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, and fatigue when navigating the pain and hurt of relationship loss. The experience of this emotional distress can be compared to grieving. The word ‘grief’ translated roughly from Latin means ‘a heavy burden’. The heavy weight of emotions that occur in the wake of the loss of a loved one through a relationship can be painful. The human brain has even been shown in studies to react in the same manner to intense emotional pain as it does to physical pain.

Types of Grief

You might find yourself thinking that grief is only linked to the death of a loved one. People experiencing the loss of a relationship can at times underappreciate or struggle to recognize the legitimacy of their emotional response because of this misconception. There are many different types of grief and when we bear this in mind we can see that the response to loss is what is defined as grief so there can be many different sources and causes for it. In fact, grief following the loss of a relationship can follow similar patterns to the grief response following a death, such as, intrusive thoughts, insomnia, and depression.

When a person loses a loved one through death there is a universal understanding that this person needs time and support to grieve. Workplaces have policies allowing the person to have time off, extended family members may gather to tell stories and listen, neighbors may drop over food and care packages, acquaintances may send a card of condolences, and communities may come together for ceremonies like memorials or funerals. These structures and rituals are supportive of the grieving process, they create space for the grieving person’s emotions to be acknowledged and time for the grieving person to begin to process them. When we lose a loved one through a relationship breakdown one of the challenges for the grieving person can be not having these support systems in place. As a result, the kind of grief that many experience following a relationship breakdown can be described as ‘disenfranchised grief’. This kind of grief is generally not acknowledged or socially sanctioned but that doesn’t mean it isn’t distressing.

Stages of Grief

While there is no singular template of what grief looks like following a relationship breakdown, many people may find themselves experiencing initial disbelief, followed by a combination of painful emotions, becoming preoccupied with the person who has left, finding it difficult to process what has happened and even not wanting to accept the loss for a period of time. For some people this disenfranchised grief may become more like complicated grief in which we struggle to accept the loss altogether, this may lead to more significant mental health difficulties over time.

You may find yourself reading this and recognising that what you have been going through is grief following the loss of a relationship. This may come with some relief about now having the language to express what you are going through. You may also be wondering, what now?

Woman Grieving Relationship

The following are some key points to bear in mind as you deal with the grieving process from a relationship:

  1. Give yourself permission.

    Now that you have some more information regarding what you are dealing with acknowledge that it is normal to have lots of emotional ups and downs.

  2. Stick to a routine.

    While a relationship breakdown can disrupt the fabric of our everyday lives it is important to try and retain some predictability. Structure can be comforting when we are experiencing elevated levels of anxiety.

  3. Talk to people you trust.

    Try not to isolate yourself and reach out to those that make you feel valued.

  4. Remember that you still have a future.

    You are not just grieving the loss of the person but of your plans together, but there will be new hopes and dreams for you.

  5. Explore your new world.

    As much as this can be daunting, once we come to terms with the previous point that we still have a future, we can begin to get curious or even excited about the possibilities. You might discover new boundaries, nurture your own voice, seek out new connections and venture into new interests.

  6. Get professional help.

    If you are worried about your mental health or your use of alcohol, drugs or food to cope, seek additional support. Reach out to your GP or source a qualified mental health professional at this time.

If your grief does not respond to these management techniques, or if you feel that its affecting your day-to-day functioning or mood, consider talking to a mental health professional who can help you understand what you are experiencing and provide you additional coping tools to manage your grief effectively. If you would like to avail of counselling for any difficulties you may be experiencing, or for help with setting your goals, you can book a session with us on 01 611 1719 or by emailing [email protected]

Author: Melissa Kearney, Psychotherapist, MSc, Reg. FTAI & ICP



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  • Eisenberger, N. I. (2012)Dunne, K. (2004). Grief and its manifestations. Nursing Standard. Broken hearts and broken bones: A neural perspective on the similarities between social and physical pain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21, pp. 42-47.
  • Peterson, K. (2019). Breaking up is hard to do. An exploration of attachment styles as a predisposition to complicated grief disorder following relationship loss. IJCP, 19(3), pp. 15-22.
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