Breaking up Bad: An Awakening Within after a Relationship Ends

A Couple's silhouette at sunset, breaking up of a relationship.

The lost relationship begins a relationship with the self.

When an intimate relationship ends, ceases to be and the dream of what could have been is vacated, a deep, mournful grief often follows that end. Grief is all around us. When touched by it, all we want to do is flick it away. Yet, when a relationship terminates, either abruptly or in slow, discordant moments, the emotional residue can lead to, and are not limited to, confusion, anger, obsession, relief and anxiety. All potent pieces of grief’s mosaic.

Begin a Relationship with Yourself

What my broken heart has taught me during times when it’s on lock down and blocked, is to take time to be with me. Especially, during this time of loss. It can sound a bit corny, the idea of having a relationship with the self and with the psyche, yet, what we tend to do is quickly find another to replace the yearning, and the now vacant role we had as a partner. This type of grief invites and demands the depths of personal confrontation. It’s far easier to do the jump from one relationship to another. Serial monogamy is better than meeting and dating the self.

Take Time to Mourn the End of Your Relationship

I’ve learned how important it is to take a social time-out and mourn the end of a relationship. It’s never easy to confront yourself, especially when the desire is to blame or accuse the ex-partner for the downfall and ultimate end of the relationship. What if, the first person to assess is the self. It’s the “I” quotient, looking at “me” as the first course of action, rather than being in the rampant role of executor and proctor with a watchful eye toward the other. Perhaps the answers to what went wrong lie not within the blame, rather through a solitude and reckoning with what happened to you as the relationship went south.

Take Time to Meet Yourself

One of my favorite quotes about meeting the self as it shows up after a break-up is from Amy Tan’s book, The Joy Luck Club: “Then she told me why a tiger is gold and black. The gold side leaps with its fierce heart. The black side stands still with cunning, hiding its gold between the trees, seeing and not being seen. Waiting patiently for things to come. I did not learn to use my black side until after the bad man left me.”

Take Time to Nourish Yourself

The leave-taking within a relationship offers an opportunity to nourish parts of the self that have been hidden, put away or ignored. In working through relationship grief here are seven questions to ponder. I find taking tiny moments in my day to be inquisitive about the receptors of loss within me, allow for revelation and ultimate freedom.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself After a Break-Up

  1. What physical, emotional or psychological similarities did your ex have with other folks in your life? (Think parents, siblings, aunts, uncles) There’s lots of information here!
  2.  Identify what feels lost within you. When the relationship ended listen to the parts of you that got shattered? What are you grieving about? (Go deep into the self’s soul on this one.)
  3. What is your tiger’s gold side? What is your tigers black side? (Referring to Amy Tan’s quote)
  4. How did sex change as the relationship changed? Did it get better- that sometimes happens. Or, did it become non-existent?
  5. What role did sex play in the relationship: did you use it to diffuse issues, use it to manipulate the partner, or use it for power? (How else was it used?)
  6. What attempts did you make to reconcile or change the relationship? Was this a real attempt or an attempt out of choosing the status quo?
  7. If blame is taken off the table, what part of you participated in the break-up? (Take a look in the mirror)
  8. If dating yourself is an opportunity to understand the choices made in the future, what kind of time needs to be devoted to dating the self before moving on to real dating? (How long can you keep a plant alive?)

Grief Can be a Gift

You have many choices in how to handle a break-up. There’s a learning curve here. You can continue to repeat the same pattern or do it differently. Don’t stay in the fear and despair. When darkness of grief appears, there’s a gift, actually a golden opportunity to meet illustrious parts of yourself that are either unfamiliar, unidentified or yet to be discovered. Allow for the journey of grief to unfold and meet it head-on. The grief becomes a place of learning and evolution. Move from Grief to Grace!

Click to See Our Sources

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan ($26.95, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1989)

It's Grief by Edy Nathan ($24.95, As I Am Press, 2018)


Edy Nathan

Edy Nathan, MA, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist with over 20 years of experience in the field of grief and trauma. She is a certified EMDR practitioner, regression therapist, and certified hypnotherapist. Her formal training as a psychotherapist integrates with her views on trauma, abuse, and death.