How do you mourn a long term relationship in a healthy way?
September 13, 2009 1:30 PM   Subscribe

How do you mourn a long term relationship in a healthy way? There is no animosity, just two people who grew in different directions. But it is so hard.
posted by Nothing to Human Relations (23 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
posted by sunshinesky at 1:34 PM on September 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

Clean breaks and bonfires are healthy.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:40 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Time and chocolate, hon. Time and chocolate.

And letting yourself feel whatever it is you feel, because something did end, no matter how amicable it was.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:41 PM on September 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

A specific end is helpful. That is why it's easier to get past things like jobs ending, school ending, even death--there is a moment you can pin down on cardboard, like a butterfly, and say "There! That is when this ended. Before, my life was like that, now it is like this." And so your whole world is a bit different, and you can adjust to the change more readily.

Relationships are not--usually--so cut and dried. They're messy and the endings are ugly, and the aftershocks linger. So what you need to do is find your moment, the instant at which It Was Over. Being able to pinpoint that, I think, makes it easier to say goodbye; letting go is the hardest part of the mourning process.

And, as sunshinesky and Her Imperial Majesty said: time. It does heal all wounds.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:57 PM on September 13, 2009 [10 favorites]

As much as it sucks, especially when there's no animosity, you really need to not talk to each other for a while... That's the healthiest thing you can do...

It's too tempting for a lot of people to take "subtle" (quotations used intentionally) little jabs at each other to try and one-up each other on who is getting over it faster, etc....

The same goes for "not intended for anybody in particular" facebook status updates, AIM away messages, etc... Don't do it...

The above posters are right about time, but I feel it's worth adding that that time needs to involve not talking to each other -- at all -- for a while... not forever necessarily, but for a while... measured in months, not days or weeks...
posted by twiggy at 1:57 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Listening to NPR or podcasts or talky TV shows incessantly helped distract me from OH GOD THE HOUSE IS EMPTY I'M SO LONELY I WILL DIE ALONE despair. Honestly, it feels like a reasonable facsimile of company.

Oh, Ira Glass, you're my only friend.
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:27 PM on September 13, 2009 [9 favorites]

I'm kind of going through the same thing now, and as much as it blows, I made the conscious decision not to let this fuck with me too badly. Friends, alone time, and ice cream have all played significant roles in my grieving process, but the real star for me has been career ambition. I've been channeling a lot of energy into researching opportunities and schools, doing some volunteer work related to the field I want to be in, studying for the GRE, etc. You might already have an awesome career path laid out, but I think the real benefit is that I can keep myself busy, work toward something I really want in a way that will hopefully be rewarding, and (bonus) it's something that doesn't at all remind me of my ex. A really absorbing hobby would probably work exactly the same.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:59 PM on September 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

Whether you're mourning the death of a relationship of or a loved one, I think mourning, itself, can be healthy. Trying to get over it without dealing with the sadness may just prevent one from healing. Personally, I've relied on listening to sad songs fom my youth, and allowing myself to cry buckets of salty tears in private till I'd had enough crying. When I'd gotten to the point where I focused on "he never saw me in that dress", or other foolishness I could begin to laugh at my determination to keep the sadness in the fore front, and I could go on with my life. YMMV.
posted by path at 3:00 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Same thing happened to me recently. He wanted to remain friends and I told him that I couldn't do that and get over him. So, we decided on six months of no contact. Although, we agreed that if one of us really really needed to call the other it was okay.

We broke up right after I moved to another state for internship, which was both a good and bad thing. I've been very busy with getting settled in the new place and new job. But, I don't have friends that I can hang out with around here. So, I've also been busy getting involved in some outside activities so that I can meet some new people. I know how much it sucks for me, so I'm very sorry that you have to go through it too.
posted by Nolechick11 at 3:17 PM on September 13, 2009

not talking to each other -- at all -- for a while... measured in months

Seconding all of twiggy's advice, but especially this. It's so much harder (if not outright impossible) to get over a relationship while you're in anything resembling regular contact. You need time to be sad and angry, and you need the space for yourself to figure out how to get through all of it. Being friends can come later, if that's what you want. For now, you need time to take care of yourself.

Be patient with yourself. It gets better.
posted by EvaDestruction at 3:25 PM on September 13, 2009

Try this, How to Survive the Loss of a Love.
posted by illenion at 3:45 PM on September 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

Everyone else has said it, but I will add the general WHY.

It is only with cessation of contact that you can gain some perspective on the relationship.

I know, it seems like you could process fully and still be in touch - but you can't. You can't notice a difference until there is a difference - and I am talking about positives and negatives!

Besides that, grief is a process best begun alone. Grief can linger forever and turn to bitterness if you don't give it a quick and early spot in your to-do list. After that, you absolutely have changed as result of your past intimate interaction with this person you are now less intimate with. Only distance (time and no interaction) will allow you the opportunity to register how you've grown.

Sounds like a good thing has happened to you. Funny how the good things take some time to get used to, eh?

posted by jbenben at 4:00 PM on September 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Thank for posting that link illenion. That book was the only way I was finally able to break free and move on. I did it, as it is made to do, day by day.

It helped me to have a certain friend that I could call whenever I felt like calling my old love--when I just couldn't push the feeling aside. She knew to expect my calls. She was a great source of support and laughs.

Good- luck.
posted by Toto_tot at 4:07 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I strongly recommend heeding others' advice to spend time apart. Follow this rule: don't hang out with your ex until you can hang out with their significant other.

Also, from what I've learned, don't expect to get over it quickly. It will take time, something like 1/2 the time you were together, to move on from the relationship (e.g. if you were together for 2 years, it may take up to one year to truly move on... don't let that discourage you, because it doesn't mean you'll be feeling what you're feeling now for a whole year, just that you may still have lingering emotions for a little while).

Other than that, your friends or family should help you appropriately deal with this situation. If nothing else, ask them to keep you distracted.
posted by spiderskull at 4:19 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Your question made me go back and look up a comment I once wrote, six months after ending a fifteen-year relationship. Reading it over again, I wouldn't change any of it. Still, I wasn't completely convinced of what I was saying when I wrote it, and I went through a lot of days when I found it impossible to believe in any hope for the future.

Five years later, I'm living with a woman who makes me genuinely, deeply happy. Everything people are saying about time, patience, and real separation is absolutely true. I don't think I got through it by having a "healthy" mourning process. It was long, sometimes everything looked black, and sometimes I did really stupid things. But all of that was what I needed to go through in order to come out the other side.

When you've got nothing else to hold on to, hold on to the faith that you won't feel like this forever. When you're ready, your old life will fade away into the past and you'll be ready to create a new one.
posted by fuzz at 4:38 PM on September 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

Time will give you the perspective and the ability to cope with the hurt you're feeling with now. That's how it will heal the wounds. In the meantime, try to stay busy, but realize it's OK to indulge in occasional pity parties and listen to depressing music :-).
posted by Happydaz at 5:05 PM on September 13, 2009

Whenever there's a breakup thread I always mention the song "Make War" by Bright Eyes. Because I think it's a great song, but also because it's really helped me personally.

To quote:

So let each tiny act of charity
be common ground on which to build the monument to commemorate our times.
And though you say you've found another
who will surely speed you on your way
Don't let the forest grow over that path you came there by.

I think about this when thinking about my ex-. I am still angry, but I try to think of little good things and build up good memories- "the monument to commemorate our times." And I hope that in some way it was a growing process for her and will help her change and be happy with someone else - "Don't let the forest grow over that path you came there by."

Of course, it's actually a really bitter song, and the very next line is "but you will." And that's why I think it's so great- it contains forgiveness and bitterness, all at once. And that's life. You don't magically go from one to the other like switching a lightswitch.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:28 PM on September 13, 2009 [5 favorites]

Some people find it helpful to have a little ceremony for themselves to say goodbye. Light a candle, make a toast using your favorite libation (potent or otherwise), drink, say a small prayer and blow out the candle.
posted by plinth at 5:51 PM on September 13, 2009

Mourn, but don't wallow. Don't let yourself indulge in what-ifs or what coulda beens.

When you are feeling bad, try to figure out whether you are feeling bad because that person is gone, or just because nobody is around.
posted by gjc at 6:06 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

This sounds odd, but I set out pictures of the ex in the bathroom - so that I would have to see them frequently. It helped lessen the impact of the 'aftershocks.' At first, everytime I looked at the pictures I cried. It forced me to mourn. I might have avoided doing the mourning otherwise. After a while, it became less painful to look at the photos and finally I was able to look at them and smile at the memories. Then, I knew it was time to put them away.

Also, do things that make you excited about the future - all the new things you're going to see and feel and do.
posted by kitcat at 7:13 PM on September 13, 2009

I find that cleaning helps. And rearranging furniture, cabinets, dishes, everything. New bedding, new pillows. I find that altering my environment, even in subtle ways, helps me accept that things have changed and I am moving into the future. Also, all that cleaning keeps you distracted.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:58 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

People may disagree with this, but I think it's useful from time to time to reflect on the good things that you shared together. These were experiences that felt right in the particular context of the time, and they cannot ever be taken away from you.

More to the point, they were shared experiences, and belong to both of you. You should feel a little ping of nostalgic gratitude that you were able to enjoy those things together, because even if the relationship cannot continue as it was - for whatever reason - you ought to feel happy & lucky to have experienced them, even if they were ephemeral. I think you really need to acknowledge them in a positive way; mindfully observe them & think to yourself "yeah, that was good", instead of suppressing them or grasping onto the sense of loss that they cannot be repeated.

Remember as well, that your ex will probably also be thinking about some of those experiences every now and then (and others that maybe didn't register with you) so it's not like those moments are completely obliterated; they end up more like photographs in an old album that you might flick through occasionally.

At the same time, I don't think it's particularly harmful to reflect also on things that were less-than-perfect, or even downright annoying within the relationship. Not with anger or malice, mind you, but you might find that having stepped back from the situation a bit that you're more easily able to see & articulate to yourself some of the negatives, which is a great help in focusing on the most important thing: the future, what kind of person you'd like to be with, and what your next relationship will be like.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:27 AM on September 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

"People may disagree with this, but I think it's useful from time to time to reflect on the good things that you shared together. These were experiences that felt right in the particular context of the time, and they cannot ever be taken away from you. "

I agree whole heartedly! When my relationship with THE GUY went south, one of the things that kept me functioning was being able to thank him in my mind for making it possible to have experienced so many wonderful feelings, and that provided a kind of closure.
posted by path at 3:14 PM on September 15, 2009

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