Grieving the tender, intimate moments
October 8, 2020 9:53 PM   Subscribe

Dear All, the title says it all. This is another break up question that focuses more on the how of grieving the loss of a relationship, and the difficulties that come along with remembering the tender moments. It does not help that i have a really sharp and stubborn memory where i remember things even from years ago vividly.

When you know rationally that your relationship had to end because they threatened to leave (because you didn’t reply his texts for 3-4 hours or as quickly as he expected you to, because you asked to talk after work but he said he didn’t want to wait) more than once, and you finally let him leave because you would not put up with that glimpse of toxic conflict resolution any longer.

And when you’re trying to grieve the relationship because of how much this person meant to you, the tender moments that too surface so often other than the painful one that caused you to decide to break up, how do you push past the soul-stirringly beautiful memories that make it so hard to let go? I wish my relationship had more unpleasant memories but most of it was beautiful, tender, and moving. I’ve read enough to know that despite how good it may be, as long as your partner can’t be supportive through stressful times and disagreements, it’s still a shit milkshake and a wise decision to leave. And i left by letting him leave instead of begging him to stay despite how much i felt for him and still do. My rational brain and history of being in an abusive relationship have given me the strength to choose not to stay. But i’m left with these memories of our softest affections, the way we were also incredibly loving with each other, and when they flash and surface in my mind, it makes grieving even harder, and letting go feels impossible.

How do you let go emotionally when the tender moments, the way he looked at you, held you, talked to you are still crystal clear in your head? How do i continue putting to death the relationship in the thick of this process of grieving of the loss of someone i still love but had to force myself to walk away from? This was a relatively short but one of the most intense and intimate (emotionally, mentally, physically, sexually) relationships i’ve had (2 months together, 2 months apart, 1 month back together and now it’s been over 2 months apart) and the time we have spent apart NC has exceeded the time together. I’ve been pouring myself into work, friends, reading, praying, and he is still constantly on my mind - it feels much harder when the tender moments surface. Note: am already seeing a therapist and my rational side is processing it well but my heart still experiences the pangs of being locked in what i can still remember of what we had. While feeling like i’ve never been loved more in the ways he loved me when he was loving, i comprehend the importance of looking at things long-term and as a big picture. I’m definitely aware that i deserve better, and i am doing what i can to love myself and stay gentle and patient with myself through this. Would appreciate any insights or responses.
posted by eustaciavye87 to Human Relations (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Well it sounds like you fell in love but you know you’ve done the right thing. Obviously you want to stay away from romantic movies and songs, but also learn to redirect your thoughts away from spending time thinking about your tender memories. Get super present. Think a lot about your lunch for example. Or your upcoming dinner. Put your energy into making delicious dinners or take yourself out to dinner if you can. Take long baths or showers where you concentrate on actively washing and scrubbing and using a pumice stone and wonderful soaps. Start focusing on other stuff.
posted by pairofshades at 1:08 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]

In an ideal world, you don't want to ruin the memories that you have, but you want them to be in their proper places - rarely coming to mind unbidden and not bothering you when you do remember them. Maybe try some of the CBT-type tips for intrusive thoughts. Someone I knew put a rubber band on her wrist so she could snap it when she realised she was thinking about something she didn't want to and could re-direct herself to something else.
posted by plonkee at 3:43 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]

It might help to shift the focus of what you're grieving. To move forward, try grieving the relationship you thought you were entering, creating, and growing into, rather than the specific actions (tender moments) of the person who didn't treat you very well. One allows you to stay connected to a basic human need, the other keeps you in an eddy of emotional highs and lows.

Also consider, if you are young, that the way you frame this loss can set (or reveal) long-term patterns you want to be healthy about. Longing for something that isn't good for us creates physical, mental, and emotional patterns that it will be easier to enter into again if you create a familiarity with the longing. Honor the soul-stirringly beautiful memories by reminding yourself that, while they were amazing, there will be more of those moments in life, with a variety of people and relationships, and that an incredible variety of depth, meaning, and paths will emerge from them. Pat yourself on the back for being able to participate in them, create them as part of a couple, and feel them deeply, and know there will be more. Create similar physical feelings to this longing by dancing, exercising, swimming naked, singing, etc. whatever might bring you bits of physical euphoria. Re-pattern the feelings to things that are good for you. Don't honor the soul-stirring feelings by creating a physical and emotional cycle of longing to someone who wasn't good for you.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:56 AM on October 9 [7 favorites]

Something I learned from therapy (and feel free to peek at my ask history for context): don't try to suppress those rosy feelings, but rather couple them with the harsh ones. It sounds word, but our minds are blindly associative. This is, in large part, how thoughts and memories of someone we used to spend a lot of time with come to cause it's too feel surgery of emotion even in their absence. So, instead of trying to suppress or avoid those feelings, which is impossible, you can do something like what I did—keep a little piece of paper folder up in your wallet or bag, on which you've written a brief summary of this person's toxicity, that you bring out and read while you're having these swells of positive emotion. Over time, your brain picks up this new association. As it was explained to me, this is part of how the normal readjustment process works—your mind will do this on its own, given enough time—and a practice like this sort of speeds it along, in no small part because you're in control of it and your cognitive awareness starts to pick it up instead of just your unconscious. I'm sure I'm bungling the technical explanation, but I have to say, a year and a half ago I could not have imagined that there would ever be a time when I didn't feel racked with pain that my ex was gone. Even the thought that I would get over him felt like a betrayal, no matter how toxic and cruel he'd become. I haven't needed to look at that piece of paper in at least half a year, but I still keep it in my wallet just in case. It was a long process, but here I am.

Be well.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:50 AM on October 9 [10 favorites]

Look at grief work for the bereaved.

It's often a matter of changing the focus of those memories from painful nostalgia to sweet nostalgia. Give yourself the internal voice of a wise older person when you have these thoughts. "I was loved. Of course the boy wasn't suitable, but how sweet it was when he looked at me that way."

When thoughts occur turn them backwards, not towards the loss (he's not there anymore!) which is recent, but all the loveliest things in your past, previous people who were kind to you, previous similar incidents that are from before his time, moments when others showed affection for you and when you were happy and sun was in your heart.

Keep in mind that these memories are functional things, and they occur to other creatures - this is the recurring thoughts that makes a nursing mother mouse come back to the house even after you have trapped her in a live capture trap and carried her away three blocks in a paper bag, or causes a homing pigeon to come home, or causes people to gather at holidays, to go back and look for a missing tribe member who may have gotten into difficulties on the trail. But the mother mouse has to get back within twenty four hours or the babies nurslings die - and after about forty-eight hours the instinct to get back wears off. You're still in the transition stage where your brain is adjusting to the fact that he is no longer tribe and you do not need to search for him. It will wear off, so instead of thinking "Why do I keep thinking about him??!" remind yourself that it is natural to do so, but in the long run much harder to sustain. Wanting to turn of your feelings because they hurt is natural, but at the same time they say good things for you character, that loyalty is hard wired into you.

Chocolate and ice cream and a good blubber is traditionally a good catharsis, but getting drunk is not.

Find a good use for the time or actions that has opened up due to the relationship ending. What did you used to do with him, what rituals were there? Check msgs in the morning to see if he texted? Then find a nice new webcomic to check every morning. Used to bring you muffins? Pick up bagels and go see your sister. Called you his "ickle fuzzy wuzzy"? Come up with a new nickname for yourself like "Eustacia the Warrior" and use it as your log in name somewhere. Build on that identity and outfit yourself with swords and an absurd revenge back story.

But know that what you are experiencing is normal, expected and for almost everyone of quite brief duration. You're not supposed to be over him immediately any more than you are supposed to be capable of running a marathon the afternoon of the day you had laporatic surgery. You're supposed to be convalescent, and convalescence can run into some weeks. So be kind to yourself to make up for the sad feelings, and demonstrate to yourself that you can be good to yourself and don't need external validation or external emotional regulation.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:46 AM on October 9 [4 favorites]

I think that the best thing you can do in the circumstances is let your feelings of grief about the good parts teach you about yourself. People want to do the things that lead them to feel good about themselves and avoid the things that lead them to feel badly about themselves. As you are feeling the grief about the loss of this tenderness, maybe use it to explore what it is that you felt about yourself in those moments. Did you feel seen? Did you feel like you were receiving compassion? Was it the physical pleasure? Did you feel special? In short, what were the underlying needs that were being filled, what were the wounds that were being healed, in those transcendent moments?

That can be useful knowledge to bring with you into future relationships, but it also can be really useful in terms of learning how to treat yourself as you manage this grief. What are you missing so badly right now? Are there other ways for you to get those things, for you to give them to yourself?
posted by Sublimity at 9:45 AM on October 9 [5 favorites]

A very productive (short- and long-term) thing you can do is journal these moments. It lets you really focus on telling the story, but then you can kind of outsource the burden of "holding" this memory to the journal so you can move away from it being an obsessive or intrusive memory.

The other thing it's going to do, short-term, is help you process. Recollection alone is not very good for processing. Telling the story out loud (ideally to someone else, but also an empty room as long as you're verbalizing out loud), or putting it into a written narrative - sometimes multiple times, especially as you recontextualize - is a different brain task than remembering. Also humans tend to be able to gild the hell out of a memory in ways that are harder spoken or written.

And that's the other thing that writing/documenting will do: let you evolve the context. Spoilers, but some-to-many of these beautiful and tender moments are going to turn out to be highs manufactured out of lows, endorphin rather than emotion, and other tools of toxic dynamics to keep you dopamine-chained to the relationship. You don't need to force those revelations, though; you can start out journalling about how beautiful and meaningful these moments were for now just to begin the processing momentum, and you can reconsider or recontextualize them later when you have more distance and perspective. There's no way to have those right at the start, time is absolutely mandatory for the high to wear off. But expressing these stories will take some of the pressure out of them, and you should find yourself a little less haunted by them.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:55 AM on October 9 [6 favorites]

I just came out of a 10-year marriage, so I'm all over figuring this out for myself at the moment. My coping mechanism is to write songs. It is extremely cathartic to find and hone a fitting expression for those bittersweet feelings, and helps me to process them fully. By the time I've finished working on the initial songwriting part of music creation, I am no longer feeling those feelings, but I'm grateful for them because they let me make something new and beautiful/poignant.
posted by nosila at 12:48 PM on October 9 [1 favorite]

Dear pairofshades, plonkee, cocoagirl, late afternoon dreaming hotel, Jane the Brown, Sublimity, Lyn Never and nosila, thank you for taking the time and effort to pen such incredibly thoughtful responses. As i read each of your replies, i could keenly feel a compassion in them as well as the clarity and wisdom that were drawn from your personal journeys. They have encouraged me, and i will re-read them and keep them close to what still feels much like a broken heart that will hopefully heal up in the beautiful way each of yours have.
posted by eustaciavye87 at 11:35 AM on October 10 [3 favorites]

It sounds like both of you could make some effort to come a little bit closer to the other person's wants/needs in terms of communication. I think some basic communication in 3-4 hours is not asking too much. At the same time he needed to chill if you really communicated in a open and good manner.
posted by tarvuz at 7:49 AM on October 11

Wow so much good advice in this thread.

I think this has been kind of said in some of the responses so far, but something which I found useful was to somewhat separate the human from my relationship with them. For example, when I had a memory of a lovely moment, to think, how lucky I was to have had some really lovely experiences, and to feel the personal growth I felt during that relationship. To have seen the things I saw while in it and because of it, etc. That relationship made me who I am, and I'm grateful for so much of that.

The point being, none of that changes the fact that they aren't the right person for you to be with in the future. But it can help to acnowledge it. It's hard to make yourself feel grateful for pain. But that, in a sense, is what grieving is.

The traditional approach to breaking up is sadness and anger, and it's certainly ok to feel those things. But you can feel sad that something didn't work out, and angry with a person, feeling they perhaps didn't work as hard to make things right as you wanted, all while still feeling grateful that you had the experiences that you did with them, and that they contributed to making you who you are today.

Those experiences can feel like they belong to the past, or to the other person, but they don't - they're yours, and you made them happen just as much as that person did.
posted by greenish at 2:53 AM on October 14

« Older Kids Books where Character Needs to Find Series of...   |   "A great chef doesn't necessarily know how to run... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments