Relationship Blog

Stages of Grief for Couples in a Marriage or Relationship

Kubler Ross' Stages of Grief

This seems like a silly question.  Have you ever had a relationship end? Has someone dumped you or ended your relationship unexpectedly?  Or have you lost someone close to you or something that is important to you?

I think it is fair to say that we have all lost something important to us at some point and have felt a whole range of emotions as we grieved for the loss.

Grief or losing a loved one or something that is important to you is one of life’s greatest difficulties. You may have experienced it for a number of varied reasons: maybe someone dear to you died, you lost your job or you had your dream shattered. Grieving is a painful process and it can be a difficult climb back to eventually live with the loss. What is common to all of us when grieving is the pain that we feel, and the struggle we go through to get back to a ‘normal’ life.

Dealing with grief isn’t a straightforward process. It can be a series of chaotic emotional twist and turns… It is not superficial and empty but a clear and obvious display of tangled intense emotions. “We may feel one emotion and then another, then back again to the first one.” This can happen even over a handful of seconds or we can be stuck in emotions for days.The most famous and contemporary interpretation of the stages of grief was developed by Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying”. She purposefully wrote about the stages that dying people go through. And nowadays her interpretation has been adapted largely by everyone who has experienced a big loss in their life

So what are the stages of grief?

As you come to terms with the loss, your feelings may happen in stages. You can’t control the process but it is helpful to have an idea and an understanding of what you or others may be going through rather than just feeling like a small boat being tossed around by an emotional storm. I like to share the 5 stages of grief to my clients according to Dr Kubler-Ross’ interpretation.

These are the stages of grief:

  1. Denial is the first of the 5 stages of grief.  When you first hear a terrible news, you usually get shocked or act in disbelief. In this stage, the world becomes overwhelming. You may feel numb and you may have said the words “this can’t be happening” at that time… Denial and shock is a way to cope and make survival possible. It is also nature’s way of helping us to deal with how much we can only handle. As you start to question yourself and accept the reality, the healing process begins.
    For me, I get a sinking sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Where do you feel it in your body?
  2. Anger–  You will now be confronted with pain from your loss as reality kicks in… At this stage, you may feel frustrated and forsaken. Anger is an integral part of the healing process. It may seem endless, but the more you truly feel it, the more it will start to fizzle out. You may be angry at everyone or everything in your life… from the one you lost to the God above… you may start to question why this happened to you and where is God in this? It is natural to feel forsaken or abandoned… Anger acts like a grappling iron to prevent us from falling into the emptiness of losing someone or something special to us. It serves as our strength and support. It is better to feel angry at someone or something than to feel nothing at all.
  3. Bargaining– This is the stage when we get lost in the world of what if’s and if only’s. You may dwell on what could have been done to prevent the loss. You may try bargaining with God or whoever you believe in. If your partner has ended your relationship, you are likely to start bargaining with them and feel like you are willing to do anything to get the relationship back. We want our loved ones back and we want to go back in time and stay there… We might blame ourselves and feel guilty of what we could have done differently.
  4. Depression– When we realise that there is no chance. When we really begin to be conscious of the loss and its effects in our present life…we begin to feel empty, alone and in a lot of pain. When we lose hope, grief sneaks in on a deeper level than we could ever imagine. We get caught up with the feelings of intense sadness that we often wonder if there is any point in living your life alone. It is a normal and appropriate response to a great loss. To not experience these emotions when someone dear to you dies or leaves your life is rather unusual. Riding the grief instead of fighting it will help us heal faster. Depression is a natural stage, but not a good one to get stuck in. Look for hope and something to fight for.
  5. Acceptance– In this final stage, you now begin to recognise the reality that your loved one is physically gone and that this is how things are from now. You may still feel the sadness in your heart but you are able to start moving forward. We may never like this new norm or make it OK but eventually, we accept it… We begin to live our lives again but only if we give grief its rightful time. True acceptance takes time.

If you are grieving, help is out there. Seek comfort from your friends and family during these trying times. Here are some of the things that I suggest to my clients to help them come to terms with their loss and start the healing process:

  • Give yourself time- Accept that grieving is a process… embrace all the feelings inside you and think that it is okay to feel these intense emotions, and let them pass.
  • Remind yourself, “This too will pass.”
  • Talk to others and express all your feelings… talking it out may lessen the sadness overtime.
  • Take it easy and take care of yourself. Eat healthy and get enough sleep and exercise to stay healthy.
  • Don’t forget your hobbies- do the things that make you happy and bring joy to your life.
  • Journal. Write stuff down to get it out of your head and onto paper.  I wrote a blog, “The Dark Side of Relationships” in which I give a brief overview of a writing technique that can help you.
  • Give yourself permission to cry a lot. Tears are a great form of releasing. I can give you a couple of personal stories about crying.

No one can really tell the amount of time a person needs to grieve. It depends on a number of things which include your personality, age, beliefs and your support system. With time, the sadness, pain and emptiness will eventually wither away.

For some when the grief gets out of hand and doesn’t get better, people may not be able to accept the loss, they may get stuck on a stage. If they are stuck in denial, they are burying their head in the sand, not open to seeing the true reality. Someone stuck in anger is not really feeling the deep hurt they feel and are likely to end up bitter and twisted. Someone caught up in bargaining will be forever living in hope that they can fix it and not get on with living their life. And caught up in the downward spiral of depression can lead to either suicide or become so empty it is like being around the living dead.

It is best to talk to someone or a professional per se, who can help you explore your emotions, help you see that there is a process and a way forward.

Kubler Ross' Stages of Grief

For me personally, the biggest loss I had was when my marriage ended. It was the most painful time of my life. For years I was grieving, seeing a professional who was there for me, keeping me sane. I was caught up in bargaining and depression. Mainly depression with a whole lot of suicidal thoughts and strategies that I would play out in my mind. I was in so much pain I needed to find a place where I did not hurt, and would slowly come back. There was a ton of tears…….

And finally true acceptance, where I am eternally grateful for the experience and the lessons, as this is the main reason I do what I do, to help people either avoid having to go through this pain unnecessarily, or if they have to go through the pain, minimise the time there and maximise the healing process to get to acceptance a whole lot quicker than I did.

Oh, if you are interested in the updated version of the journalling I covered in the blog “The Dark Side of Relationships” drop me an email or give me a call. I have a number of significant refinements to the process since writing the original blog.

So if you’ve got any questions regarding this blog or any aspect of your relaionship, why not take advantage of the complimentary 30-minute session I offer. Contact Me to see how I can help you have more healthier and happier relationships.  Until next time.

Marriage Counsellor and Relationship Counsellor - Keith Flynn

Keith Flynn BSc, Dip. Hyp.


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