Feelings of loss, sadness and grief are common to the experience. What you go through is a period of mourning and bereavement over the death of possibilities.
The "Us" that constituted your relationship has suffered a fatal blow. As with any instance of loss we feel bewildered and confused.
If you're the one who initiated the breakup then you have feelings of guilt to deal with. You've noticed a change in your feelings toward your partner or spouse. You've been feeling more and more estranged from them. You've started to dream about a life on your own, or with someone else. You feel guilty because you know your partner will be hurt. You've already been grieving this relationship for some time prior to informing your partner of your decision.
If you're the one who has been left, then you are feeling rejected and lost. You can't believe what is happening and you're scrambling to try and fix it. What you don't yet realize is that your partner is already gone, mentally, spiritually and even physically. Your grieving is about to begin, but not before you move heaven and earth to try and save what is already over.
Women, more than men, usually initiate a breakup. Lack of affection, lack of attention, lack of sharing and similar have brought you to this stage. In my practice I saw more men than women in the state of panic identified above. They were in "repair" mode all of a sudden and pulling out all the stops to try and prevent their partner from leaving. They are ready to change their behavior, go to counseling or see a minister, all the things their wife had been asking for up to this final point. For these men, it's already too late.
Men leave relationships as well, but less frequently than women. Regardless of who initiates the breakup, there will be grieving for both parties. In my practice I saw both sides of the story. Bewildered men and women trying to save their relationship not realizing it was already too late. If cheating were involved then the hurt is amplified by betrayal. Whatever the circumstances, both parties are headed into the land of relationship grief.
With gay couples, the experience is much the same. Being left causes deep hurt. Being the one leaving also brings on hurt, but relief as well, and of course, guilt. For the latter the relationship has been over for some time and bringing the matter to a head constitutes a first step in their healing journey.
Whether you're the one initiating or the one who was left, there will be grieving to do. As already mentioned, a relationship breakup is like a death. Some would say that dealing with the death of a loved one might be easier because you know you will not be seeing them again. In a breakup situation there will be property, children and a whole host of matters to deal with which means regular contact for a while. And that contact brings on the most pain for the one who was left.
My first marriage ended this way. My young wife got involved with another man and one day announced she was leaving. We had two small children. I was the one devastated by the news. She was the one relieved about leaving. It took me 3 years to get over that loss. If it hadn't been for the children I would have recovered much sooner. As a single dad, not having access to my children on a daily basis broke my heart. It was the single most devastating aspect of the breakup.
I had some help in terms of group counseling, but nothing akin to what is available today. If I knew then what I know today about grieving such a loss, I would have recovered in a matter of months, and not years. I needed to do some personality and self-esteem work and my group experience helped with that. In the end the whole affair drove me to become a therapist and I am eternally grateful for that.
I know what you're going through. Sadness, guilt, remorse, "what could I have done differently" - such thoughts and feelings run through your mind like a freight train. Obsessions, panic, disorientation are all part of the package. You will have to deal with your feelings now. If that's alien to you then you have quite a challenge ahead. If you've been through a loss before, then you might have an advantage in terms of knowing what needs to be done to get you back on track.
Once you arrive at The Land of Grieving your recovery can begin. You will need help to get through this. Your friends and family can be great supports, but not if they're in the business of bashing your former mate. That's why a divorce or grief group that deals with relationship breakup is essential for a balanced approach. Seeing a counselor and acquiring the right grief resources will take you even further.
Our approach to grief and loss recovery meets all these requirements and was born of 40 years of personal and 25 years of professional experience. Contrary to popular belief, therapists go through the same pain and suffering as everyone else when dealing with a relationship breakup. Knowing what to do does not make the process any less painful, but it does make it easier and shorter. Grieving is universal. Recovering from grief requires the right kind of support and material resources. Do yourself a favor and reach for what you need. Do not beat yourself up! This a time to be kind to yourself and to affirm that you deserve whatever help you need. Do not put off your recovery from relationship grief any longer.