How to Work Through Your Relationship Grief

By Phil Bolsta

My second marriage ended months after it began. I didn’t want it to, but the gap between our lifestyles kept widening, and splitting up soon became inevitable. I was heartbroken, but even as sadness seeped through me, I saw value in my grief.

By facing my grief head on, I healed myself in four months, which is better than suffering for four years . . . or forever. I hope my story of recovery offers comfort to others who are hurting. You can recover from a broken heart. You can heal. You can be whole again.

Every day for four months I drilled deeply into my grief. I challenged myself to discover how much of my grief was genuine and how much of it was just me feeling sorry for myself. I knew that wallowing in my emotional pain, even just a bit, was a huge barrier to healing. I asked myself questions like:

  • What is the source of my grief and why am I so invested in whatever that is?
What is the essence of what I lost and how much do I need whatever that is in my life?

  • What am I missing more—her presence or what she or the marriage represented?

  • What exactly am I afraid of? Being alone? People’s reactions? Not being able to find another soulmate?
  • What are the expectations I had going into the marriage that turned out to be wishful thinking?

  • Were my expectations of her realistic?

  • Where did those expectations come from?

  • How and why did my expectations differ from hers?

  • How did I fail to meet her expectations?
  • In what ways did I impact the relationship by being selfish or self-absorbed?

  • What did she need from me that I was unable or unwilling to give her, and vice versa?

  • What did she need in her life that was unacceptable to me, and vice versa?

It helped tremendously that we both had been completely upfront and honest with each other from day one of our relationship. There were no untruths spoken, no betrayal of trust. We were just two people who crossed paths at precisely the moment when our needs and desires perfectly overlapped. For fifteen months, we were in perfect sync. Yet all along, we both had been subtly moving, in opposite directions, toward the life we each desired to lead. It was only a matter of time before we stepped beyond the boundaries of the common ground we shared.

You may be wondering how I could marry someone and not know how vastly different our lifestyle preferences were. The truth is, I did. But because we were clicking on all levels, I naively assumed that we would do so indefinitely and that I could handle any challenges that did come along. So that’s on me.

After the relationship ended, I saw clearly that I had seen only what I wanted to see, and that I had ignored red flags that, in hindsight, were painfully obvious. We simply had different ways of looking at relationships and at life in general. It was unavoidable that we’d begin authentically expressing ourselves in ways that added distance between us.

To her credit, she was always willing to answer all of my questions even as the relationship deteriorated and my grief deepened. I will always be grateful to her for that. Those discussions provided much-needed insight and clarity that accelerated my healing. Most people trying to recover from a broken heart do not have the luxury of open, honest communication with their former partner. I fully realize how fortunate I was.

Toward the end, when we knew we would be parting ways, I told her that if I had known from the start that it would end like this, I still would have signed up for it in a heartbeat. “So would I,” she said. I cherish that moment.

The lessons I learned in my four months of grief were invaluable. Before the marriage unraveled, I thought I was living a spiritually mature life and authentically embodying the principles I planned to write and speak about. I was fooling myself. I discovered I had a lot more work to do if I wanted to get to where I thought I already was. If I had not endured the breakup of my marriage, I would not have become the person I needed to be in order to do the work I feel called to do; I would have lacked the credibility to legitimately speak to others about spiritual and personal growth.

I also realized that experiencing the fulfillment, however briefly, of what I had wished for in a relationship liberated me from wanting it so badly ever again. That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be in another relationship; it means that I am now in control of that desire rather than having the desire control me. If I ever do enter into another relationship, it will be because I want to, not because I need to.

Some other life-transforming lessons I needed to learn were:

  • See every moment as a gift. If I believe that everything has purpose or creates purpose, which I do, then I must learn to look for the blessings in every situation.
  • Be unconditionally accepting and loving, even when another person’s words or actions are deeply hurtful.
  • Remain peaceful and joyful in even the most challenging and stressful of times.
  • Be ruthlessly honest about my flaws and work hard to correct them.
  • Be more concerned with wanting what I have than with having what I want.
  • Expect nothing from people other than to authentically be who they are.
  • I cannot have my heart set on having my time with someone turn out a certain way. Trying to control what I cannot control will always end badly.

Looking back, it’s obvious to me that everything unfolded exactly as it should have. I see the perfection in why we came together . . . and why we came apart. To this day, I feel blessed that, through the alchemy of symbolic sight, my leaden grief was transmuted into the gold of inner peace.

This story appears in Phil Bolsta’s book, Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World. To order your copy, click here.

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This article appears in: 2017 Catalyst, Issue 9: Dreams