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Why does separation hurt so much? Why do I feel differently towards my partner?
When you end a relationship, the brain goes through a similar process to any other loss, and you begin to grieve. Don’t think for a moment that losing a life partner is any different psychologically to someone dying – the pain is very real, and importantly, it’s perfectly normal. However, where people sometimes struggle is in coming to terms with how they react to that grief, and how to move forward as best they can. It is important to know that your feelings are valid and not out of the ordinary; you are not ‘messed up’ or ‘weird’, even if you are handling it differently to your ex-partner. In saying that, unfortunately, sometimes people contribute to their own distress by the way in which they process the separation. This information will discuss some of these topics, which may resonate with you.
A total loss of identity
If you and your partner had been together a while, then you may have built a life around your relationship. Maybe you share friends and bank accounts. Maybe you love your partner’s family. Maybe your friends referred to you with cute couple-names. It may have been almost like it was you two against the world. In a very real sense losing your partner is like losing a half of yourself, whether you ended it or not. In short, you may have lost so many of those things that made you who you are. This is a perfectly normal reaction, since many of us associate ourselves based on our relationship with others – we are, after all, social animals. This may seem like a downside, but because we are social animals, we get remarkable positive effects from spending time with friends and loved ones. In a sense, carving out an identity based on you without your partner can help when you have friends who support you and help you through this difficult time. Not only do good friendships contribute to a positive wellbeing, they can help you begin to find your identity again. Even better news, your identity is also something that you can control. This means that – with help from friends, a therapist and your own will power – you can create an identity, which will help you make sense of yourself and your life.
We had so many plans. What do I do now?
Building a life together means spending countless sleepy Sundays discussing dreams for the future, kids, a house and holidays. Now that your partner is no longer with you, what happens to those plans? A therapist might help you explore these goals, what they meant to you, how important they are to you, and how you can still achieve those goals as you enter a new life transition.
Why do we feel so differently? I hate it
As mentioned previously, the most important thing is to accept your feelings are just as legitimate as your partner’s. If one of you is grieving, and the other seems to be OK, just remember that: firstly, they may be hurting in their own way; and secondly, people process things differently. You are allowed to feel and express yourself in a way that makes sense to you. Accept your feelings, own them, and begin to manage them.
Depression and guilt
One of the most common problems a therapist will work on is the way in which you may perceive the situation, and act on that perception. For example, Alice has just broken up with her partner Robert, and she feels like she will be alone forever, just like those weird ‘old ladies who collect cats’. Alice begins to become withdrawn and isolates herself from her friends. She becomes increasingly depressed about her destiny to be alone, and nothing seems to be able to change her mind. A therapist will help Alice by exploring how this thinking is hurting her, why she is thinking this way, and begin to demonstrate how it is not based on any objective truth. Together, they will begin to work on thinking differently about her situation. Alice also feels a tremendous amount of guilt. She thinks that only if she had ‘made more of an effort’ her son, Patrick, would not have to grow up without a father. Once again, the therapist will explore how Alice is processing her break-up as blaming herself, instead of the truth, which was that Robert was having an affair, which made it difficult for Alice to trust him.
Trauma from abuse
If you have been abused by your partner, and this is one of the reasons why you are seeking separation, then one of the things you may be facing is some trauma from the abuse. It is a perfectly normal response after a traumatic event to feel residual effects afterwards – you may not even realise you are suffering from trauma. A therapist can help you come to terms with abuse, and any effects it has on you moving on.
Some individuals feel that the collapse of a relationship as a failure on their part, that there is something fundamentally wrong with them that caused the relationship to fail. This thinking may be a result of psychological abuse, in which a partner may have constantly put down that person, lowering their self-esteem and made them feel inadequate. For example, James was distraught when his partner left him. His mother had always told him that, if he did not get his act together, no woman would ever want him, and his ex-partner echoed the same words. She said that he was immature, a ‘loser’, and was too focused on his ‘silly hobbies’ instead of being a ‘real man’ and getting a high-paying job. James felt inadequate, and moreover, that he had failed at having an adult relationship or being a ‘real man’. The therapist, in exploring further, discovers that James had very low self-esteem, both from his mother, and his ex-partner, who fed into his fears of inadequacies and masculinity. With help, James began to realise that there was nothing inherently wrong with him that made him fail, and that he and his ex-partner were simply incompatible. Further, he had suffered psychological abuse by his ex-partner, which kept him from fulfilling his needs and filling fulfilled.
Losing a partner is not easy. It may invoke feelings of guilt, inadequacy, anger, and loss of sense of self. But with help and support, these feelings can be managed, and as you work with a therapist and build friendships, you can begin to heal and find meaning in your life.
More Information on Counselling & Therapy Relating to Separation & Divorce
- Why have we grown apart? My partner just does not seem to understand what I need from them
- How will my children be affected by our separation? Solutions for children acting out or siding with one parent
- Is your extended family driving a wedge between you and your partner?
- Why do we always fight? Are you sure that you do?
- Separation and communication: Are you growing apart, but afraid to speak out?
- Adapting to children entering and leaving the family
- Can counselling help us move forward post-separation?
- Why does separation hurt so much? Why do I feel differently towards my partner?
- Domestic violence: What is it, what can we do about it, and how to get through it
- Infidelity: Why did my partner cheat? Can our relationship be saved?
- Contemplating separation? Will a trial separation help or hinder?
More Information on Mediation & Family Dispute Resolution
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- Child Support Calculator
- De Facto Relationships & Separation
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- Property Settlement at Mediation
- Mediation & Domestic Violence
- Relocation & Overseas Travel with a Child
- Going to the Family Court versus Mediation
- Family Dispute Resolution & Mediation
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DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this website is for general guidance only. No person should act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information. Professional counselling or therapy or psychology advice should be sought based upon your particular circumstances.