Friday, June 12, 2009

Coping with Grief in a Relationship

The responses on my recent articles "Do all gay men cheat?" and "Are you really over your ex?" brought to light a level of hurt and grief many people experience but may not understand. As you looking toward the future and new relationships, it may be helpful to address feelings of grief and loss.

I like using analogies in my work because they can help make things easier to understand. Consider the analogy of the relationship between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the Star War movies Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi as a way to highlight how people cope with grief. (I realize I may be starting to date myself by picking the analogy!)

For a brief reminder, in the series the enemy, Darth Vader, says to Luke those famous words "Luke, I am your father." Luke's response is "NOOOOOOOOO" and rather than surrendering to Darth Vader he falls to what he thinks is his death only to be rescued at the last moment. The pain in Luke's yell and the desperation that leads to the fall highlights the power of denial in grief and loss. When a relationship ends, the loss leads to the emotional fall. Rather than deal with the truth, we may run away and avoid the reality of the loss.

A few scenes later, Luke is talking to Obi Wan Kenobi saying, "Why didn't you tell me?" The tone of his voice is clearly anger. In this case, the anger is not "explosive yelling" but "cold simmering." The "how dare you look" that can send shivers down a person's spine. In my opinion, the cold simmering is a scarier expression of anger than explosive reactions.

In that same scene, Obi Wan responds to some of the questions by saying "from a certain point of view" the good person of your father died when he became the bad guy. He is introducing the concept of bargaining in coping with the grief of relationships.

As you look at your last relationship, from a certain point of view, it may be better to be out of the unhealthy relationship. Sometimes we may want to avoid the unhealthy aspects of the old relationship simply because we don't want to feel the grief. Moving toward health is to recognize that sometimes the end of a relationship might be healthy.

Near the end of the 3rd movie, Return of the Jedi, Leah asks, "What's wrong?" Luke's response is "Ask me later." Sometimes in the grief process, we simply don't want to talk about it. It may be too painful or take too much energy.

Luke also exhibits the final stage of grief, acceptance in the Return of the Jedi. Luke has come to acknowledge Darth Vader as his father. The acceptance doesn't lead to paralysis but instead turns into action to save the good guys from the evil Emperor. Luke's grief has even been transformed into action to save his father. In the same way, once we have addressed the grief, we get to the point where we can live a full life. We are also able to relate to others in a healthy way. And the past relationship isn't necessarily in the way of our next relationship. We may even be ready to reach out to our ex from a place of love and concern.

If you are coping with grief regarding a previous relationship, where do you see yourself? What can you do to move forward? Oh, and may the Force be with you!

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