Guest Blog: Grieving the Relationship You WantedAug 31, 2022
This is a guest blog, highlighting other voices and providing a view into different aspects of grief.
Content Warning: Mother loss. Relationship loss. Please know this blog discusses grieving the relationship you wanted but is directed to people who want to work on their relationship. Some guidance shared below may not apply to you, especially if you are in a toxic or harmful relationship.
By: Courtney Klick
Dear Relationship Grief,
You’ve caught me off guard one too many times. I know you’re back when I feel the earth beneath my feet shake and I get that all too familiar gut ache that signals I swallowed something indigestible. I sense you when I’ve held my breath for too long, wishing and wanting something in my relationships that was unattainable according to the shifting complexity of human life. You promise the pull-out-the-rug-from-me moments that keep me present with the harsh reality that humans will forever be tied to the cycle of birthing and dying in every arena of life. Before I sign off grief, can I make one request…Can you stay out of my committed partnership? I need one thing I can count on forever.
Your Vulnerable Human
It’s almost midnight as I’m writing this love letter to relationship grief. As I sit here writing while my partner is in the garage hammering away at drywall, I’m touching into the tenderness of our relational journey together. Next June, we will celebrate 20 years together. When I met my partner I was consumed by years of unprocessed grief after losing my mother at age 15. Admittedly, when we joined our lives together, I wanted (and unfairly expected) a smooth ride. I needed the perfectly unflawed relationship in order to survive, or so I thought. I was certain that by getting married to this man, I was making a great investment in the security I promised myself after my mother died.
Fortunately and unfortunately, the relationship journey with my partner has been anything but secure. To no specific fault of his or mine, it’s been a rollercoaster of love, loss, trial and error, connection and disconnection. What I didn’t know in my younger years is that relationships are a winding and uncertain path; they take us through terrain unknown yet packed with opportunities to see ourselves in the mirror, so that we learn to trust life and grow in every direction.
Relationships are hardddd. Many of the challenges my partner and I have faced are shared by couples all over the world.
- Chronic disconnection
- Feeling ambivalent - do I stay or go?
- Resentments that come out sideways
- Withholding the truth of who we are and what we need
- Irreconcilable differences that hit up against our non-negotiable needs
- Values conflicts
- Not feeling seen or respected for who we are
- Loss of connection after having kids
- Not feeling like a priority to one another
- Putting other relationships ahead of our own
- Not working together as a team
- Avoiding important conflicts
- Letting others get in the way of our connection
- Judging and shaming others for their actions
And the list goes on…
One glance at this list and I fight the collapse into shame and ask myself, “How can I call myself a relationship coach?” Yet what rises up more than anything is pure gratitude for the gifts and awareness that were harvested from these experiences, garnished with a side of grief for what was lost.
Relationships are filled with loss. Loss of connection. Change in identity. Loss of security. Unmet hopes, dreams, and expectations. Wishes for different, better, or more. Relationship grief affects us all every day in the quietest and loudest of ways.
The paradox of relating…
Relationships ARE everything and yet they end in one way or another by choice, by change, or by death.
Twelve years into our relationship, I was paralyzed with grief, the loss of what I imagined our relationship to be. And it felt all too familiar to the same ‘this doesn’t add up’ thoughts I had after my mom died. It was indigestible and I couldn't make sense of it. I was grieving a lost fantasy.
After all, I wanted it to be mostly perfect, conflict-free, and happily ever after, spattered with a healthy dose of…
- Honesty & transparency
- Time together
- Connecting rituals
- Deep conversations
While this list sounds lovely, it does NOT factor in another human being with their own values, will, and timeline. The list does NOT factor in the requisite yet unpredictable self-discovery journey we were both on with twists and turns that shatter all expectations. The list does NOT factor in the complexity of our nervous systems in relationships and the relational blueprints that dictate how we show up after the infatuation stage wears off.
In the process of unraveling my own relational fantasy, I confronted the ultimate grief that this relationship would end. I remember vividly negotiating with the benevolent relationship gods to please not allow this relationship to end. But in reality, the fantasy had already ended.
Every day, our relationships die as we know them.
While some relationships are reborn and take new flight, others are forever laid to rest in the version that we cherished or imagined we cherished. This is one of the many reasons I launched a relationship community for brave humans. As tender humans, we need support and accountability as our relationships die and are reborn. We anchor into prioritizing our relationship visions while:
- Breaking the fantasy
- Embracing and accepting reality
- Learning what we don’t yet know
- Cultivating the relationship version we wish to grow in comparison to that which we already have
As a relationship empowerment coach, I encounter people every day who are grieving their relationship.
They grieve the past and what didn’t transpire.
They grieve the present and what is transpiring that doesn’t align with what they expect or want.
They grieve the future they imagine if nothing or everything changes.
Grieving the relationship you wanted manifests in so many forms. Here are some examples:
- The realization of the loss of relationship potential
- The broken fantasy of what you imagine love to be
- The ending of a relationship you imagined would last forever
- The betrayal of broken agreements, whether spoken or unspoken
- The awareness that you are two different people with different expectations, values, and ideals.
- An unwelcome change in sexual expression or frequency due to trauma or illness
- The realization that you cannot force your partner to be different
- The devastation that comes with the death of a committed life partner
Grief surfaces in our relationship when….
- We sense that we are not emotionally safe with our partner. Loss of perceived safety
- When our partner judges us and doesn’t fully accept us for who we are. Loss of being seen for who we are
- When we allow others interfering influences to have more priority than the couple itself (e.g. work, friends, addiction, in-laws). Loss of security
- When your partner sides with another person instead of with you on an important matter. Loss of support
- When your partner withholds the truth from you. Loss of trust
- When your partner chooses not to grow with you. Loss of hope
Underneath all of this grief in relationships is a common thread…the painful letting go of a wish, a want, an expectation, or a need unmet.
Our needs go unmet in relationships all of the time. Despite our deepest hopes, it’s quite impossible for those around us to anticipate and respond to every need. Sometimes our needs are outright rejected or ignored by our intimate partners. It is quite easy in these moments to collapse into hopelessness or posture over our partner in anger and resentment.
Stepping towards grief is the wise yet difficult path. The Wise Self knows something that other parts of us have forgotten…
There is beauty in the unmet need.
There is beauty in…
the conversation gone awry,
the disappointment when our partner doesn’t see us for who we are,
the messy conflict,
the crashing in of the reality of who they really are and who we are with them.
My eyes were first opened to the concept of the unmet need in a Nonviolent Communication (NVC) Workshop in 2016. One of the basic foundational concepts of NVC is that all humans share universal needs. We have these needs whether or not we are aware of them, regardless if they are met or unmet. When a need goes unmet, a beautiful process unfolds of acknowledgment, mourning, and self-empathy. From this place, we receive gifts that anchor us into our human capacity to relate and empathize with another.
Every relationship grief or disappointment is like a guidepost to help us on our path to relational greatness. While this can be easier said than done, as long as we acknowledge it, digest it, and search for the hidden gifts (when we are ready), every relational grief experience turns into an opportunity for knowledge, power, and inspiration.
Putting it Into Practice: How to Embrace Relationship Grief
How are you grieving the relationship you wanted?
What’s ready to be witnessed and integrated so that you can allow the old relationship version to die in preparation for something new and more empowered?
- Acknowledgment. What have you lost that you were wishing, wanting, needing, or expecting?
- Compassion. Validate your loss by connecting with that part of yourself that is most experiencing the pain.
- Get honest with yourself. Were you 100% transparent upfront with your partner AND yourself about your wish, want, need, or expectation for the relationship?
- Share. If applicable, share this process with your partner. Let them know what you are grieving and why.
- Listen. Gather the impact on your partner after your share. Take turns so that both parties can feel 100% understood.
- The Gift. Look for the gift in the grief. Maybe the grief has opened a new awareness, a new inspiration, or has helped you clarify even more what you’re ready to fight for in your relationship. Use the grief to grow.
- Ritualize It. Create a ritual to represent the release and the gift of renewal offered to you by this grief (e.g. burn, bury, set to flight, pilgrimage, rite of passage).
Remember: If you can’t get to the gift, it could mean you’re not quite ready and that’s okay! Continue to explore your grief with the support and tools of grief specialists such as Yahdav & Hanlon and you will be well on your way.
Courtney Klick, Relationship Empowerment Coach
Courtney Klick is a Relationship Empowerment Coach, committed partner of 20 years, and mother of three with over 20+ years in the health and wellness field. She guides individuals and couples to get reconnected in their committed partnership without forcing their partner to change. Her mission is to create a healthy village one relationship at a time. Follow her on social: Instagram, Website, Facebook Community (Free).
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