Ask Elizabeth: Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart

Elizabeth Brennan

I can’t believe how quickly the year has gone by – yet, coincidentally, dragged on as well. Another Christmas almost here – another festive time on my own.

My partner of eight years virtually walked out a week before Christmas 2013. She barely said a word- gave no explanation. For sure, things had not been going all that well for some time, but still – I really don’t know why she left. And here I am facing another Christmas on my own. I am fearful. I am lonely. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on my own – but how, where, do I find another partner? How do I allow myself to open up to the risk of another loss? Will I ever be able to love so fully again?

Not-so-happy Chris

The consequential emotional upheavals – as well as physical costs – of a relationship breakup are the same as in all incidents of loss and, as a result, require us to enter into the grief process in order for healing to be experienced and such healing is only possible after resolution.

We need to accept that when a relationship has broken down, for whatever reason, we experience a death; death of hope. And all deaths need to be grieved. And grief is a process. And the process is not about laying blame. That is something we have to let go of: blame and the clamorous desire for explanation.

In all instances of loss, there is first shock and denial. Shock helps us to get through the first days/weeks/months of physical and mental pain. Shock protects us from ourselves. But, eventually, we need to move on, to abandon denial. Depression and despair may follow – it may have even been embedded in the first stage. Again, a natural process.

We need to give ourselves permission to be saddened by the loss. Yet again, these stages may be aggravated by anger. Do we give ourselves permission to be angry? Do we accept that anger is not a dirty word; that anger is not something to be avoided but rather entered into; that anger is our in-built smoke alarm alerting us to the fact that something needs to be attended to, the primary emotions below the anger: confusion, fear, doubt, anxiety, sadness?

When we allow ourselves to move freely through these first three stages of the grief process, we are more easily able to move onto the last two stages: acceptance and resolution.

It is here that we are able to release any need for blame; it is here that we are free to ask the question: What part did I play in the breakup of the relationship? What unrealistic expectations did I take into the union? What changes may I need to undergo, to be open to? It is only when these questions are given a voice and dealt with that we find peace: acceptance that none of us are perfect, that we cannot look to another for perfection; that no one person will ever meet all our needs; that relationships are built on a willingness to take risks, to be open, to be vulnerable.

Maybe you can use this festive time as a time of healing. Instead of allowing your fears to weigh you down, keep you in hades, use them as leaven to rise up, to embolden you to enter into the process of grief and its ultimate resolution and new beginnings. Look to the New Year as one full of promise. Enter the process and that is something I can promise you: acceptance, resolution … and ultimate freedom. The freedom to be truly the person you are – one who is ready for a new, life-enriching relationship that values the personhood of each individual with all their frailties and strengths.

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