Why You Need To Grieve Your Past Relationship

In order to heal from a broken relationship, you need to go through the grieving process.

Love & Relationships

This past March marked the fifth year since my father passed away. As someone who lost a fiancé 24 years ago this year, I can personally attest to the fact that you never really "get over" losing someone. You simply learn how to deal with it.

Back in February, as I thought about whether or not I was going to do anything special to memorialize my dad's death, ironically, the five stages of grief came to mind—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Because my dad was an on-again-off-again substance abuser and abuse survivor all of his life—also, since we tended to have some of the most raw and candid conversations I've ever had with any human being—once I received the news that he was gone, I don't think that I struggled with the stages of grieving nearly as much as other people probably do whenever they lose a loved one. For me, his life was so tortured and tumultuous that I think, on some level, I was always in one of those stages when it came to him—as was he.

As I reflected on all of this, I then thought about a different kind of loss along with something that I oftentimes tell people whenever a relationship of theirs comes to an end—a part of the reason why break-ups can be so hard to get through, let alone get over, is because, in a lot of ways, they are just like a death. Problem is, most of us don't treat it like that. Instead, we opt to act like a failing relationship is on life support with a "do resuscitate" sign on it.

Every time we see signs that it's sooooo much better, wiser and healthier to just let it go, we darn near kill our own selves in order to bring it back to life. Over and over…and over again. Until it comes dangerously close to killing us (or breaking our spirit).


Meanwhile, the overlooked reality is every time we try to make something work that isn't working, what we really should be doing instead is getting honest with ourselves about 1) the current state of the relationship; 2) the toxic patterns that are within it and 3) why we're trying to keep it going if it really needs to be left alone. Totally alone.

Gee, as I'm typing this and you're reading it, it should make so much common sense to us both. So, why aren't nearly enough of us doing what we know needs to be done? Again, my firm belief is it's because we don't go through the five stages of grief for the death (loss) of a relationship just like we do (or at least should) with the death of a person.

And how does all of this tie into the title of this particular article? Well, I don't know about you, but there are some men in my past who, in hindsight, I now see that when it was really starting to look like it was time to call things quits, while I thought I was fighting to make the relationship work, what was really happening is I was going through the stages of grief. I just didn't recognize it for what it was at the time.


Here's what I mean by that. Think back to your last break-up. Not the one that you got over after a weekend of watching rom-coms and pseudo-cyberstalking dude on his IG. I mean the one that had you so debilitated that it was truly a miracle you got to work every day. The one that caused you to gain or lose 15 pounds. The one that had you terrified to love again.

Yeah, that one.

How many times did you try and make it work after it ended? Once? Twice? 10 times?! (Don't be embarrassed, it happens.) OK, now think again about the five stages of grief that I already mentioned—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. While you were thinking that you were trying to make the relationship that obviously wasn't working work, was it really because he was so awesome and the relationship was so great? Or was it more that you were grieving and didn't see it for what it was?


Shoot, I'll speak for myself and say that when it came to my biggest heartbreak ever, that is exactly what was going on. He was emotionally abusive, but we had been so close, for so long, that I went into DENIAL about that. He broke my heart without the respect of telling me face to face (yep, dude wrote me an email to tell me); that made me ANGRY. Because he had been such a big part of my life, my emotions tried to "edit out" all of the bad times and amplify the good. As a result, that made me want to try and BARGAIN with God (and sacrifice myself) in order to find ways to get him back. That led me into a state of DEPRESSION (a great definition of depression is "anger turned inward").

Here's the real hooker, though—because I didn't get that I wasn't loving so much as I was grieving, I didn't ACCEPT things for what they were. Instead, for several months, I just kept sending myself through the cycle of denial, anger, bargaining and depression all over again without getting to the fifth (and final) step.

And here's the thing about doing that—when you don't get to the point of accepting the reality of where you are in your relationship, your mind (and heart) can start to play tricks on you. A lack of acceptance can put you into such a deep state of denial that you'll start to only reflect on the good of the guy and your relationship.

You'll stay stuck in the narratives that bring you comfort and cause you to think that he's the best thing there is for you. You'll begin to believe that you can't let go because you're so in love when really, you're scared to let go because you're in so much pain.


The good news is when you get to the point and position of really seeing this harsh-yet-necessary truth for what it is, you start to see that you don't really love the guy as much as you thought you did. No, what you are actually doing is grieving the love you had for the man you thought he was and the relationship you thought you would end up having long-term. And when you can accept that? That's when grieving turns into healing and you really get to the place of true acceptance so that you can move on, forward and towards real, healthy and lasting love.

How can I speak so confidently on this? It's because when I started to embrace that I didn't need to try and make things work for the umpteenth time nor did I need to look at him through rose-colored glasses in order to romanticize the pain away but, instead, I needed to go through the entire grieving process so that I could finally get to the acceptance portion of the process…whew!

I accepted that he didn't treat me right. I accepted that his good points were great and that his bad ones were emotionally-debilitating, so his rejection was actually a form of protection. I accepted there was no way that a man who could take me so much (and often) for granted even deserved the privilege and honor to even have my love.

And I accepted that, just as the Bible says, sometimes love covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8)—so much so that I wasn't ever really in love with the guy who actually existed; it was more like, I was in love with who I thought he'd become if he had let me love him all the way.

Does that make sense? What I'm trying to say is a lot of times, because we don't grieve the death of a relationship, we hang on thinking that we still love "him" when, if we went through ALL five stages, we'd come out on the other side and see that we loved who we thought he was or who we hoped he'd become. Not who he actually is…anymore.

Sis, once you get there, once you really and truly get there, healing has truly begun. Your broken heart starts to become whole again. Loving again doesn't seem quite as scary or unimaginable as it initially did. Neither does completely letting him—and the relationship—go.

So, if you're currently going through a heartbreak right now, know that I'm hugging you through the computer screen. What you're going through sucks; there's absolutely no way around that. But if you're ready to stop hurting and start healing, do yourself, your time and your future (and better) relationship a favor and ask yourself the following three questions (in this order too):

Are you still loving or just grieving? Have you allowed yourself to complete all five stages? If so, is it really that you love him or simply who you thought he was?

Once you know the answers, hopefully re-reading this narrative will show you what to do next. Love and grief are both intense, but they aren't identical emotions or experiences. When it comes to processing the end of a relationship with someone, knowing this as well as accepting it, changes everything.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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