Relationship Loss & Trauma

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The end of a relationship or divorce

The end of any meaningful relationship may come as a complete shock, even if you may have seen it coming for some time or the final end of a relationship may have had elements of both. There are many emotions and thoughts experienced during and following the initial break-up. For many people, it may be experienced as the death of your shared dreams, hopes, beliefs, comfort, intimacy, loss of support and commitment, which had shaped your life together until that point. 

The end of a relationship is often not just about the end of an intimate partnership but it may often involve the splitting up of property and assets, supporting children and young people through this especially stressful and confusing time and also changes in friendships.

Everyone experiences grief and loss differently and below are some of the feelings and thoughts, which people may feel during and at the end of a relationship or when a divorce occurs:

  • Often people feel stressed, angry, betrayed, shocked, overwhelmed, liken it to walking into the unknown and often feeling confused as there are no sign posts to follow. For some people the end of a relationship may feel like a relief, if the person has remained unhappy in the relationship for many years. Regardless of the response to the relationship end, many people feel like they are thrown into unchartered waters, with many disruptions to past rhythms of the previous life together
  • It is important to recognise that it is very normal and natural to experience extreme swinging emotions at the end of a relationship and for some time after
  • Focus on what is possible for you given the circumstances, don’t push yourself to achieve and put off making important decisions, like applying for a new job or moving away from friends and family. Give yourself permission, just to take things a bit easier. Recognise that the transition at the end of a relationship takes time and allow yourself to heal and become re-connected with yourself, your interests and your friends
  • Don’t feel like you have to go through this alone. Share your experiences with friends you trust and who are supportive or reach out to discuss your experiences with a GriefLine volunteer counsellor
  • Grieving is a normal part of the recovery process
  • Don’t deny or push down any of your feelings, they may feel confusing and contradictory at times. This is very natural and normal. Just give yourself permission to experience them and they will dissipate with time
  • Some people find it useful to keep a journal to work through their emotions
  • Explore the activities you enjoyed in the past and reconnect with positive interests and past friendships

Separation

Our sense of belonging and being connected is an important part of a healthy life, emotionally, spiritually and physically. As human beings, we are wired to connect to others in our social group. The emotional trauma of a relationship breakdown may have a long-lasting effect on our wellbeing. A loss of connection, whether it is from a friend, partner, spouse or a family member, can result in feeling intensely overwhelmed, helpless or alone. This is a normal human reaction to the separation of a loved one and for most, can be a very traumatic experience.
 
However, it is also important to note that not everyone will feel this way as a person’s experience of trauma, grief and loss is a very personal experience and it varies from one person to the next. Some people rebound quickly whilst others require more time and at times, it may feel like a struggle to recover. You can refer to the links below for further examples of relationships breakdown and how to support yourself and others during this difficult time.
 
Whether you have experienced a one-off event such as the end of a relationship with your partner or an ongoing situation such as the breakdown of a marriage, separation and /or divorce, GriefLine can work with you through this period of recovery and support you in identifying your own capacities, resiliencies and strengths. We provide skilled and empathetic support to work with you to make sense of what is happening for you and working through the impact of this situation.

Family Violence

If you are in danger, call 000.

Family violence can take many forms – physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, economic, spiritual or legal. The violence can be overt or obvious or can be subtle and understated. 

Violence occurs to men, women and children. The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence, found that while males were more likely to be victims of violence generally, this was most likely to occur at the hands of men outside the family home. Violence against women is more likely to be perpetrated by an intimate partner. Female victims are more likely to be a current or former partner of the perpetrator, while men are more likely to experience violence in different family relationships – for example as a son or a sibling. 

http://www.rcfv.com.au/MediaLibraries/RCFamilyViolence/Reports/RCFV_Full_Report_Interactive.pdf

It is important to remember that all family violence is illegal and completely unacceptable

There are many complex reasons, why family violence exists and from a grief, loss and trauma perspective, many people may struggle to acknowledge their grief and the potential loss of the relationship as the violence can still be experienced as unsupported and unacknowledged. The victim’s grief may remain invisible as the victim may keep it hidden from everyone, including their own family. The experience of violence and possible loss of the relationship is often experienced as very complicated. Because everyone’s experience of family violence is individual, the list below includes some of the responses of loss, grief and trauma and family violence:

1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) is the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence service. They provide support for: 

  • People experiencing, or at risk of experiencing, sexual assault, domestic or family violence
  • Their friends and family
  • Workers and professionals supporting someone experiencing, or at risk of experiencing sexual assault, domestic or family violence

Loneliness and isolation

There is a difference between being alone (feeling comfortable with your own feelings and thoughts, enjoying the sense of freedom, enjoyment and creativity which may come from this) and feeling lonely and isolated (experiencing sadness, loss, social anxiety and an absence of friends or interests). Human beings are highly social creatures. We enjoy and flourish in the connections with others. Sometimes, for a range of reasons, we can find ourselves experiencing loneliness. Some factors resulting in loneliness and isolation may be the death of a loved one, the breakdown of relationships, moving away from family and friends for a job or new start or having experienced significant loss, grief and/or trauma in the past and not having had the opportunity to work through this, which may result in isolating yourself from others to protect yourself from feeling these difficult emotions.

You are not alone.

Recent research from the 2018 Australian Loneliness Report and Relationship Australia revealed:

  • One in six Australians experience loneliness
  • Single parents, particularly single fathers, are most likely to experience a lack of social support
  • Widowed men and women under 65 years of age report high rates of loneliness
  • People in de facto relationships are lonelier than people in other relationship types
  • People with poorer health were more likely to report higher rates of emotional loneliness and a lack of social support
  • One in four Australians reported feeling lonely each week
  • One in two sometimes or always feel alone and 30 per cent of people say they don’t belong to a friendship group
  • Higher levels of loneliness are associated with higher levels of social interaction anxiety, less social interaction, poorer psychological wellbeing and poorer quality of life

Why are we lonely and isolated?

There are many reasons why loneliness is a growing issue in our communities. The research identifies that the experience of loneliness is highest amongst the 16 to 25 age group. In a world of increased connection through technology, we are ironically becoming more isolated and emotionally lonely than ever before with people becoming trapped in patterns or systems and only responding to the system, which offer the most visual and emotional simulation and does not necessarily demand much at the user’s end.

Depending on ‘fake friendships’ cultivated on social media, may lack any real meaningful emotional bonds, creating a level of disconnection and increasing social anxiety and decreasing social skills. The changes in our working and family lives that build distance into our days by commuting and living far away from friends and families, may also contribute to isolation and the breakdown of familiarity.  We are selecting to remain single and live on our own. Increasingly, people are continuing to work full time or part time as they age rather than automatically retiring at a particular age, this can also result in friendships and relationships been put on hold and time with family and grandchildren delayed.

Symptoms

Many symptoms of loneliness and isolation are similar to grief and loss. Some symptoms you may be experiencing are:

  • Depression
  • Social anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Disordered eating patterns (eating too much or to little, eating take away rather than cooking for yourself)
  • Physical ailments (headaches, pains, frequent illness, reduced fitness)
  • Apathy or low motivation and energy
  • Low self-esteem and confidence.
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Substance abuse (drinking alcohol or drug taking)
  • Lack of self-care and hygiene

Changes in our lives can trigger loneliness and isolation (link here to Major Life Transitions page). According to the Red Cross (2017) loneliness and isolation is due to;

  • 34 % death of loved one
  • 31 % moving from friends/family (link to relationship trauma and loss page)
  • 22 % isolation at school or work
  • 21 % divorce or separation 
  • 17 % losing a job

Tips to help you

  • Do not believe that loneliness means you are unloved, inadequate or unwanted. Loneliness is a feeling it is not a fact. Our brains are wired to respond to fear of abandonment, which stem from very early experiences or fears as a child. This fear can be triggered by an incident or by a memory and all our negative feelings or thoughts about ourselves can be revisited over and over supporting and reinforcing the idea that we are lonely
  • Although, it may feel uncomfortable, if you are feeling lonely, reach out and connect with a friend and organise to catch up with them. Some of those old thought patterns, may want to repeat such as the belief that I am unlovable or unworthy. If these thoughts or feelings come up, just remind yourself that they are just old thoughts, feelings or beliefs and that you do not have to listen or respond to them
  • Take your social anxiety out with you. Social skills need exposure to build and gain confidence and that means you need to be around people to practice them. Even if it is a quick phone call or a chat with a local shopkeeper, smile and respond when others are around you
  • Recognise that everyone is flawed and makes mistakes. Although we can often think that everyone else has their life sorted out perfectly, recognising that we are all in the same boat and that everyone fumbles for the right word or feels unsure about what to say at times. We all do it at some time
  • Make an appointment with your GP about a mental health plan and organise support to work through your fears
  • Find like minded people and groups through the internet and (safe or authenticated) chatrooms. Start small with connections and grow them. Or join your local community centres and join in with activities which interest you
  • Pet therapy is a great way to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness-from a dog or cat to a hermit crab. Caring for another living being and looking forward to the interaction is a healthy way to reconnect with other pet owners
  • Join a local volunteer group, a sporting club, art or book club
  • Participate in local community fairs, networking events and organisation celebration days
  • Contact GriefLine to work through your thoughts and feelings of loneliness with a skilled and trained volunteer counsellor on the state hotline number. 

Types of relationship trauma or loss

When a person develops a meaningful and deep connection, whatever that connection means for the person (it may be over a very short period of time or over many years) and whatever meaning is established and associated with that relationship (everyone is unique in how they experience a relationship) grief, shock and associated trauma may often be experienced as a result of the loss.

Some symptoms of relationship loss and/or trauma

  • Grief
  • Confusion
  • Yearning
  • Idealisation of the person
  • Emptiness
  • Lost
  • Overwhelmed 
  • Insomnia
  • Withdrawal
  • Denial
  • Loss of motivation
  • Unable to think of a future without them

These are normal and expected feelings following the loss of a relationship.