What happens in relationships when unresolved grief flows underneath everything?

What happens in relationships when unresolved grief flows underneath everything?

Resting my elbows on my knees, I am sitting on my sandy beach towel, watching the ocean waves come and go. I am 6 days into a paradise vacation in my favorite place on earth with my partner yet I feel a heavy cloud around me. I gaze out at the clear water and tear up, the heaviness in my chest pulling my shoulders forward into a slump.

I look down at the sand in between my feet and I know. This isn’t stress, or the fight I had the day before with my partner, or depression. This is grief. Old, unresolved grief that has built up and stacked itself on top of other unresolved grief that weighs on my soul like a thick coating that won’t let my light shine through.

In Brené Brown’s Rising Strong, she says that owning places where our heart is broken is very difficult when our culture tells us to deny our grief. I vow to stop pushing sorrow away and do whatever I have to do to face it head on so I can be myself again. It’s time.

As the days move into weeks I can’t help but wonder why I didn’t deal with this sooner. I certainly wanted to. Then I read a post by Maria Shriver in response to Cheryl Samberg’s grief over losing her husband: we are a grief illiterate nation.

Because we simply don’t know how to support each other, grieving is incredibly isolating, only making us feel worse. If self-abandonment is the number one relationship killer, then unresolved grief is the number one contributor to self-abandonment in the first place. Here I offer three ways to come back to ourselves when we get lost from grief.

1. Identify support

Because we are largely grief illiterate, isolation can compound already painful and complicated emotions. While therapy, support groups, and friends can offer some support, I found my biggest supports in books and within myself. In particular, I found the Grief Recovery Handbook and the exercises in it life changing. Getting Past Your Breakup is excellent for relationship grief. I also began to think differently about my grief. This shift began for me by practicing self-love.

2. Practice self-love

Because we’re conditioned to isolate ourselves when times are tough, or to steel up and play happy so others aren’t uncomfortable around our pain, it’s easy to fall into self-judgment over our suffering. I began shifting to self-love by, in moments of being triggered, practicing patience with myself. I told myself, “it’s okay, this is just grief, it won’t kill you. It’s normal to feel sad about this.” I tried to imagine I was talking to my niece or nephew. Reframing judgment with self-kindness and love helps interrupt the grief spiral of feeling bad then feeling bad about feeling bad and so on. Finding something that physically brings joy can also help.

3. Find relief

Whether it’s painting, reading, or binge watching Battlestar Galactica, even a few moments of pleasure can help the healing process and help remind us of who we are. While it can be extremely difficult to enjoy things you once enjoyed when you’re grieving, it might work to change up a hobby.

For example, running didn’t feel good for me, but I found Buti yoga, a type of yoga that merges tribal dance and yoga practices that helped me find my way back to my body. By engaging in something physical or creative, we can give our brain a break from the suffering we’re experiencing, in addition to releasing endorphins, which helps promote healing and improves sleep.

When grief is unresolved, it has a way of creeping into all parts of our lives, especially our relationships. Losing ourselves due to grief isn’t our fault, but finding our way back is our responsibility. By finding support, practicing self-love, and identifying a joy-producing activity, we can help promote healing during difficult times. There may be nothing more worthwhile in this life than finding our way back to ourselves.