Relationship Loss as a Passage to New Life

Sometimes when we have been hurt, betrayed, or lost a love we feel we are best served curling up in a tight ball. We might do this to protect ourselves and feel safe. This is a natural reaction to being hurt.

Almost everyone will experience the break-up of a romantic relationship at some point in their lives (and unfortunately, most will likely experience break-ups several times). Break-up or divorce doesn’t have to result in negative consequences like depression and social isolation. An ideal coping strategy should encourage those who have experienced a romantic relationship's end to purposefully focus on the positive aspects of their experience while simultaneously containing the negative emotions. Exploring positive outcomes in the context of otherwise negative events follows from a growing body of literature based in positive psychology that examines the positive elements of experience that promote growth and personal prosperity (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000 as cited in Lewandowski, G. 2009).).

In fact, research has established that positive emotions can occur following break-up, particularly when the previous relationship did not expand the self, and when personal growth occurs after the break-up (Lewandowski & Bizzoco, 2007 ). Expressive writing or journaling is an intervention that is well-suited to coping with break-up due to its focus on cognitive-processing (Pennebaker, 1997). A meta-analysis suggests that creative writing leads to a decrease in negative outcomes (Smyth, 1998) as well as increased subjective well-being (Frattaroli, 2006). Other expressive media (art making, collage, movement, etc.) had similar effects (Malchiodi, 2013).

Art making is an experience that engages many parts of the brain that can be stimulating and helpful in disease prevention (Dementia, Alzheimer’s), enhance overall wellness and self image, and provide a carry-over to the application of creative problem solving in other spheres of life (Malchiodi, Riley, & Cohen, 2001). McNamee (2003) has found that art therapy aides in the integration of loss, trauma, and life transitions through “bi-lateral art making”. Art making often involves actions that naturally cross the midline of the brain, in hands-on visual processes: stimulating cortical, limbic, and mid-brain/brainstem systems. As individuals are often asked to talk about their creations the activities and process of art therapy can and does connect words to experience, left brain to right brain, verbal to non-verbal, kinesthetic to visual brain functions.

Perhaps there are other ways we can manage the intense and often isolating emotional load these types of losses can create. As a psychotherapist offering a group for women experiencing relationship loss, I know there are others ways to go through this acute life transition. It is from this knowing that I am passionate in helping clients find ways to create inner strength, resilience, and genuine connectedness as they journey in this unknown place. By finding a safe place to be with all that is, with others who are in a similar place, we can grieve our lost relationship while still connected to others and in relationship. It is possible that losing a relationship and a life partner can be an invitation to enter into a deeper more authentic relationship with our self's. As Women we can be naturally nurturing and caring to our families and partners. Learning to do these things for our self's through our relationship with other women is powerful. It is in this wellspring of support that we can grow, be supported, and be supportive. In short, hone our relationship intelligence. We can also make discoveries about our capacities, hidden gifts, and unspoken desires: making a bridge from what was and is - to what can be.

Relationship as a Rite of Passage creates a safe place to be with and hold your story, while you learn to create safety, trust, and respect for the stories of others. As one of the hermetical principal states: “As above so below. As within, so without.” The experience of break-up can lead to new life, resiliency, and enhanced quality of life for one’s lifespan. 


Written by Lisa Hardy