Saturday, December 6, 2014

Saying Goodbye Before Saying Hello

How long does it take after the loss of a romantic partner to move on?  What is the "respectful" and "normal" amount of time?  Is it possible to completely say goodbye?  And what does saying "goodbye" have to do with saying "hello?"

Relationship loss due to death was an involuntary loss (without the consent of both parties) while relationship loss due to divorce usually has been a voluntary loss, at least on the part of one party.  Regardless of how the loss occurred, saying goodbye means that you simultaneously let go and hold on to the memory of the lost partner.  It also involves:
  • Acknowledging the finality of the loss.  This may be a bit more ambiguous with divorce because the possibility of reconciliation, as unrealistic as it may be, can still cloud one's ability to accept the finality of the loss.  With relationship loss due to death, most individuals are fully aware of the finality of the loss, though denial is still one of the stages of grief.
  • Making peace with the way the relationship ended.  Those who lose a partner due to death as well as those who lose a partner through divorce may fall prey to the "what ifs" of relationship loss.  "What if I had taken him/her to the Mayo Clinic?"  or "What if we had tried a different marriage therapist?"   Saying goodbye means accepting that the relationship ended the way it did.
  • Surrendering the dreams and aspirations the relationship provided.  Imagine your lost spouse encouraging you to "Wrap the memories of our life together around you--and begin a new life." Source
  • Death and divorce destroys so much more than a marital unit--it robs us of the future that we anticipated and hoped for.  Saying goodbye means surrendering those dreams and aspirations and opening our hearts to the possibility that new dreams and aspirations are available to us.
  • Changing your relationship with the lost person.  With the death of a partner, saying goodbye means that you now love her/him as a spirit--in order for a relationship to be current, both parties must be present.  With divorce, it may be a bit more challenging, especially if children are involved.  Saying goodbye after divorce means to close the door on hope that the relationship with the lost person can ever be anything other than what it is.
  • Accepting that the quality of the relationship, whatever it was at the time of the loss, will never be improved upon or changed.  Whatever was unresolved will remain unresolved and it is important to make peace with that as a means of saying goodbye to the relationship.
  • Be willing to move into the pain of the loss, to fully experience it.  This is incredibly important to the health of the new relationship.  Feeling pain is not a fun thing but failure to do so, covering it up with the intoxication of a new relationship will shortchange you, your prospective partner and whatever future you might hope for.

How long must one wait after fully saying goodbye before he/she can say hello to the possibility of a new romantic relationship?  That varies from individual to individual and from circumstance to circumstance.  Someone has said that you know you are ready to move on when your solitude turns to loneliness.  Initially, solitude may have felt like a familiar quilt, providing warmth, comfort and security from the chaos and confusion of the events precipitating the loss.  But when solitude turns into bone-crushing loneliness, you are ready to move into whatever new awaits you.

Saying hello to a new potential romantic partner involves:
  • Acknowledging that the new person in your life could never replace the person you lost.  It means accepting that a new relationship involves a different relationship with a different person--different tastes, opinions, way of doing things, etc. than the one you lost.
  • Not expecting the new relationship to heal the pain of the lost one.  Falling into "like" or into "love" is a wonderful, energizing experience that can temporarily numb the pain of the relationship loss.  However, no one person or relationship can fully heal a broken heart.  The heart has to heal itself; it may never be what it was prior to the loss but it can heal and accommodate new love.
  • Being open to accepting this new person into your heart and making him/her the new center of your universe.  Expect that some may not agree with your decision to move on; that family and children may feel threatened, angry or critical of your decision.  The health of the new relationship demands that you defend and support the one you are with, especially in the face of rejection and criticism by family and friends.
  • Understanding that guilt over dating is a natural response after a long-term relationship loss.  This is probably more profound in those who have lost a partner to death than to divorce.  The divorce process typically destroys whatever guilt might remain for the decision to move on.
  • Resisting comparing the new person in your life to the one you lost; some comparison is inevitable but you are becoming involved with a completely different person.  But saying hello means that you refuse to allow the lost person to influence or impact your response to the new person, either positively or negatively.
  • Daring to dream and live again.  Live until you die; love until you close your eyes for the final time.  Just because you lost one love doesn't mean you will lose another; just because one relationship ended does not mean you will never have another.  Life rarely offers a "do-over" but moving on after a relationship loss is one; it is an opportunity to bring all of the you as you currently exist into something new and fresh.
We were created for connection, for deep intimacy, companionship and for sharing our lives with another.  Death and divorce rob us of the opportunity for the type of connection we are hardwired for.  Moving on is an amazing opportunity but I am convinced we have to fully do the work of saying "Goodbye" before we can open our hearts to another and say "Hello."  How long does that take?  As long as it takes--two weeks, two years, or twenty.  As long as it takes for each individual.