Death of a Partner in a Problematic Relationship

Although it might seem easier to lose a partner when the relationship has been difficult or unsatisfying, the feelings of dissatisfaction can make the survivor vulnerable to guilt and second thoughts. When she remembers the best times of the relationship, self-blame can convince her that if she had done things differently, she and her partner could have had good times. The grief then can be colored easily by regret and guilt. If the survivor’s friends and family are aware of the difficulties in the relationship, they may expect her to quickly move on and they may not support her process of grieving. If they are not aware of the difficulties, she may feel like an impostor because they assume she is overcome by grief and loss.

We have a cultural prohibition about speaking ill of the dead. Because of this prohibition, the survivor may find no opportunity to talk about the different aspects of her experience because only the positive aspects are acceptable. Also, if she wants to begin a new relationship, she may have difficulty cultivating a positive identity as a partner because of the negative experiences with her lost partner.

The survivor of a problematic relationship should try to sort out the different emotional responses and to talk with a friend or therapist who can accept these responses and validate them. People in this situation may also find it useful to keep a journal to help sort out varying emotional responses.

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