Is your relationship in crisis? Coping with a potential break up
When your relationship is in crisis and you don't know if it is over, or you are in fact dealing with the ending of a relationship, it is an incredibly difficult time and you may find yourself struggling to cope emotionally, which of course has an impact on your ability to deal with work and day-to-day life.
At such times, some people find they have trouble sleeping or eating, while others may start to over indulge with food as a way to stuff down the feelings and numb the pain. Some people start to drink more than usual to block out their feelings - something that inevitably makes them feel worse once the alcohol wears off.
Some throw themselves into work and try not to think about what is going on in their personal lives, whilst others have real difficulty focusing and functioning as normal at work. Some find themselves feeling very anxious, even suffering from panic attacks, at the thought of the relationship finishing. While others may find their emotions are very changeable, one minute they may be feeling sad, the next they may be feeling angry and they may snap at others or lose their temper far more easily than usual. All of these reactions and a multitude of others are common reactions to what is a very traumatic and stressful situation.
How did we get here?
Even if there have been signs that things have been wrong or difficult for some time, often it comes as a big shock when things reach crisis point and one of you says maybe things should end. Dealing with this scenario and deciding together (if possible) whether to end the relationship or to try and work on things, can be difficult. There may be so many mixed emotions that it can be hard to see things clearly and gain some perspective on what the issues are, as well as what each of you wants and needs from a relationship and from each other.
What are you feeling and is it normal?
In these situations it is common to experience overwhelming waves of sadness, grief, hurt and pain. However, if you are the person who is facing being 'left', somewhere in the mix there is often also disbelief and anger, or even a feeling of betrayal that the person you have committed to is thinking about letting go of the relationship and 'giving up on me'.
While these feelings may be very valid, if you find yourself becoming angry and defensive as a result, this could get in the way of facilitating open communication to examine and discuss the problems that have brought you to this point. As such, expressing what you are feeling to your partner in the heat of the moment may only serve to create a bigger rift and cement the end of the relationship rather than opening up the potential to work things through (if that is an option you would like).
A role for therapy
So what can you do? Some people find couples counselling really beneficial, providing both parties are willing to seek therapy and want to work on the relationship. However, at the point of crisis, particularly when things may feel very heated and antagonistic, not all couples are necessarily ready for this or feel it is something they both want to do.
If it does not feel suitable (at least initially), individual counselling may be a better option. Why? Because it can provide a space in which to offer you support without judgement, it can help you explore and examine your thoughts and feelings about the relationship and it can help you to get some personal clarity about the issues that have brought you both to this point.
It also means that you will have a space to be able to feel and openly express all those feelings of betrayal, anger, hurt and other possibly less positive thoughts and feelings about your partner, within a confidential and safe environment. This is something you can't always do with family or friends who may have an investment in the relationship and have views or opinions about you both. Often people find when they can express what they are feeling without judgement, their emotions may lessen in intensity and they can then start to examine what has gone wrong and what they would like to happen next, if there is a choice to be had.
Therapy can also help you to cope with and work through any negative feelings that you may be having about yourself and your place in the world as a result of this relationship crisis, or the relationship in fact ending. It is not uncommon at times like these for insecurities to surface and for people to find themselves asking what is wrong with me? Why does he/she want to leave me? Am I unloveable? Am I a failure? Additionally, many people also find themselves feeling ashamed and worrying what others will think of them when they hear that they are experiencing problems or that the relationship has ended.
Similarly it is also quite common to feel scared that if the relationship ends you will never meet anybody else - that this was your only/last chance at love, at having a family and/or building a future with somebody. Not surprisingly then, at such times many people describe feeling as though 'my world is going to end'. That may sound over dramatic but it is a genuine reaction to the trauma of a potential relationship break up. Just in the same way that grieving the end of a relationship is much like grieving the death of a loved one. It's impact cannot be overstated, and for each person the process may be different.
Although it cannot make the pain and other emotions go away, therapy can help you feel supported whilst you work through this process and come out the other side - be that through coming to terms with the end of the relationship, learning from what went wrong and grieving the loss, or deciding to work on things with your partner and making positive inroads to improving the relationship you are in together.
A good therapist will work with you collaboratively, tailoring their approach to meet your individual needs and circumstances, and helping you work out how best to navigate your way through this time of crisis.
Related articles from our experts
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- Divorce can be worse than bereavement
Leslie Sheinman PhD* MBACP UKCP15th January, 2018
- The Other Woman
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