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10 Lessons I Learned About Grief From Ending My 10-Year Marriage

January 7, 2015

Everyone talks and writes about what heartbreak is like for the heartbroken, but seldom do they go into depth about what grief is like for the heartbreaker. And that is because this kind of grief is arguably more complex.

I married my husband when I was 21, less than a year after meeting him. By the time I turned 30, I realized that even though I still loved him, there were things that I wanted out of life that I wasn't getting in the marriage. This included things like sexual intimacy, support for my creative passions, shared enthusiasm for opportunities to travel and explore.

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Faced with the option of staying in my marriage and sacrificing who I was or leaving the relationship in order to become who I needed to become, I chose the latter. And while making the decision to leave a relationship is one of the hardest things ever, I was unprepared for the grief that would ensue as the heartbreaker.

Here are ten lessons I learned about how to deal with grief from ending my relationship.

1. Don't delay your grief.

Because I was so focused on helping my ex grieve and supporting him emotionally, months after I left, I belatedly realized that I was stalling my own grief. Once you've made a decision to end the relationship, establish boundaries with your ex (and any other individuals who may be derailing your healing process), and begin feeling the sadness. Think about it: if you allow yourself to feel the sadness fully and deeply when it emerges, the sooner you can eventually overcome it and move on.

2. Be prepared for a little guilt and self-judgment.

Most decisions (especially big life decisions) bring with them moments of retroactive second-guessing, guilt, judgment and so on. In the case of ending a relationship, these feelings can feel even more difficult, as they are often coexisting with raw, new feelings of loneliness. So when it happens, when you feel a blip of regret or guilt for ending your relationship, recognize it simply for what it is. But don't let it overshadow your other emotions — and certainly don't let your guilt convince you that you've made a wrong decision. Guilt or not, trust your reason for ending the relationship, even if your ex doesn't understand it, even if no one else understands it.

3. Ride out the waves of emotions.

The sadness, the hurt, the anger, the frustration, the relief, and the happiness will come and go and come and go again. Oftentimes, these will be accompanied with tears. Stock up on boxes of tissues, sappy music, and whatever else you need.

4. Self-soothe, but don't self-medicate.

That said, remember that it's natural to want to numb emotional pain with a drug of choice (be it food, alcohol, or worse). And remember that none of these modes of self-medicating are going to help. While binging on LIFE cereal became my drug of choice, it always made me feel worse instead of better. Once I taught myself to channel my sadness through restorative yoga, I learned to cope much better with the grief. Find modes of comforting yourself that aren't ultimately destructive — they'll help you feel better both in the short-term and the long-term.

5. Accept that you will likely lose some friends.

In a breakup, people feel they need to choose sides, and it is oftentimes the one whose heart was broken that people have more compassion for, and understandably so. It is sad and it hurts, but your truest friends will stay by your side. Also, you will now be more open than ever to making new friends!

6. Befriend endorphins.

Even though working out may feel like the last thing you want to do when you're sad and lethargic, know that cardio will give you the necessary boost and will give you a fresh perspective on your situation.

7. Pick up a new hobby.

Channeling grief through creative or other physical pursuits can result in amazing, beautiful things. Have you read or seen Eat Pray Love or Wild? Authors Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed grieved their relationships while pursuing interests and consequently created these amazing pieces of work. Struggle is some of the most fertile ground for creative creations.

8. Don't compare your grieving timeline with anyone else's.

Grief is unique, complex, and different for everybody. While one person may be "finished" with their grief and engaged to someone new in less than a year, someone else may be grieving during all four seasons, for two years. No two grief experiences are the same.

9. Be prepared for setbacks.

Just when you think you're through the grief, it may pop up again. Opening your mailbox to find a holiday card delivered to "Mr. and Mrs." Pining for the pet you shared. Listening to a band you both liked. Setbacks happen, oftentimes at unexpected times and unexpected places. This is normal and natural.

10. Block your ex.

Curiosity about what your ex is up to is normal. But when it goes beyond mere curiosity and starts to become a twisted act of comparing what he is doing vs. what you are doing, it is counterproductive. Remember that Facebook culture has a tendency to make things appear much better, therefore less accurate, than they truly are. Block your ex for as long as you're tempted to compare your life with his/hers.

Though grief is undeniably difficult and traumatic, its beauty is realized when we come out on the other side, reshaped, revived, and transformed, into a better version of yourself, the self that you were possibly always meant to be.

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Sarah Woehler
Sarah Woehler
Contributing writer

Sarah Woehler’s utmost passion is helping people transform their relationships, careers & lives — from the inside out. She has over 15 years of corporate experience working for Fortune 500 companies, which she leverages in helping her clients identify in order to pursue their own professional, relationship, wellness and life goals — and their own individual vision of what “success” looks like. She is also the host of Interrelate, a podcast where she has conversations with various experts about different aspects of relationships. Sarah got her certification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, has a B.A. in English, and a Master of Arts from the University of Maine. She lives in NYC and sees clients in person and virtually.