grieving when an abusive relationship is over

You, too, may have to grieve the loss of a caring partner, and you move on to mourn the loss of self-esteem, of personal integrity, of relationship, of intimacy, of friends, of control, of safety, of personal meaning, of a father/mother to your children. You mourn the loss of your dreams, your hopes, your future without your partner, and the possible lack of closure. Your therapist will help you explore the story of your relationship, and you will come to identify your particular losses.
Bereavement theorists offer several frameworks to help us grieve. William Worden, one of the great experts on grief, tells us that we have four tasks to perform to successfully mourn a loss.
We must first accept the reality of the permanent loss of the relationship. In parts of her narrative, Linda believed that she had reached this stage, and did not regret making every effort to
“I criticised myself that night so much for giving him another chance, and that when I left for those few months at my parents’ house, I should have stayed gone. But looking back now, I’m glad I gave us another chance, because I put my heart and soul into us, and he walked all over it. And now I can look back and say I gave it my best shot, and I had to do this for myself, so that I wouldn’t feel guilty about leaving, and bringing my son with me and letting him be from a broken home. This hurt so much! Of course, this wasn’t the only reason for leaving as explained earlier, but it definitely gave me that nudge that I needed to get out. I realised that night that Jack and I didn’t matter to him anymore.”
There can be several false endings when the survivor returns to the relationship, and this makes it difficult to acknowledge the real ending when it comes. It also involves recognising that you never really knew the abusive partner, but loved an idealised or non-existent person.
Secondly, we must work through the pain of the grief, which will involve many feelings such as anger, guilt, loneliness, depression, guilt, sadness, and longing. You feel anger at the Hyde and longing for the Jekyll. You may be filled with confusion at these contradictory feelings, but ultimately you will get perspective on the relationship. This can be painful and challenging.
Your third task is to adjust to your new world in which your partner is missing. Remember that despite the obstacles you face, you are the creator of this new world. Your abusive partner is no longer with you and your central question is ‘who am I now’. You redefine yourself, find meaning in the loss, regain control, and begin to see the world as a benevolent place. Elaine Weiss has some good examples of women empowering themselves having escaped the clutches abusive partners. One woman quickly reclaimed her maiden name, and this became a symbol of obliterating her marriage, for example, whenever she found a document with her married name on it, she covered it over using markers. Perhaps ‘obliterating’ the marriage may be an unfortunate term, because you must integrate it as part of your life experience. As Linda surveyed the wreckage of her marriage, she saw her new life as being free of her abusive husband
“Stephen hasn’t been a husband to me for such a long time, I feel he doesn’t deserve the title “ my husband”, because when I think of this title I think of someone that will love, care and protect me, and he provides none of these. I don’t want to be referred to as his wife anymore, I am not his wife in my eyes. We haven’t seen each other for over a year, and we have no contact. He does nothing to help with his son, or with anything. I want to be free from him.”
Neither was she willing to celebrate the end of her relationship
“A lot of friends have said to me, “we will celebrate that day when you are granted your separation for him”. We will organise dinner and drinks to celebrate”. But what is there really to celebrate? This day will be the end of so much – a marriage I had such dreams for, a chapter in my life that I gave my heart and soul for, the family unit, even though it is gone a long time, my title as Stephen’s wife – the title I was proud and happy to take on the day we got married. I think this day in court is a sad day, and it is a sad day for any couple who have to go to this stage. Remember on the day the marriage was made, we celebrated it with friends and family. It was a day of happiness and joy, and now we end it in so official a way, in a courtroom with a group of professional strangers, who don’t know either one of us. How can this be a day to celebrate?”
She also recognised that they had happy times, and she was determined that these would be preserved, so she kept some photos and her wedding album, when she left Stephen.
“The reason I brought the album and video is that I knew he would destroy them in his rage. Despite the pain and hurt the breakdown of our marriage had brought us, I was the happiest woman on this planet the day I married him. My wedding day memories are something no one can take away from me. It is a part of my life, and I want to be able to hold onto that day. Even though the marriage is over now, that good day and the good parts of our relationship I am glad and grateful to have experienced. They were such happy days. I hope one day I might be able to look at the wedding album or video as it is a part of my life and me. The marriage may be over, but the memories last, both good and bad, and both are part of my life, so I’m not going to try to wipe any of them clear from my life. I just want to be able one day to accept both memories calmly without being upset, and get on and live some more good memories.”
Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press


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