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Engagement Grief

IMG_5853Choosing someone to spend the rest of your life with involves grief. “Decide” has the same root as “suicide” and “homicide”; it means you are killing off your other options to embrace this one. Yes, it is beautiful: you have chosen someone you love so much. Likely you are highly compatible, perhaps you are going to create a family together, and you’re choosing to share your life journeys. There is security, a feeling of being chosen and special, there is giddiness, excitement, and there’s rest.

But what about the grief? With every relationship there are things you won’t get. You’ve chosen to commit to this person so those things aren’t deal breakers, but they are important. It’s normal to feel sadness, confusion, resentment, and anger soon after the engagement. There is real loss that needs grieving. For instance, you might never have sex with anyone else. That is a big deal! There may be things your partner won’t do, or can’t. If you identify as bisexual, this one’s obvious. And chemistry, even if it’s great, tends to settle with time.

Now is the time to grieve all the things you’re losing. Let yourself feel the weight of them, and let them be big things. Maybe your partner isn’t a morning person, or a night owl, and you are. That might be really sad! For the rest of your life, you’re going to wake up happy next to someone who can’t share that with you, or stay up late alone. Perhaps you disagree about the way you make and care for your home. That is a difficult, every day thing. Maybe you’re an artist and your partner can’t really understand or enter that world with you. Maybe you love sushi, or backpacking, or musicals and your partner is just never going to share those things with you. Maybe choosing this partner means choosing a certain geography or lifestyle. Even if you like it it still means grieving the geographies or lifestyles that may now be closed off to you. That’s sad! Let yourself feel how really sad that is.

It’s important to let yourself feel the weight of all this. Face it, feel it, grieve it, and let it go. Give yourself the time and space to work through it: write about it and have conversations with friends, a counselor, your partner. When planning all the logistical details of the wedding, don’t neglect the emotional work behind the ritual. Do the grief work so you can arrive at grounded celebration. It is through grief that we find gratitude. By facing, accepting and letting go of what isn’t you can wholeheartedly enjoy and cherish what is.

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We Don’t Know How to Say Goodbye

Eighty-nine percent of relationships end.* So why do we consider them failures for ending, or worse, consider ourselves failures for having so many “failed” relationships? Relationships are glorious cauldrons of growth, and often one of us outgrows the cauldron and is ready for something new. This can be painful and sad, but it is also beautiful. How can we celebrate the growth and gifts a partnership has given us while also holding the the hurts and resentments? How about a ritual? I recommend creating one around these six steps**:

1) Express resentments: Take turns sharing with each other all of the resentments you are currently feeling. While one person shares, the other listens.

2) Express apologies: Now take turns expressing everything you’re sorry for. Some apologies might match up with the resentments, others won’t. Only express what feels authentic; there may be things you’re not ready to apologize for and that’s ok. Again, take turns sharing while the other person listens.

3) Forgive what you can: Forgive your partner for anything you’re ready to forgive them for. This doesn’t necessarily mean you condone their behavior; it just means you understand their actions in light of their limitations.

IMG_3660_10244) Share everything you’re thankful for: What did you get from this relationship and what are you taking away? New knowledge and skills, experiences, specific things your partner did, or ways they supported you and allowed you to grow.

5) Share everything you loved and will miss: Let yourself grieve in the presence of the other person. Let them know how much they and your relationship meant to you.

6) Say goodbye to the relationship in whatever way feels right: Maybe you each share some hopes for the other and together blow out a candle.

I recommend setting up the space to be beautiful and sacred, as you might do for a wedding. Perhaps you burn some sage or sweetgrass or light candles. Maybe you even have witnesses, the family of friends who supported you as a couple.

Recently I had the honor of facilitating such a ritual for some friends and it was as beautiful and moving as some of my favorite weddings. If your partner is unwilling to do this with you you can have a friend or therapist stand in for them and listen as you share your feelings. If you have done or do this, please post or share your experience below!


*A statistic we came up with at Steve Bearman’s Power of Goodbye workshop by adding all the participants’ relationships and then counting how many of them ended. The true statistic is likely higher considering we included current relationships and probably some of those have ended by now too.
**Abbreviated from Steve Bearman’s Six Steps for Completing Relationships.