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Dealing with incomplete grief
I am in a relationship with a lovely man who separated from his wife three years ago. He struggled letting go for a long time and there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing with her in the beginning. He did not want to be her, did not love her but there was an unhealthy codependency and so their connection felt like a safety net that he believed he needed. He had experienced neglect as a child and basically reproduced the same kind of relationship in his marriage. His wife was an alcoholic who did not treat him well at all. She is very manipulative and unkind.
We were on and off a lot because of his struggles to let go. For a year now, we have made it without any breakups. He just finally got the chance to finalise the legal separation from her (she was in a mental hospital for a long time and has been living in another state), sold his house and this week, moved out of the house that they had lived in. This has brought up a lot of incomplete grief because he regularly distracted himself from grieving the loss of the marriage and subsequently got stuck in pining, wondering what if, etc. Today, his psychologist gave him some firmer guidelines and the task to begin the grieving process. My partner said he got strategies to do that and to see the current lockdown as an opportunity to embrace his painful emotions fully by himself, in all new surroundings with no safe place and no more familiar belongings. I think this is very necessary although it hurts because this means that we are on a time-out indefinitely. I support him in this journey and want him to do it, for his own sake and so that he can actually fully commit to us. That has not been possible so far.
I would like to understand more about the strategies he may be applying and what to look out for when we reconnect in the a while. I want him to stay focused on this task but I will not have any contact with him and I would, for my own peace of mind, like to understand what it takes to deal and release incomplete grief. Would any of you know how this works?
He said his psychologist told him it will not be pleasant, that he will need to face his emotions, cry if need be, write down all his thoughts and have different notebooks around the house so he can write whenever a new memory or thought comes to mind. What I am wondering is, how do you conjure up those feelings and thoughts? It's not like you can easily force it, or can you, considering you constantly carry the grief with you deep down?
Welcome here to the Support Forum, a good idea of yours as there are many here with similar circumstances whose experiences you might read as you browse around.
I guess I'd have to say your friend's psychologist has more than grieving to assist with. There is the mental injury caused by being neglected as a child and the more recent experience of being the subject of abuse in his marriage as well as the matter of the divorce.
If you want to understand the strategy being employed may I suggest you get your friend's permission and then have a consultation with his psychologist to be given the details? There is nothing to stop your freind being there at the time.
It may help in another way, when many peple go to seek medical support thy do not always give a full account of their lives and you may be able to help fill in any gaps.
Another resource you may find helpful is Griefline 1300 845 745
While I cannot comment on the treatment as described I do wonder at being alone in a new environment without human contact and particularly kindness
I also wonder about your own situation in a lonely and worrying time, may I ask what support you have? A family member or friend perhaps who you can talk with frankly and feel listened to and cared for. Going though all this in isolation would be extra hard.
You know you are welcome here anytime
Hello ReeCar, incomplete grief is when you aren't able to or not express or tell of their experience those feelings caused by a loss of his house, wife being an alcoholic and being put into a mental hospital and her being manipulative, unkind and his reasons why he couldn't have changed that situation or feeling guilty why he wasn't able to because it might have been able to change the whole scenario.
He also might be afraid to discuss any of this with you and his thoughts may not need to be forced upon him, they could come and go as he wants them to, or perhaps seeing another situation may bring back unwanted memories, so he may be uncertain of how to cope with being loved now, unlike how he was treated by his wife.
I hope he is able to write down these thoughts as they come to mind.
Thank you for sharing this with us and opening up about your partners experiences. It sounds like its' really hard on both of you and I'm glad he is working with a psychologist to help him cope.
Croix mentioned the idea of working with the psychologist which is a great idea; it's not uncommon for psychologists to have the client and then a support person with them.
I can speculate a little on what the psychologist might be working on with him, but I'd only be assuming and I think your partner would be the best person to talk to in having that conversation in how to support him when you reconnect.
Incomplete grief work is much like grief work-trying to "finish" processing a loss and managing those feelings. I put finish in "" because I think grief work is never quite finished, but I think the aim with your partner is to get them at least to a stable place where they aren't constantly wondering what ifs and pining.
A lot of people have grief work that's incomplete because either they aren't allowed or it's not appropriate to grieve and feel their loss. For the first time, people can have permission or allow themselves to explore the what if's, the pinings, and all of the feelings- without having to hold/bottle it in. When people finally have that chance, it can sometimes be a bottle of fizzy water, in not realising how much pain or feelings they were holding inside. So I don't personally think it's about forcing those feelings; I think it's that your partner is literally scheduling time to feel them and bring them to the surface.
I hope that I'm on the right track here and it's helpful! He sounds very lucky to have you as such a supportive partner.