Death and Our Relationship

Question: Dear Luise:  My partner and I were together for 3 years and had been living together for 1. Seven months ago, she lost her brother. Five months after that, she lost her mother due to cancer and at the time was her primary caregiver. During that time, I moved out because of her overwhelming feelings of taking care of her mom and was unable to continue being in a relationship. It has been a month since Mom has passed and it seems my partner is spiraling out of control. Hanging out with other girls, partying, staying out later, calling me crying over her mother. Finally, after days of arguing, she talked to me about her confusing feelings that she didn’t know what she wanted out of life anymore, was completely unhappy with everything and felt lost in everything she was doing. We decided, after a lot of tears, it would be best to completely separate with no contact. With the intention of getting back together after she’s “found herself” again, what do I do? Do I take her at her word that she’s grieving or should I not trust that she’s being honest? I want to believe that her intentions are to get back to where we were last summer when we had engagement rings picked out, but I am afraid she may never come back. What do I do? MB

Answer: Dear MB: My experience has been, without exception, that when someone in a relationship wants to separate to “find herself” it’s all over. I’d love to see the exception to the rule but it is usually a way to end things in stages instead of facing the tiger head on. The door is kept open “in case” and the cost to the one left behind, hoping, can be immeasurable.

My guess is that you both need “space.” You left her at what may have been the lowest point in her life. It sounds like it became impossible for you and that probably doesn’t bode well for a lifetime of “for better and for worse.” You apparently found the “worse” part to be too much. Be kind to yourself about that if you can. We all have limits and if we don’t face them, they can break us.

Your partner is showing every sign of instability after her double loss plus the ravages of care giving. Death sometimes sets the person left behind into a tailspin in an attempt to escape the grief and at the same time cram as much as possible into life “before it’s too late.” We all react differently to such stark reality.

You deserve better than to sit on the sidelines watching you former partner unravel. What kind of life is that? You matter, too…a lot. I would suggest you wish her well and move on. There are lessons in all of this for both of you…focus on yours and leave hers to her. You can love someone dearly that you can’t live with. Take charge of your own healing. Blessings, Luise




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