It’s easy to assume that the work I do is only relevant to those whose relationships felt like rainbows, daisies, and kittens.
That is most certainly not true.
Maybe there was abuse or addiction in your relationship. Maybe you were contemplating leaving or were in the midst of filing for divorce. Maybe you felt trapped and their death was freeing.
If you’re having conflicting thoughts and feelings about grief, this week’s episode is dedicated to you. No matter how you feel about your loss, you’re not grieving wrongly, and I’m showing you why.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, episode 156, When the Relationship was Difficult.
Welcome to The Widowed Mom Podcast, the only podcast that offers a proven process to help you work through your grief, to grow, evolve, and create a future you can truly look forward to. Here’s your host, Master Certified life coach, grief expert, widow, and mom, Krista St. Germain.
Hey there, welcome to another episode of the podcast. What’s happening in your neck of the woods? Is it raining where you are like it’s raining where I am? It’s been raining, raining, raining, it’s so wet outside. But it’s also very green so I’ll take it. Also getting ready for my daughter’s high school graduation. It’s coming, it’s coming. By the time this episode airs actually she will have already graduated but I record the episodes just a little bit in advance. And so, we are planning a party for her and her friend in my house and that will be next week. And that’s so fun.
She showed me today that it was exactly a year ago that we were house shopping at this house that we bought and moved into last summer. She had a Snapchat video and she was showing it to me about how she was so excited just at the prospect of living in this house and how much has changed in a year with her having gone to a new school. And what a great experience it’s been, all be it challenging, it has had its challenging moments. It’s been an overall really good experience for her. And she’s almost graduating and excited but also a little bit scared.
I was also thinking about Hugo and every time there’s a big holiday or a big event, a big milestone in the kids’ life of course, I’ll tend to think about him. And one of the things I realized, I don’t know, it was maybe a year after he died, has served me so well which is that I used to think when holidays came around or big events came around I used to think how sad it was that he wasn’t there. And that would make me so sad when I thought about him not being there.
And then at a point I realized that even though I have no idea what happens after we die, I genuinely don’t. I still get to choose what I want to believe. And so, I choose to believe every time an event comes around like this that he is here, that he is going to be at our party, that he is part of her graduation experience, that he’s with us. And I don’t need anybody’s permission to think that but when I think it, it feels really good and I like what that creates for me. And so, I just choose to think it.
So, I hope you can borrow that too, you can decide to believe that your person is with you and you don’t need anybody to agree with you or give you permission to think that. And it doesn’t even matter if you’re wrong because it feels good, so there.
Alright, so let’s get into this subject. We’re going to talk about when the relationship is difficult. And I wanted to record this episode for those of you who maybe didn’t have the roses, and butterflies, and unicorns experience in your relationship. Maybe it was just really complicated. Maybe there was abuse, or addiction, or narcissism. Maybe your person was entirely different in public than they were behind closed doors. That happens a lot actually. Maybe you were contemplating leaving or filing for divorce.
Maybe you were feeling trapped and you just hadn’t left yet. Maybe you actually had a go bag ready to go. We just never know what’s going on and sometimes it’s easy to assume that the work I do is only relevant to people who had relationships that felt like rainbows, and daisies, and kittens. And that’s definitely not true. In fact, relationships usually aren’t that black and white. Usually, they are lots of shades of grey. And so, this is for those of you who perceived that you had a relationship that was difficult and it kind of fell outside the norm.
And I want to promise you that even though that’s probably how you have experienced it, I have done this for long enough that it’s actually so much more common than you think. It’s just that very few people are willing to talk about it and so it’s easy to think that you’re the only one. Because you probably don’t want to share all of those aspects with other people either.
And most people who are in relationships that they are experiencing as difficult also play their cards pretty closely. And so then unfortunately what that creates is this misconception that you’re alone, and that it’s only you, and that everyone else has rosy relationships. And you’re the only one that had a really challenging relationship. And I just don’t find that to be true. But I digress.
So, here’s what I want you to know if your relationship was difficult. First of all, it’s normal to have lots of thoughts and feelings about a relationship no matter what your relationship was like. All of us have conflicting thoughts about our relationships, about our person’s death. And before we have a grief experience, before they died, if we have never been through a significant grief experience before, it’s really easy to assume that grief just equals sadness.
It’s really easy to assume that grief just equals yearning and loneliness, and maybe anger. Sometimes we have heard that anger’s a part of grief. But then you go through it, it happens to you and you realize, wait a minute, this is bigger than I thought. There’s lots of feelings that are happening, not just the ones that we associated with grief. We might feel sad. We might feel happy. We might yearn. And we might feel grateful, and then we’re angry, and then we’re full of regret, and then we’re feeling hopeful. All of the emotions can be part of any grief experience.
And since our thoughts cause our feelings and we have lots of them, it only stands to reason that lots of different thoughts will create lots of different feelings. And so that’s for grief in general. But then when the relationship was difficult there’s often even more contrast in our thoughts and feelings. So, part of you is sad and yet part of you is relieved, and part of you wished it hadn’t happened but part of you is glad it did. And then another part of you judges the part of you that’s glad that it did and then you feel guilty, or ashamed.
There’s so much conflict, there’s so many different feelings because there are so many different thoughts. And what I want you to know is that none of that means anything. It doesn’t make you right or wrong. It doesn’t make you good or bad. But it’s really easy to believe that it does. It’s easy to believe that because you have all of these conflicting thoughts and feelings that somehow you’re flawed, or that you’re grieving the wrong way, or that you’re a terrible person, or that even how you think and feel means something about you.
It’s easy to believe that you should feel guilty or ashamed for thinking and feeling in these ways. It’s easy to believe that no one understands or that there’s something wrong with you. And so, what I want you to hear is that thoughts and feelings are not right or wrong. All of them are okay. You are not the way that you think or the way that you feel. You are just the human that’s having those experiences, that’s having those thoughts that are creating those feelings. And so of course when you think that you miss them you’ll feel sad.
And when you think that at least it’s over you’ll feel relieved. Doesn’t that make sense that a human with those thoughts would feel those ways? And then doesn’t it make sense that when you notice yourself feeling both sad and relieved that you might also feel conflicted? But that happens and then we judge ourselves about it. And yet it’s so common in difficult relationships that we experience that wide range of sadness, and relief, and disbelief, and regret, and then guilt, and then shame, and then all of it. It’s so common.
And so that is what it is. But then we come along and we make it harder on ourselves with our own judgment, with our own criticism. And we don’t have to do that part because when we judge ourselves for the way that we’re thinking and feeling. When we criticize ourselves for the thoughts that we’re experiencing in our minds and the feelings that those thoughts are causing we actually create more negative emotion when what we want is less.
So, imagine this, a thought appears in your mind and that thought causes a feeling. You notice yourself feeling relieved because you’re thinking at least it’s over, at least I’m safe, something like that. That appears, that happens to you. That then is followed by your own judgment. I shouldn’t think that way. I shouldn’t feel this way. I’m a terrible person. So now through your own judgment and self-criticism, you start to feel guilty, or maybe you start to feel ashamed. You start to feel bad about yourself.
And this doesn’t help because what do we do when we feel guilty, or ashamed, or bad about ourselves? We hide. We isolate. We beat ourselves up. We give our brain the homework assignment of going and finding more evidence about what a terrible person we are and how it’s wrong that we think and feel this way. It’s like saying, “Hey, brain, go tell me how flawed I am, please go show it to me.” And we don’t know that we’re doing this and we’re not doing it on purpose. But that’s what happens when we start thinking a thought is our brain naturally starts to try to prove it true to us.
What we think about we bring about. So now our brain’s searching for evidence of how we’re terrible and we shouldn’t be feeling this way. And we’re doing it wrong. There’s something wrong with us or whatever it is that we’re believing. So, notice as I say this that the only thing that really happened is that a sentence went through your brain, at least it’s over, or I’m safe. That sentence went through your brain, some chemicals were released and that caused a feeling in your body. That’s all that really happened. That’s it.
And then the optional part, where we made ourselves wrong, where we made the thought that appeared and the feeling that followed mean we shouldn’t think or feel this way, or we’re a bad person for doing it. So, one of the things we can do is to not listen to the judgments, the criticisms that might show up in our mind about how we feel about this person’s death. And when we can do that, when we cannot listen to hose judgments they might still appear, they might still show up in our mind.
But when we cannot listen, when we cannot get hooked by them, then we can stop adding more negative emotion on top of our existing grief, on top of our existing negative emotion. It’s okay to be relieved, it doesn’t mean anything bad about you. It kind of almost makes sense if the relationship were challenging that a thought like phew, maybe I’m sorry this happened and also a part of me is relieved.
Okay, when we cannot listen to that judgment, that criticism then we don’t heap the guilt on top of ourselves. We don’t make ourselves feel ashamed and bad. And then we are less likely to hide, and isolate, and beat ourselves up, and focus on and find more of our flaws. And then we are more likely to get support if we want it. We’re more likely to share our experience with others who actually might understand and be there for us. So be on the lookout for those judgmental self-criticizing thoughts about your own grief experience.
Whatever you feel is just caused by thoughts and thoughts are not commentaries on anyone’s character. They’re just sentences. Everything you’re thinking and feeling doesn’t mean anything about you. It’s all okay. It’s all fine. You don’t have to judge yourself for it and when the judgmental thoughts show up you don’t have to listen.
Okay, now, let’s say you do seek support and understanding from other people, you might not get it. People might not understand why you feel sad that your partner’s gone, if they believed your partner was abusive, or that you’re better off without this person, they might not get it. And what I want to offer you is that it’s okay if they don’t get it. As long as you need them to get it, you won’t be able to create your own peace.
So often we think that we need other people’s understanding and other people’s validation and I’m not saying I wouldn’t give it to you if I could but sometimes they just won’t get it. And when they don’t get it, and they don’t understand, and they don’t support, what really matters is that you know that you can give that understanding and that support to yourself. You do not need to get it from other people as much as we might like to get it there. We really can give it to ourselves.
You can also look to other programs like mine where you’re likely to find it because there are people there who understand. And maybe people there are who are removed from your life, or even other online spaces where people have been through similar experiences. And maybe you might not want other people to know the details of who your partner was behind closed doors. I’ve had many clients who didn’t want other people to know, especially their children. For one reason or another they chose to let very few people, if any, in on what it was really like for them to be in that relationship.
And so of course in those instances other people aren’t going to understand because they don’t even know the truth of what was going on. So regardless, whether people don’t understand because you’re not giving them the opportunity to understand and that is your choice and your right, or people just don’t understand because they find it hard to imagine how you could have loved someone who they view so differently. They don’t understand what it’s like to be in a relationship that’s challenging and also feel sad when the person has gone.
It doesn’t matter why they don’t understand as long as you know that you can give that understanding to yourself, you can create your own peace. You don’t really need other people to validate your experience, to validate it for yourself, to be kind and loving towards yourself, to understand what it is like to be you and what it is like to walk in your own shoes.
And lastly, sometimes what we find is that while you might be expecting to grieve the death of the person, what you might also be grieving that you didn’t expect is the loss of the relationship that you wanted but never had. The loss of the relationship that you had hoped could someday be because as long as they were still alive you could hold out hope that things might change, that maybe they still could. Even if things had been difficult for many years, you might find that this extra loss of what could have been is popping up and that might make it feel extra heavy.
And so, I just want you to know that you’re not alone there either. And I want to remind you that grief is just the natural human response to a perceived loss. That’s it. So, when you hoped a relationship would be one way and it turned out to be another, and now you’re realizing that that chapter is closed then doesn’t it make sense that you would be experiencing grief over that potentially? It makes a lot of sense to me.
So, no matter how you feel about your loss, if you feel conflicted, if part of you is sad, and part of you is relieved, and part of you wished it didn’t happen and part of you is glad it did. And the whole thing just feels conflicting, none of that means you’re right or wrong. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. It doesn’t mean you’re doing grief wrong.
And we can make it easier on ourselves when we stop judging the way that we think and feel, and we let all of our thoughts and feelings just be part of our human experience and be part of our grief. And we answer whatever we’re thinking and feeling with self-compassion, with love, with kindness, instead of criticism and judgment. And then if you can’t find support from other people who know you, look for people who don’t and have had similar life experiences. And even if you can’t find it there, remind yourself that you don’t really need it.
What you really need is to validate your own experience and figure out how to love yourself through this. Peace is possible even if it’s just you creating it. Okay, that’s what I have for you this week. I hope this helps some of you that are telling yourselves that you just don’t fit in and that no one understands, and you’re doing a lot of comparing and despairing perhaps about how your grief experience is different or maybe you’re beating yourself up. I don’t want that for you and we don’t have to stay there.
Alright, okay, remember I love you, you’ve got this. Take care and I’ll see you next week. Bye bye.
If you like what you’ve been hearing on this podcast and want to create a future you can truly get excited about after the loss of your spouse, I invite you to join my Mom Goes On coaching program. It’s small group coaching just for widowed moms like you where I’ll help you figure out what’s holding you back and give you the tools and support you need so that you can move forward with confidence.
Please don’t settle for a new normal that’s less than you deserve. Go to coachingwithkrista.com and click work with me for details and the next steps. I can’t wait to meet you.