“…What does not recall her? I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree—filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object by day, I am surrounded with her image! The most ordinary faces of men and women—my own features—mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!».

It is not easy to follow Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff through Wuthering Heights and feel his humiliation, the contempt he is subjected to, the hostility he develops and above all his despair at the abandonment of his Cathy: “I have to remind myself to breathe – almost to remind my heart to beat“.

Maybe you recognise yourself in Heathcliff’s words: have you been dumped and everything reminds you of your ex? Does grief hit you so hard that it’s sometimes hard to breathe? Do you feel like Bill Withers couldn’t have been more right when he sang «Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone»? Read on because today we discuss romantic grief.

What is romantic grief?

We have all experienced the death of a person at some point: perhaps we have lost a family member or loved one or we have been close to someone who has had to say their last goodbye. This is when the grieving process begins, generally understood as ways of reacting to the loss of a link to something or someone dear to us. This process tinged with pain, desolation, sadness, incomprehension, anger, sometimes guilt, is inevitable, but it has a purpose: the adaptation of the person to the new situation.

Grief is also present when there is a break-up: there may come a time when when the bond that we shared with the other person has changed so much that we are unable to recognize it and the relationship comes to an end. Perhaps the first question that comes to mind is… why? Love may have ended, problems have stifled the relationship or a million other reasons could answer this question. What is certain is that the process of mourning begins.

Romantic grief can be understood as a person’s emotional reaction to the end of a relationship. There are certain differences compared to the mourning experience following the death of someone important to you:

  • We have not completely lost the person, only certain bonds we had to them. It is even quite possible that our ex-partner gets on with their life in an environment that is close to us and accessible therefore our relationship will have to be redefined if we are to coexist.
  • We have the feeling that the break-up is reversible and it is therefore possible to get our partner back, even if this is an unlikely option.
  • Two people who may have very different perspectives on the relationship are going through grief at different paces and understanding each other is often difficult, despite being in a similar process.

We have settled this: when a relationship with a person with whom we had important bonds ends, romantic grief is something natural and inevitable, but… What happens next? What do I have to face? I’m going to give you a little spoiler in case it helps in the midst of so much uncertainty: it may not be an easy process, but human beings are intelligent and going through the different emotions of a romantic grief will help us to readjust our role in our environment, to adapt to the new situation and, in short, to overcome the sentimental break-up.

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We’re talking about big changes, so knowing the different emotions that can arise can help us in our initial unease:

  • Denial: Sometimes we saw it coming and sometimes we did not, but one day our partner tells us that despite all the good times and all the things we have experienced together, he or she wants to put an end to our relationship. Sadness, pain and incomprehension overwhelm us. As we gradually come to terms with what has happened, we are overcome with anguish and disbelief. We long to get our partner back and we try to find explanations that make sense of what is happening to us.
  • Anger: The pain of loss is growing, so much so that it is discouraging. There are many changes in a very short time: we turn over in bed and we no longer have the warmth of our partner, WhatsApp messages have diminished and are now terse and cold or simply non- existent, we may have to rearrange our holiday plans because there are no longer two of us. And anger hits. Anger kidnaps all of our energy and uses it to challenge the changes that we are forced to undergo. The decisions we make under the command of anger are often very erratic: we let ourselves be carried away by impulsivity and try to get the attention of our ex or we may even be overcome by euphoria, trying to forget and turn the page as if the break-up was not something that really affected us. In both cases, we focus on the present, evading the pain, and we find it very difficult to consider the consequences of our actions.
  • Hopelessness: The idea of reconciling with our partner seems less likely at this point. The frustration and pain resulting from the loss we have suffered awaken an intense sadness that activates very pessimistic thoughts, crying, tiredness, loss of interest in the activities that used to make us feel good...etc. As a result of this state of mind, we tend to devalue ourselves and feel we are responsible for the break-up. It is, therefore, common to review our past behaviors and focus on what we should have done differently. This is the time when guilt usually sets in. Depending on the circumstances of the break-up, guilt can at this point be completely shifted onto the other person, leading to feelings of resentment, revenge and even hatred. While it is important to allow ourselves to grieve for a major loss, it is important not to let sadness completely bury us and stop our grieving process.
  • Acceptance: When we reach this stage, we regain something that was taken away from us the day our partner left: joy. At this moment, we are able to positively value both what we are living in the present moment and our future. In romantic grief, it is possible to reach this phase without having gone through previous emotions for different reasons: because another romantic relationship begins and it disrupts the emotions described above, because the relationship is reviewed and restarted, because the person has personal resources that allow them to move on quickly... At this point, it is possible that certain fears and insecurities are developed as a result of the break-up and although fear is inherent to our human condition, we should not let it take control of our existence.

Why does it hurt so much?

In addition to all the emotions that we have described above, which are not always pleasant, we have to take into account other important factors in romantic grief:


We can imagine attachment as a set of bonds that unite us to our partner. We will have a bond for sexuality, another for expectations, another for responsibilities… When our relationship ends, some of these bonds are cut at that very moment, such as the one where it is written «we are together», but many others continue to unite us, such as the bond of affection. When distance is put in between, some bonds still remain and the knots are tightened to the point where they choke the soul.

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The negative representation of our ex-partner

We are therefore still attached to a person for whom we still have a positive representation that we have formed throughout our relationship but for whom we may also be building a negative representation as a result of the suffering caused by the break-up. We thus find ourselves in an absurd situation that does not help us to overcome our romantic grief.

The interpretation of the break-up

We tend to look for a coherent explanation that allows us to reorganize the chaos in which we are immersed. The problem is that this involves being aware that we have undressed ourselves (beyond the literal sense) in front of a person who has abandoned us, remembering the bad things we went through and the good things we no longer have. Throughout this process we are constantly confronted with the pain of loss and it can become absorbing.


It is someone’s self-image. As the relationship progresses, we often merge our self-concept with that of our partner. When the break-up disrupts our rhythm of life, we have to move from the «we» to the «I», which had been relegated to the background. This process involves feelings of helplessness, emptiness or confusion that accompany the feeling that there is something wrong with that self, which is why we have been left. Our self-concept must therefore be redefined at a time when our self-esteem is weakened, complicating our decision-making, task planning or ability to act.

What can I do to manage my romantic grief?

In order to overcome romantic grief and thus readjust our role in our new reality, it is recommended:

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  • To give the right place to what we feel: repressing emotions will not make us feel better, on the contrary, we may explode more easily, find ourselves in a lower mood, feel more stressed and in the end we will spend a lot of energy for nothing. Let's respect our rhythm and go through the different emotions without fear.
  • No contact with the ex-partner: this is sometimes difficult, especially when we have children together, but contact can make romantic grief even more complicated, especially when it is followed by endless loops of self-questioning, detailed analyses of encounters that lead to nothing, or associations with concepts such as "failure" or "abandonment".
  • To reflect on the opportunities for change and personal growth that arise in this new journey: romantic grief does not have to be an aversive process. On the contrary, it is a very good opportunity to explore our needs and capacities and to decide how we want to progress from this moment onwards. Remember that with every lost opportunity, a new horizon of possibilities opens up.
  • To resume the activities that made us feel good and that we put aside because we didn't have enough time: It may be a good time to increase the frequency of these activities, taking advantage of the free time that the break-up has left us.

Although we have mentioned that the aim of romantic grief is to adapt to the new situation, in some cases, it is not adaptive and we may feel that the emotional discomfort after the break-up is too intense. In this case, the best recommendation is to see a professional who can help you cope with your experience.

About the author

Ana López is a health psychologist at Sinews and consults in Spanish, English and French. She specializes in childhood and adolescence but also treats adults in grief processes, with problems of self-esteem, anxiety, stress or depression among others. She works from a contextual approach that adapts to the demands of each patient. For her it is essential that they find a warm space in the consultation where they do not feel judged and can identify the direction they want to take in their lives.

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Sinews MTI
Multilingual Therapy Institute
Psychology, Psychiatry and Speech Therapy
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