About Ending Relationships


A teenage client of mine began her session by telling me that her week had been sad because a girlfriend of hers asked to take a break from their friendship. She told me they had a disagreement a few days earlier. She was surprised when the friend shared her thought. She was dwelling on the feelings of loss and grief. 

We often overlook the effects that relationships ending have on children. Children can be fickle or angry, and they walk away. I have found the same response to having a friend whose family moves to a different city or state. Or when there is a death of someone they know or an animal, the feelings can be intense. 

Loss is the same for adults. Whatever causes a relationship to end, there are feelings of loss and grief. Often the change is volitional on the part of one of the parties. A divorce or break up of a friendship suggests there is the initiator and the object of the decision. The initiator may not feel as pained, but it is still a change. The person who has been left is usually in more pain. It is hard to experience loss in our lives, particularly of relationships that were meaningful to us. 

It is valuable for each of us to be able to express our feelings and our reaction to endings. Too often, people are reluctant to share their thoughts and feelings because they believe they reveal vulnerabilities they believe will be judged. We are human; we feel pain and regret and emptiness at times in our lives. I encourage people, including children, to recognize the way we likely respond to things. We are not alone. 

When a child is hurting, I suggest that adults allow and encourage feelings to be expressed. Often, there is a tendency to try to minimize the experience. If a child loses a friend, a parent may try to diminish who the friend was or encourage the child to view the positive prospects of the experience. “You will find other friends who will be more fun for you to be with.” Like an adult, they are not ready to pass over current pain and anticipate an exciting future. 

It is valuable to allow ourselves to feel and to express ourselves. This helps the process of being able to move forward. When we hold onto our pain, it can color our lives. It is difficult to be with people who are hurting, but often that feeling fits the person’s experience of what has happened. 

My client does not believe her friend is truly intending to take a break from the relationship.  She believes that a disagreement has led to a significant loss of a friend in her life. She is questioning the value of being honest when expressing an opinion to a friend. She feels alone. None of this is inappropriate. I hope being heard and supported has been helpful to her. 


Dr. Natalie Gelman is an Alameda-based therapist. Submit questions to drnataliegelman@gmail.com or through her website, www.drnataliegelman.com.