Lack of closure from the last relationship, AKA, incomplete grief, is one reason that relationships, particularly step couple relationships, don’t last.
What is closure? It is emotional acceptance of being single again. True closure typically doesn’t include bitterness or resentment toward your ex. It’s over and you’re ok with it. You’re not longing to still be with him. You’re not repeatedly asking yourself why. Why did he do that? Why didn’t I say this? Why did it happen? etc.
Everybody needs to adjust to the “new normal” after losing a loved one. This is true whether you are widowed or divorced. The loss creates a hole which propels people to fill. Completing the grieving process fills the hole with acceptance, forgiveness, encouragement, confidence, and happiness. Sometimes, it also teaches a lesson. Otherwise, you’ll fill it in other ways, like addictions or other self-destructive behaviors that hinder or prevent healing.
Perhaps you gained closure from your past relationship, but your current partner hasn’t.
Unsurprisingly, the grief feels more harsh to kids; yet, it afflicts adults in profound ways as well. If you don’t allow yourself or your children to grieve at all or enough, it can have a detrimental effect on subsequent relationships. That includes the new partner you form a blended family with. You need to know the stages of grief and how to recognize them. You also need to allow yourself time to go through them. Acceptance is the final stage.
Sudden and unexpected separation causes the most grief. This is why grief is most harsh to children. Even when adults see or experience warning signs of pending separation, or slowly fall out of love with their spouse, the kids feel blindsided because they didn’t see it coming. It takes time to come to terms with change. Grieving can only start after they become aware of the loss. Ideally, this should be before they are uprooted from their home, school, and friends.
This is not always practical. When this doesn’t (can’t) happen, parents should be keenly tuned to how the children adjust. Children learn from their parents directly through their words and indirectly by modeling their actions. Parents, if you overlook the grieving process in you, you’re likely also missing the signs of incomplete grief in your children. So, not only are you not dealing with your emotions in a healthy manner, but your kids aren’t learning to either.
If that’s the case, you’re feeling a disconnect emotionally. Internally, you want things to be the way they were, while outwardly expressing acceptance and excitement over your new love. At the same time, you’re placing unrealistic expectations on the new relationship and partner. He probably won’t measure up to your standards.
Your partner may be doing the same thing. Remember, like attracts like. We attract people to us who help us to learn the life lessons we need to learn. In other words, our partner often reflects are biggest personal challenges in some way.
It may be difficult for you to truly accept your partner. Do you wish he’d only do such and such, or would only be like that? A few thoughts are common. But if you obsess over wanting him to be different, especially if it’s to be more like your ex, you may not have gained closure from your ex.
Your children, who are also struggling to adapt, may start to act up, disobey rules, show anger or depression, or get in trouble at school. These issues will add stress to your current relationship. If you don’t agree with how to handle the issues, it will lead to arguments and increased tension. The tension will grow regularly.
Another sign you haven’t gained closure is if you still feel bitter or resentful from what your ex did to you. Are you worried that your current partner is doing the same thing, or will do the same thing? Worse yet, are you still arguing with your ex? If you have kids with him, there’s the potential to put your children in the middle of your arguments even if it’s not your intention. If your partner is constantly arguing with an ex he has children with, that’s a sign he hasn’t gained closure from that relationship.
Unresolved issues are a manifestation of not getting over your ex. They typically lead to issues in subsequent relationships.
If you’re having relationship problems, consider doing some research and reading on the stages of grieving and gaining closure from relationships. Even if you weren’t married, books and articles on post divorce could help you as well.