Shelley Dukes, M.A., M.F.T.



Any creature that bonds grieves when it undergoes separation -- whether it be a lion kicked out of the pride, a dog that has lost its master, or father who gives his daughter away in marriage. The loss traumatizes us as though a piece of us is broken. It means that something has happened that is out of the ordinary and it's difficult for our mind to integrate into its framework of what is normal.

Simply adapting to life on this planet without the missing person or thing doesn't necessarily mean we've healed properly. Unless the wound is identified for what it is, old heart aches get tangled up in current issues and we're not able to sort out how the pain is being played out in our thinking, emotions and behaviors. When we avoid grieving, we go through life hungry for what is missing. The wound to the broken heart doesn't heal; the pain surrounding the situation is buried in the emotional or physical self to fester. Mourning cleans out the much the same principle as when we wound an arm or leg; we clean out the wound, sew it up and let nature finish the process.

By telling our story, we give our self an opportunity to integrate the event. We observe the contents of the issues and attest to the pain. Once we acknowledge the feelings and thoughts, we can connect the feeling state with the appropriate situation, whether it be a past or current event. This simple process has a therapeutic effect. We find appropriate situation, whether it be a past or current event. This simple process has a therapeutic effect. We find meaning and are able to restore balance and tranquility.

Most of my clients come in with a broken heart from losses in relationship, career, and death. These are the more obvious sources of grief. Less obvious losses can be equally distressing; such as loss of youth, physical strength, loss of hair, beauty, empty nest, relocation, injury, death of a pet, starting school, financial changes, completion of projects, loss of trust, loss of safety, early retirement, and unemployment.

Learning how to cope with loss by mourning in an effective way is a growing need in our society so that our unresolved pain does not create more alienation, repression, isolation and negative thinking than necessary. Bewildering emotions and symptoms are normal hallmarks of mourning, ie., inability to concentrate, lack of motivation, impaired decision-making, confusion, unrequited longing, numbness, memory gaps, anxiety, social withdrawal, and other seemingly inappropriate emotional responses.

No one can escape the fact that life is full of losses and events that break our hearts. When we surrender to the grief process and come out the other side, we increase our trust in nature's ability to repair and renew ourselves. So when the next loss comes, and it will, we have a personal history of how to get through it.

 Relationships are central to our lives. We couple for a handful or reasons: for companionship, to avoid being lonely, for status or security, for sex, romance, and some seek relationships thinking it will solve their problems. Most of us couple to fulfill a compelling longing to love and be loved.

There’s something deeply satisfying about an intimate love relationship. Yet, close relationships, while highly gratifying, can also be a source of wrenching pain. Some of the most blissful moments and devastating heartaches take place in committed relationships. Intimacy requires vulnerability and risk. The depth of our vulnerability to love is related, in some way, to the risk of losing love.

The love in the beginning of the relationship is a glimpse of what is possible. While in the romantic glow, we overlook our partner’s shortcomings, treat each other with positive regard, respect and find each other interesting and attractive. After the romantic love diminishes the couple discover if they have the qualities to sustain a lasting, stable, happy future.

No matter how hard partners try, conflicts will surface and without effective resolution, partners are left with wounds of disappointment, alienation and resentment. No intimate relationship is with out problems. Accepting this reality may be key to maneuvering the ups and downs.

Priorities in relationships change with the demands of life, e.g., parenting, career, and personal evolution. But, the original desire, to love and be loved, remains the same. Without putting effort into maintaining the relationship, partners find themselves drifting further and further apart.

Years ago, partners would search out the advice of a wise tribal chief, priest or grandparent to sort out matters of the heart. Today, we read self-help books, watch popular talk shows and spend time with a counselor skilled in relationship dynamics. The method you choose to keep the love alive doesn’t matter... doing the hard work to make it happen does.

Couples in my counseling practice, on the large part, acknowledge their mutual desire to solve problems and rekindle a loving connection. Initially, the counseling sessions focus on practical tools such as communication skills, conflict resolution, making compromises, division of chores, and time management. Concurrently, they learn to understand, respect and appreciate their differences. When the level of trust is sufficient, the counseling shifts to address unresolved disappointments and misunderstanding. My greatest satisfaction is seeing couples soften towards one another, transformed into a state of conscious positive regard, happy and growing individually and together as a team.