A brutal truth about life is that we can die at any moment.
In an instant, people that we know and love–friends and family members–can be taken from us, leaving the rest of us to work through the many feelings we have towards the deceased.
While saying goodbye is not the same as someone dying, in some cases they’re similar.
Have you ever moved or graduated or secured a new job?
How many of your friends and associates did you maintain contact with?
Chances are, many of the people you used to spend time with–even the ones you attempted to stay connected to–faded away with time and distance. That’s because it takes a significant amount of energy to sustain emotional connections while confronting the demands of adulthood.
Now, you may think to yourself, “but I see them all the time on social media.” But we both know that watching someone’s highlight reel isn’t the same as being with them as they navigate life’s complexities.
So, in some respects, your moving to a new environment resulted in something similar to death: your communication stopped. And your relationship to that person changed.
That’s why psychologists and other experts trained in mental, emotional, and psychological wellbeing prioritize what they call termination.
Termination occurs when a therapist and client end their relationship. And what’s most interesting about termination is how and when it’s discussed.
Whereas most relationships fade into the background, terminations are intentional. They are discussed for weeks and sometimes months prior to the actual ending.
As someone ending treatment with many of my clients, I’ve brought up termination–or the ending of our therapeutic relationship–several times throughout our work. But especially over the last month.
Each time clients say something that feels relevant to the ending of our work, I remind them about our ending. I specify how many sessions we have left. And I invite them to share more of their thoughts and feelings about it.
When done properly, termination can help people leave the relationship with a sense of closure, wellbeing, and confidence in their future.
Paradoxically, the only way that people can access those positive feelings is by sharing all of their frustrations, fears, regrets, and wishes prior to the relationship ending.
During what I call the “termination phase” of treatment, I focus on creating space for a wide range of feelings. I encourage clients to share thoughts that they’ve typically kept private. I empathize with their wide range of responses. And I share my own reactions to the ending of our relationship.
I do all of this while summarizing the themes of our work. Encouraging clients to think about what they’ve learned from our time together. Setting goals for the future. And asking clients to imagine what life will be like without our sessions.
Sometimes these conversations are short. Other times, they are long and full of intense feelings. But more often than not, even having these talks gives clients the opportunity to do something new: end our relationship the way that they’d like to.
Most often, we don’t have the ability to choose how to end relationships. People stop showing up. People fade away. People move. Or a million other things happen that prevent the relationship from ending the way both parties would prefer.
There’s no right or wrong way to feel about a relationship ending. Each person varies according to their personality, their history, and their preferences. However, there can be better and worse ways to go about ending a relationship.
Ghosting leaves people on both sides with unfinished business. Avoiding these uncomfortable conversations can do the same. And both of those result in people experiencing lingering thoughts and feelings for years to come.
These feelings can take the form of anger or frustration at the person for leaving. They can be sadness, regret, or guilt from your inability to share your thoughts and feelings with them. And they can also involve feeling a sense of relief–being thankful that the relationship is over.
That’s why termination, or the ending of relationships in whatever form they take, can feel a lot like death. No matter how different they appear, sometimes the emotional impact is similar.
While it may be uncomfortable to think about the loss of relationship as a death, bringing that seriousness and intentionality to such endings can result in greater fulfillment for both people. It gives you a chance to say things you typically wouldn’t and opens you to feedback you might not otherwise receive.
So instead of pulling away from the emotional discomfort, face it. Move towards these conversations by having them early and often. Accept with open arms all of the feelings that get expressed. And say what you need to say.
That way you can leave the relationship feeling ready to continue living your rewarding and fulfilling life.