Grief! That word alone is heavy. Grief is a normal part of life; however, we often do not think of grief when supporting a struggling loved one. Us humans thrive on emotional intimacy, which is amazing! And with emotional intimacy can come heartbreak and grief, which is not always talked about. When we get married and have children, we invest the best and biggest parts of ourselves into those people. Our parents and siblings also provide essential connections.

Our very identities are often inevitably intertwined with those we love. Because we love them, we want the best for them and envision a life full of happiness and joy for them. We don’t want to see them suffer, entangle themselves in addictions, or experience sadness and trauma.

When this does happen, we also experience pain and loss. These are losses that we must grieve and process as if we were mourning a loved one who passed away.

Why We Grieve

Processing the grief of broken relationships or loved ones’ emotional damage can seem complicated. While it can be heartbreaking when a loved one dies, there is a finality to death that often isn’t there when we’re grieving issues surrounding someone who is still with us.

But at its heart, we grieve because we have lost something important, no matter if it’s a result of death or other circumstances. As humans, we place great value on others. We yearn for and even expect specific outcomes with romantic partners and children. Our own hopes and dreams are lost when substance use or trauma interrupts the relationship we’d expected to have.

The Work of Grief

Therapists have long relied upon stages of grief when helping someone work through losses. Understanding the grief process can help you come to terms with the losses you’ve faced. But even though grief is laid out in stages, it’s essential to know that grief itself is messy and nonlinear. You may work through one stage only to return to it days, weeks, or months later.

What you go through when you’re grieving a loss is natural, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

Stages of Grief

Grief typically brings with it the following stages. Many of them are self-explanatory. As you look at these stages, you can probably see how they have played out as you’ve mourned the loss of relationships or your dreams for a loved one.


It can be tough to accept that a beloved child suffers from addiction or that trauma has deeply impacted your partner. Denial is often the first reaction when bad things happen to the people you love.


Anger is natural and understandable. When relationships are deeply held, losing what we’d expected is painful. You’ve lost something precious.


You may find yourself bargaining with the person you love or bargaining with yourself. Perhaps you’ve tried countless times to convince a family member to enter rehab. You’ve offered many bargains (financial assistance, free housing, etc.) or ultimatums if they don’t try to find healing. But they haven’t worked.


Another way to describe this stage would be sadness. You feel emotionally wounded, scared, and exhausted. You’ve tried to get things to change in the relationship but haven’t been able to. Sadness is normal. (But if it continues or grows into a deep depression, it’s crucial to find help.)

Acceptance and Finding Meaning

Reaching acceptance and finding meaning in the aftermath of a troubled family relationship can feel complicated. After all, the other person is still there. They haven’t passed away.

But you can work through this and learn to move beyond your grief. You can continue to find meaning even if things aren’t as they once were. The dynamic will be different, but you can have a relationship and move forward.

It may seem impossible, but as you work through the stages of grief, you will be able to rebuild and refocus your own life. You will know what is yours and what is theirs and stay grounded in your needs. You will come out wiser and stronger on the other side.

If you’re struggling to come to terms with family relationships that haven’t gone as hoped, please know that there is hope. I encourage you to reach out to my office for a free 15-minute consultation or visit my Support for Family Members page to learn more.