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Is it normal to push one's closest loved one away while grieving?

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My boyfriend's mother died very suddenly and unexpectedly 5 months ago, leaving him an orphan at age 36. His mother had raised him by herself and his father had remarried but died just a few years ago. His stepmother and half-siblings stopped talking to him after his father died, so it was as if he suddenly had no family left at all.


When his mother died, I was the first and only person he turned to, and I held him all night and listened to him talk. He had to fly to another state to take care of arrangements and I offered to go with him. He tried to book a flight for me but nothing was available, so he asked me to come in the future to help him pack up his mother's house and be at his side at the memorial service instead. I tried to be as supportive as possible over the phone while he was away. We were in frequent touch and he told me everything about what he was feeling and going through.


But when he came home 10 days later, he was very distant and strange. He seemed confused and said he didn't know what he wanted. He abruptly said he needed to take a break from our relationship and asked me to leave his apartment. He said I had been the most wonderful and sweetest girlfriend and that he loved me but that he just couldn't be in a relationship with anyone during this time. But he also kept saying that he didn't want to make a rash decision and to give it some time.


I knew I had to set my feelings aside and allow him whatever he needed, even though I was devastated. I tried to give him space but also still be there for him, so I'd occasionally (every couple of weeks or so) send a short and kind email or text message. I did speak to him by phone for about an hour a few weeks later and he told me that he felt like a basket case and couldn't sleep. I tried to go help him with his mother's house but he turned me back home after our flight landed. Finally, 2 months later, he sent me a very terse and cold email that simply said there was not a possibility of us getting back together and that he felt there needed to be considerable time and distance before we ever talked again. No explanation or any words of kindness whatsoever. He sounded so different from the person I once knew.


I'm having trouble accepting that this could really be the end. I keep wondering if there was anything I could've done to prevent or save this - whether I wasn't there for him enough in the beginning, if I gave him too much space or not enough, if it was a terrible mistake to get on that flight to try to help him, etc. Everyone tells me that doing that was an amazing selfless act of love on my part and wasn't inappropriate, but it seems like he was upset and disturbed by my gesture, perhaps due to his mental state while grieving. I only had the best of intentions and it doesn't seem like it should be a reason to push someone you care about entirely away and just completely refuse to talk. It was as if I had wronged him deeply but I don't know what I did that was wrong.


Over the months I've read so much about grief and tried to understand what he is going through, but I still can't understand how his feelings could have changed so drastically when we had a great relationship before and he always seemed so deeply in love and sure of our relationship. I know he had to deal with a harrowing and traumatic experience, but why would he turn away from my support and cut me out of his life without explanation when he can still treat everyone else in his life as normal? How can he not miss the life that we had together? We were in a serious relationship and the love we felt for each other should mean something and not just evaporate into thin air. Can anyone help me with insight as to why he might have done this and whether it's likely he'll ever come around with time?

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Sometimes people react to grief by shutting out those who care. They just want to live in their own bubble and can't deal with anything else. Perhaps in his mind you represent the life that was, when his mother was around and now that his mother isn't around it hurts too much to live life the way it was so he wants to start over. The bottom line is that this is about him, not about anything you did or didn't do. This is about his own pain and ability or inability to cope. You did all the right things...he is just not in a frame of mind to appreciate it. That is not your fault. Just to prepare you, he may soon find someone else to be with...someone who doesn't represent the old life. Be strong and just move on with your life. There is nothing you could have done because this is all about his frame of mind. Maybe one day when he feels better he will come back..but don't wait for him. You need to move on with your life.

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The same thing happened to me when my fiancees mother died suddenly.

She flew back home and within 10 days we were broken up for reasons I will never understand or know.


I can offer no explanation to you for why these things happen.


Someone said to me once, "the death of a parent can not destroy a relationship, but it certainly can give it an overdue burial"


it's so hard to accept seeing as there was no fault in the relationship to blame.

You just have to move on and maybe you'll get your answer one day.

Maybe you won't.

I believe my wonderful ex fiancée was feeling like everything in her life was shadowed by this tragic event and cut all her attachments.

She still managed to go out and have fun with her friends which was also confusing but grief is a strange thing.


Sorry for your pain.

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Thanks to everyone who has responded.


Crazyaboutdogs, what you wrote was pretty much exactly what many people have told me, and it definitely sounds valid. Except for the part where you warned me that he might take up with somebody else soon - I really don't see that happening because it's not his character to get involved with anybody easily, and especially not while he's going through his grief. When we met, we had such great chemistry and compatibility immediately, and it was really something special and unusual for him. It really was a very happy and seemingly solid relationship, until his mother died so suddenly. It's because things were so good that it's hard to understand how he could let it go so easily and now act like he just doesn't care about me at all.


I know everyone grieves differently, but it seems to me that traumatic losses and thoughts of mortality typically make one appreciate their loved ones more deeply, upon realizing that life is short and we could lose them any day - and he has reached out to all kinds of people he normally hadn't been in contact with, including ex-girlfriends from ten years back and other friends he rarely speaks to. Except for me - he pushed me away so hard, it was like I had done something horribly wrong to him. For the last four months he has completely refused to answer any of my (quite restrained and infrequent) calls or emails even though I haven't pressed for any discussion about our relationship and have only shown compassion and caring for what he's been going through. It's awful - I feel like he died himself, except that I hear from mutual friends that outwardly, he seems to be doing fine and is acting normal, just like his old self. I don't know how he can be so friendly and kind to everyone else except me, who was dearest to him before. I can't really know how he feels though, since he isn't talking to me, and I understand that men often internalize their grief and keep it very private.


On one hand I understand on one level what you say about how it's really about his inability to cope and nothing about me or something I did wrong. I had to seek therapy for the first time in my life to deal with this, and my therapist has told me emphatically that I have done nothing wrong (even though he took my actions the wrong way) and that I should not apologize for anything I did. But on the other hand, knowing that I didn't deserve this doesn't exactly make me feel better or accept it more easily, at least not yet.


It's taking a really long time for me to get over this, probably because I still haven't lost hope and don't want to, even though I know that there's a chance he's been so changed by this event that he'll never come around. I still wake up at times in the middle of the night and have to remember and realize all over again that he isn't there. There was no reason why we shouldn't have been together, if this event hadn't disrupted the course of our relationship, so to me, though he said there wasn't a possibility of us getting back together, I find it hard to believe he'd really think that forever, as he has provided no explanation whatsoever and it just seems irrational to me.


Danny77 and kuteknish, I've gone back and looked at many of your past posts, and it's eerie how many similarities our stories share. I suppose that though it seems so hard for us to understand why this happened, it's not a completely rare sort of reaction to the death of a parent. Time is needed for them to heal, but in the meantime, it's such a difficult place for us to be in because we just want to be close to our loved ones and support them during these dark days and they won't let us.

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How long were you together? That may play a factor?


I agree - this is not out of the ordinary. The only thing I would have done different perhaps would be to really give him space. In some cases, the kind weekly emails or trying to help him with his mother's stuff would be too much for someone because they would be regularly reminded that you are sitting there waiting for an answer. I probably would have told him to contact you when he is ready to talk and then disappear. I normally don't advocate that for breakups = to allow the other person to have the power of when to call,but in this case, you don't know how much space he needs. Once my ex broke up with me not because I was the problem but because his family was going through stuff and he couldn't handle one more person or couldn't worry about maintaining a relationship because he would feel bad if he didn't call, take me on dates, etc.


I really think that maybe something hit home when it came time for you to step inside the home his mother lived in, etc. To him, it might have been something he needed to do to grieve on his own. I know when I had to do the hard thing of moving after a divorce which is not death of course, I got emotionally, snappy and mean to people who were saying "oh, you don't need this" "can i have this?" or "let me throw this away." i was OKAY with people initially offering but once they got there, I couldn't handle it.


I think you did all you could, and I would just give him a mile of space. Either move on, or let him contact you next.

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abitbroken, we were together for 8 months. I know that is not a really long time, but we got close quickly and spent most of our time together, talked every day and had lots of plans for the future we were looking forward to. Things were still going great and he was clearly still very much in love with me when his mother passed away. He did say that maybe we just haven't been together long enough - that maybe things would have been different if his mother had died years later. I know grief can be very personal and that's likely why he couldn't share it with me, but I don't think it should take years of being together to be able to just be there for somebody you care deeply about. I don't know why he had to push me away so much, when he let his friends be there for him and was reaching out to other people he'd known longer but was not close to.


I didn't contact him weekly - it was about once every 3-4 weeks, sometimes as long as 6 weeks without trying to contact him. I read that when someone is grieving, they often don't have the energy to respond, but that the thought is appreciated. And that some feel angry if their friends stop trying to reach out to them even when they don't respond, because they feel like they don't care. All of my messages were very short and just letting him know of my support. I thought this was the right thing to do, but it was so hard to know what to say or do.


I feel like there were so many things I never got to say to him, since I backed off and never got to express anything about how I felt. I felt like I couldn't even express my condolences fully because I didn't want to upset him by saying anything too emotional. I did send flowers for his mother, but the card only lets you include about 3 lines which is probably inadequate. I don't know. I've tried writing letters to him and have many long, rambling drafts but I don't know if it will ever be the right time to send him anything. I worry that by not contacting him at all, he will eventually forget about me entirely.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Yes it is normal.


I broke up with my boyfriend about 1 month after my mother died.


I probably should've broken up with him well before that but I needed his support throughout the time my mother was dying.


But I have heard it's pretty normal even without that circumstance.


In addition, in my case, it was hard to forget my mother saying "you can do better than him", which I've later realised i should've ignored more because nothing and no one was ever really good enough for her.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I wasn't able to send him my thoughts in a letter...there was just too much I wanted to say and it was too emotional. I doubt he would have wanted to read about how much his behavior hurt me and how bewildering amd irrational it seemed to me, because I'm sure from his point of view he doesn't see it that way at all.


Tonight I will finally see him for the first time in nearly six months. It's been a little over six months since his mother died. It is only to get my belongings from his apartment. This is the only time in months that he's bothered to really respond to contact from me, and that is deeply saddening. The things there will remind me so much of our times together and how much he used to care about me. He used to be so affectionate and thoughtful. It used to be so easy to talk to him about anything, and we shared our lives. Now he treats me like a stranger who was never part of his life. I was there for him and supported him when he needed me during those first ten days after her death, but now he won't even treat me with any of the kindness he would show a friend.


Friends say he seems to be doing fine now and has been carrying on like his old self already. He has seemed to be in a much better mood lately from what I can tell from the tone of things he has been posting online. It just feels strange that he can be so normal and friendly to everyone else but still absolutely not normal when it comes to me. When this started, everyone said he was reacting this way because he needed to process his grief, but now it seems like he's done but still unable to talk to me. I wonder if he ever misses me at all, whether he remembers what we were like together before his mother died. We had a great relationship and we were happy together, but he just pushed me away.


And now I will finally be able to see him in about 12 hours. I haven't been able to sleep. I don't know how I should behave or what I should say. I have received conflicting advice from various different sources about whether I should say anything to him at all. If anyone reading this thread here would like to chime in, I would appreciate it as I feel so lost.

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  • 2 months later...

2 situations to relate to:


- when my mum died i leaned on my boyfriend even though it had become a LDR, he was a good support, but i wasn't sure about 'us' and after my mum had been dead a month i cheated on him and broke up with him - i was messed up, it was still wrong and there's no excuse.


- more similar is when my boyfriend died - i didn't want to be close to anyone else, i talked to him in my dreams, i just wanted to sleep all the time, i didn't want anyone else!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi Miri, this is the first thread I have found which is similar to my own situation. I can relate to your pain and what you are going through.


What happened when you saw him?


My ex-bf was orphaned over a year ago when his mum died and his dad had died 15 years before. At the time he did not deal with his grief and tried to stay strong for his siblings. It hit him 6 months later and he broke down. I got him to see the doctor and he was put on antidepressants whcih helped a lot but did not cure the underlying grief or issues. During this time we were strong, buying a house and focussing on the future. Then he decided to come off them cold turkey wthout seeing the doctor and since then his personality has changed - completely. He quit a very good job, ended our relationship out the blue and moved back to his hometown (4 hours from where we lived) and wants to be very close with his siblings - almost to an OCD extent - hard to explain. His siblings are not children, they are in their late 20's and have their own lives and are moving forward but he is moving backwards. To others he seems happy on the outside but I know it won't last forever and the grief from his mother's death and other issues will catch up with him again. He turned on me, the person closest to him. He left 3 weeks ago and now he is starting to contact me again but he told me when he left that it was over and showed no emotion ending it - 3 months before we were putting an offer on a house together and he told me he was sure about us and our furture.


Miri, it leaves us in a difficult situation. We want them back like you wouldn't believe. In addition it is difficult to carry out "no contact" as advised on other threads on this site as I know that he needs me and I don't believe what he says or think he is thinking rationally. Very difficult to move on - I feel your pain.

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I think it is unfortunate that we don't live in a society where families including grandparents live in the same home and that young children don't get exposed to the cycle of life including death. In North America we have this notion that we are going to live forever, and that death is something that needs to be hidden and not delt with. I think it is normal that we don't deal with grief in a healthy way because we have such an unhealthy attitude towards death. What should happen is that death and grief should bring families and close friends closer together.

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  • 4 months later...
  • 4 weeks later...

Sorry for the slow response. When I saw him after six months, I just tried to be friendly and civil but he was really tense and agitated. It was really awful to see him act so oddly toward me, like I was a stranger. His apartment had been my home for the last 8 months. I asked him very gently if there was anything he wanted to say and he kind of said no. But then he just said he was sorry for the way things ended. I asked why he was behaving like this - why we weren't friends or seemingly even on speaking terms - even though there had been nothing wrong between us. He couldn't really explain it except to say that he couldn't deal with any emotional obligations. I think he was pretty unfair about some things he said, even paranoid. Like he claimed he was disturbed because he'd heard a rumor that I was going to move into his neighborhood when I had never planned any such thing. It was very strange. I think he was on meds (he had been before we started dating, as well) so that may have had a factor.


That was eight months ago and I still have not really heard from him since. He hasn't ever contacted me or asked how I've been. I still feel like it is really messed up. I can understand putting some things on hold when grieving, but not just completely cutting someone out of your life who was close to you and who clearly cared about you. I see signs of him resuming a normal life, having a good time, seeing his friends, as if everything is totally normal again. But maybe that is just on the surface. I don't know.


I still don't feel all right. I don't know if I ever will stop feeling pain over this. I find it hard to accept that someone who supposedly loved me could just so completely cut me out of his life so suddenly and not feel remorse. We were very happy and I know we shared some really great times together. Could those memories just mean nothing to him at all? I feel like he has gotten over, or perhaps blocked out his grief but I'm the one who is still grieving for losing him. And that is incredibly unfair. If he could at least reach out and show some sign that he cared - even if he could only be a distant friend - it would help, but he just acts like I never existed. I deserved better.

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I found this thread because I was trying to relate to others who might have had similar experiences to what I am currently going through. A very close friend of mine, who I've known for many, many years, recently lost her husband (2 months ago). We've always had feelings for one another, and this is the first time the two of us were single at the same time. I realize that she needs time to grieve, even though the two of them did not get along very well. Before he died, we were in daily contact. Mostly I was trying to give her hope where one door closes another opens. We even saw each other a couple of times shortly after the services, and then suddenly the calls stopped. She said she needed time to grieve and I understood that. But I also told her that I was her friend first and friends help each other out during times of need. I offered her an ear to bend to help her to release the grief she felt. But she became more withdrawn, feeling anxiety and depression. Surprisingly I was feeling anxiety and depression, not being able to sleep or function daily tasks very well. She told me she just needs time and I assured her to take the time she needs and I will still be here for her. Seeing these posts drives my fear that she will completely withdraw from me.


I hope there are others out there who have experienced something similar with better outcomes.

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If she says she just needs time, then give her all the time and space she needs. She knows that you care and will be there when she needs you. Just do not have expectations. These things do not happen according to any schedule, and if she senses any pressure (even if not intended), that can drive her away. From what she has said it sounds like she is going through a normal grieving process and is not planning on pushing you away forever. Just be patient and focus on yourself for a while. I know that is easier said than done.

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Miri I was following your thread and it urged me to register and reply. I really feel your pain having been through a marital separation in the past 5 years and more recently a relationship breakdown which sounds similar to your story. I was seeing a guy for almost 18 months and he was crazy about me, he spoke of love and moving in together and a long term relationship. That was until his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness and given weeks/months to live. In a matter of 24 hours he pretty much did a complete turnaround, and just today 6 weeks after his mothers diagnosis, told me he now feels nothing for me. He completely cut himself off pretty much telling me to never text him or call him again. It is very hard to take when your still feeling love for this person who has now made it clear you are nothing in their life. I realised from your story and others who have posted that probably nothing we said or did or didn't say could have made a difference here. But knowing that doesn't make it any easier, it just sucks and it hurts. It was interesting to see how your ex reacted to you six months later, I can only think that somehow you are connected to the pain he felt back when he lost his mother and subconsciously that connection makes him withdraw from you. That knowledge gives me foresight not to wait for my ex to want to come back to me, I think he is completely lost to me know. A good lesson that we should look after ourselves and move on as soon as we can.

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Moggs I am deeply sorry to hear that you are going through this as well. It is horrible and painful how this person can just completely shut you out without explanation. It is very irrational. I wonder if it's as simple as a matter of brain chemistry - if the stress and trauma of what they are going through just makes them cut off all other emotional attachments? I don't know. I do know that my ex seems like an entirely different person, even physically, now a year later. I can barely recognize him in recent photos. I understand that grief can change everything and the process must run its course, but to go to such extremes seems emotionally unhealthy to me.

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Hi there.


The same thing is happening with me and my girlfriend of 2 years after her cousin [who was like a big sister to her] passed away 3 months ago. Except that, when she’s not withdrawing from the world and shutting me out, she’s either angry or irritated with me. It’s so difficult because we’re living together and I’m always at the receiving end of her wrath. I’m constantly walking on egg shells around her.


I can’t believe how much she’s changed in just a few months. A week after her cousin died, she became very clingy and emotional [a complete turnaround of who she was] and she would get anxious when I’m not around, so I tried my best to be by her side as much as I could. This went on for about a month until suddenly; she became extremely moody.... which progressed to anger---directed some towards herself or family, but mostly at me!


Although my needs aren't important right now, I wanted badly to pamper her... to take care of her but she wouldn’t let me. A part of me feels a bit frustrated that my best intentions... my sweetest gestures feel taken for granted. I want to provide at least some measure of comfort in the best ways I know how, and feel like i'm being shoved aside. I cared for her cousin a great deal.... and her death affected me even more than I anticipated. I suppose I had the mistaken impression that we could comfort one another... but it hurts that she doesn't seem to want any of it.


I don't know what to do. Almost everything I say or do is annoying or just plain wrong.

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Thanks Miri, I hope your doing a bit better now yourself and after seeing your ex 6 months after it gave you some closure. It would be lovely to have some rational explanation for this type of behaviour, I have been trawling through psychological articles trying to find some documented evidence ! My ex wont even talk to me on the phone or lay eyes on me since his mothers diagnosis, I tried to get him to talk to me or see me for 10 minutes the other day just to find out what happened but he just said 'he cant' and if i try to call, wont pick up. Its so bizarre, makes me feel like a stalker but I do think that after an 18 month relationship some explanation and real conversation might be reasonable. Just had to deal with a dumping via text! seems so disrespectful after all we shared, but now there is nothing I can do. Somehow their brain is wired to deal with things that way, it is unhealthy -maybe we have just been saved from further anguish down the track, who knows!

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Gio, you sound really caring and hopefully with time your girlfriends moods will return to normal but it may take a long time. In the meantime all you can do is be there for her. But its hard, as you say, you are grieving too and are in need of emotional support as well and not the brunt of someone else's probably misdirected anger. I hope it works out for you, just keep talking to your friends and family to support you at this time.

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Hello. Thanks for the insight, Moggs. I guess I sorta got alarmed after reading everything that happened to everyone in this thread... I'm just scared that one day she'll wake up and realizes she no longer wants to be with me, or worse, that she's killed herself.


She wasn't like this before. She's had her "fits" over the past 2 years but she was never this ill-tempered and turbulent. This change in her attitude is really alarming. Like what happened to you with your ex, I could sense my girl breaking away from me now. She no longer tells me how she's feeling or what's going through her head like she used to. A month after her cousin passed away, she was still very open to me... talking about her cousin, her thoughts, obsessing on the "what ifs", and I would patiently listen to her go over her stories repeatedly. It was understandable because she was still devastated and in shock from her cousin's sudden death.


But now, she barely speaks. When she does talk, it's only to snap and lash out at me. Even a simple conversation would irritate her and she'll shut herself off in our room and sleep. Sometimes, I’m afraid to talk to her because I might say something wrong... or fall into her path for fear it would annoy her. We're living under the same roof but we might as well be living on a different planet with the distance she's created between us. The rare times that she does manage to tolerate my company, she would drift off into space and I've never felt so far away from her. It’s like she’s here but her mind is wandering off somewhere else.


I wish I have enough strength to deal with this. My family is getting worried and they’re telling me to return her back to her family when I express how this is affecting me. I know they mean well but that is not an option I’m willing to consider. I love her so much and I can't for one second picture myself with someone else. We’ve broken up before and I saw what my life was without her… it was so empty. Our relationship was not perfect but out of all the women that I’ve been with, she’s the only one I saw myself building a life with and I won’t give her up just like that… but she’s making it extremely difficult for me to stand firm on that decision.

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Don't despair just yet, it may just be part of her grieving process and may just need time, has it been a long since her cousin passed away, in the scheme of things it still may be early days. Just because there are those of us on this forum that completely lost people we loved during a period of intense grief, it doesn't mean your situation will turn out badly. For all those that push people completely away there are probably plenty more that stay connected. Your girlfriend may be suffering from depression, maybe you could encourage her to go and talk to someone? just give her space and time and look after yourself. I know that is hard, but it sounds like you are emotionally very vulnerable too. Also have you tried talking to her family members? maybe they can be supportive during this time as well to you both.

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