QUESTION: Can grief stop you from starting or developing a new relationship?
Don: Grief can stop you from being present to the relationship you already have, as well as stop you from starting a new one.
The pain of grief keeps a portion of your attention and awareness preoccupied until the loss is faced. Though you can push grief down, to the side, or ignore it, in reality there is no getting around it. You have to, at some point, experience it. Until then it is a part of you, keeping you unavailable to those around you. This is often expressed with the phrase, "He is here but he isn't."
When you experience great loss (change) of any kind, especially family members to death or divorce, the grief process begins and occupies quite a bit of your attention.
Until the emotional and physical realities that the loss has caused are acknowledged, FELT (experienced), accepted and to some degree forgiveness has happened, you are simply not fully emotionally present in your life. Your mind is fighting the reality of the loss.
The positive outcome of going through the action steps of grief recovery is that you begin to experience more of the present moment and are better able to tend to what is actually going on in your life now. Imaginary conversations in one's head, as if the loss has not happened, are gone or at least only appear now and then when triggered by something that reminds you of the loss.
So the experiences of grief happen without your control, consuming, for a while, most of your attention.
If you are already in a relationship and you have a significant loss, you will be less emotionally available to your partner until the grief is experienced. If you are not in a relationship, grief could keep you from making efforts to begin one until grief is faced.
This is true both with death or the broken heart of a divorce. However, some people actually start a new relationship to avoid and cover up the pain of the grief experience. If grief is not faced well, the relationship you begin will start on a very unsteady footing, because you are not fully emotionally there and not able to really be close. The new relationship will be based more on the thrill of hormones and the relief of avoiding the grief. Eventually, the grief will have to be faced in this new relationship.
The same is true with pets. Many people quickly replace the pet to avoid the loss experience only later to regret bringing a new pet in so quickly. These actions cover up, delay, and make grief more of a problem instead of a process to go through. However, with the right corrections, grief recovery can happen even when it has been massively avoided. There is hope.