"Why Did They Leave?" - Ambiguous Loss

In an ideal world, if a partner left a relationship, they'd explain why. However, in real life, this doesn't always happen. This makes the process of accepting reality and moving on more complicated for the one left behind. In fact, they may suffer from ambiguous loss.
"Why Did They Leave?" - Ambiguous Loss

Last update: 23 April, 2021

Many breakups occur without any explanation. Sometimes, it might be because the leaving partner doesn’t want to hurt the other. On the other hand, they might be afraid of their reaction. However, whatever the reason, the deserted partner’s left with nothing but doubts, asking the question, “Why did they leave?” This complicated kind of unresolved grief is known as ambiguous loss.

Romantic relationships aren’t symmetrical. Often, one partner just doesn’t feel the same anymore, or the couple might find themselves simply going in different directions. As a matter of fact, it’s relatively common for one person to want to finish the relationship while the other one doesn’t. While this obviously causes pain for both, it’s worse for the partner that’s left behind.

Added to this pain, there’s often another difficulty. This is that the leaving partner doesn’t know or doesn’t want to say why they’re doing it. Thus, the situation becomes even more complex. Indeed, all that’s left for the deserted partner is to ask “Why did they leave?” Consequently, the situation becomes one of ambiguous loss for them.

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow; but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief, and heals them.”

-Leo Tolstoy-

A woman asking herself why did he leave?

They don’t see it coming

It’s usual for the abandoned partner to be shocked at what’s happened because they hardly ever see it coming. This might be because they refuse to acknowledge it. However, more often it’s because communication between the couple has broken down, coupled with a lack of concern towards the relationship in general.

There are also instances when the leaving partner hides their intentions until they feel it’s the right time. This is extremely common in cases of infidelity.

At the same time, there are cases where the non-leaving partner is either excessively dependent or very controlling. In fact, in these instances, the leaving partner’s actually “escaping” rather than ending the relationship. This is because fear of what might happen makes them hide their intentions until they’re ready to act on them.

Nevertheless, what’s common in all of these instances is that one of the partners isn’t ready to end the relationship but the other one is. Therefore, the one who isn’t ready has had no time to prepare themselves. Consequently, what often happens is a situation of ambiguous loss and grief, as the deserted partner tries to come to terms with these events that they just don’t understand.

Why did they leave and ambiguous loss

Ambiguous loss and grief involve a higher element of shock than normal grief. In fact, right from the start, it’s marked by the “I just can’t believe it” attitude and the sufferer expresses outright denial towards what happened. This kind of attitude, although it’s wrong, is actually protecting them from further pain at this particular time.

From then on, the abandoned partner starts to question. They frequently become obsessed with the “Why did they leave?” question, which is constantly at the back of their minds. Furthermore, it may well lead them to start spying on their ex.

In addition, partners who have extreme difficulty in accepting the facts of a break-up often fall into a pattern of obsessive behavior where they refuse to let their partner go. For instance, they might continually seek their partner out to answer the question of why they left. Naturally, this stops the injured partner from moving on.

A woman looking sad.

Why did they leave?

Most of the time, it’s not even worth asking them this question. Because if they didn’t explain at the time, they’re hardly likely to explain later. As a matter of fact, they might be ashamed of what they’ve done and the lies they told. Or they might be feeling vulnerable and don’t want to feel guilty.

At other times, there might not even be a real reason. Or, if there is one, it might not be particularly reasonable. For example, they might say, “I just got bored”. Consequently, it usually isn’t a good idea to ask the partner why they left.

Reasons for leaving

It’s highly like that they left due to one of the following reasons. In fact, these are the most common motives for leaving:

  • Another love. This is the most common reason. Chances are they’ll deny the fact, but it’s still the most likely motive.
  • Boredom. The relationship has become too routine and they can’t stand it anymore. However, they’ll rarely admit this to their partner.
  • Emotional exhaustion. Arguing too much or constantly having to build bridges to cross gaps that are just too big. There may still be love in this case, but exhaustion outweighs it.
  • Serious crises. The death of a loved one, bankruptcy, or some other serious crisis can make them want to start all over again from scratch.
  • Existential changes. Some kind of personal change in their life. It could be a new religion or a new interest. Whatever it is, it means that their relationship no longer seems to mean anything to them.
  • Disappointment. Certain ambitions not being achieved. Alternatively, they don’t have any faith in the future of the relationship. Perhaps there were just too many disappointments along the way.

In all types of grief, questions remain unanswered. However, with ambiguous loss and its associated grief, it’s more important for the sufferer to look inside themselves. This is because they’ll find far more answers there than from the person who left them.

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  • Montoya, P. (2013). Duelo. Archipielago. Revista cultural de nuestra América, 11(41).