Breakups suck. No matter if the relationship ended on good or bad terms, it still triggers our natural response to loss. That’s what a breakup is, really, a loss. It’s the loss of someone you once knew, a life you once had together.
The stages of a breakup can vary from person to person. Not everyone experiences the same “breakup stages” in the same order or intensity. You might go back and forth between two stages or linger for a long time in one stage. Nonetheless, these are the common stages that people go through during a breakup:
Shock and Denial
This stage really hurts those who were dumped unexpectedly. When you get broken up with, you feel a wave of emotions: confusion, disarray, hurt. It’s bewildering. You’re desperate for answers, attempting to understand. Why? What happened? It’s a sense of disbelief, the inability to accept the reality of the situation. Shock and denial are closely related.
There’s another layer to the shock and denial, which is bargaining. Whether you’re begging for another chance, still being physically intimate even though the emotional aspect of the relationship has ended, or simply still being in contact with them, you’re still trying to convince yourself that the relationship isn’t actually over.
Anger and Blame
After the initial shock, denial, and bargaining wear off, you might start to feel anger and blame — towards them and maybe even yourself.
You’re angry with them for not treating you with respect or for ending the relationship out of the blue. You resent them, even. You’re angry at yourself for ignoring the red flags or for accepting the bare minimum or for staying in the relationship for as long as you did. Psychologist Suzanne Lachmann, Psy.D. says, “When you’re angry at yourself or even at your ex for the demise of your relationship, that’s you trying to make sense of what happened by determining whose “fault” it is, who to blame.” Anger hides the underlying feelings of hurt, disappointment, and grief.
Sadness and Grief
When the anger starts to crumble away, you will then start to see and feel the sadness. The grief. The mourning. The loneliness. This is when the heartache really burdens you.
You’re grieving the relationship and the future you had envisioned together. You’re mourning the life you shared with someone who you cared deeply for. You’re sad the relationship is over and that nothing can change or go back to the way it used to be. You’re also grieving the person you once were in that relationship.
The grief comes and goes in waves. Don’t allow yourself to drown it — just ride it out until it calms.
Acceptance and Reflection
Over time, you’ll start to accept the reality of the breakup. The rose-colored glasses will come off and you’ll start to reflect on the positives and negatives of the relationship.
You’ll feel gratitude for the joy your partner brought you and you might even have fond memories. You’ll recognize your mistakes and how you can learn and grow from them. You’ll accept that the breakup was necessary because they weren’t the person you thought they were or your needs weren’t being met or you both wanted to do life differently. You’ll realize how you deserved so much more and you’ll feel lighter in knowing that you’re no longer settling for someone who isn’t giving you what you want or need.
Time heals. Let it run its course.
Healing and Growth
This is one of the most beautiful, but also the most gut-wrenching stages of a breakup. Healing is hard. Healing is about opening old wounds and uprooting things you worked so hard to bury.
Healing is about you. It’s about taking the time to look at yourself.
This stage is about self-care, self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, self-worth, and self-love. You’ll engage in activities that bring you joy, rebuild your life without them, and explore opportunities that bring you a strong sense of self. This is the time for you, for growth, and for peace.
During this time, you’ll start to notice how you think of them less frequently, you’re not as sad as you used to be, you’re starting to open up to new possibilities of dating, and you’re envisioning a life and a future without them.
Remember: healing isn’t linear. The healing-from-a-breakup process is not the same for everyone and you might find that you go back and forth between some of them. Just be sure to give yourself the time and space to move through the motions and heal at your own pace.