Breakups are painful and the end of a relationship is like a death. Major life shifts often leave us feeling out of control and grappling with ways to feel powerful as we redefine our lives. While a relationship may conclude on good or bad terms, every individual will reach closure in their own way.
These stages of a breakup may occur in various orders and some phases may be easier to move through than others. Grieving stages can even happen in anticipation of the break-up as well. You may undergo one or more phases more than once — even years later if you find a piece of your experience needs to be re-visited. Awareness and compassion are key to engaging in and processing each phase for what you need.The 5 Stages of Grief, by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, provide a framework that can help you through the process.
- Denial: When faced with a crushing emotional blow, it is common to emotionally distance from a situation. This may look like keeping busy or simply avoiding sensitive discussions preceding your break-up. To many, this seems unhealthy from the outside and it could be if it is established as a pattern. But it is okay to acknowledge your need to take an emotional rest from a rough situation so that you can come back to it with a little more energy and perspective.
- Anger: Loss is a layered experience and when we uncover sadness, we may find feelings of guilt or shame there, too. Anger is a way of expressing a sense of violation. In a powerless situation, anger can make us feel powerful. These feelings, too, are valid and have their space. Let yourself get upset! Some productive ways of expressing anger are to use a punching bag, write out your feelings, or discuss them with a close friend who clearly understands that the conversation is simply a space for expressing where you are at in the moment.
- Bargaining: “What-ifs” are the building blocks of the bargaining phase. Often you will find yourself making deals with yourself to “always” or “never” do something in future relationships — maybe you tell yourself you are done with them altogether. Negotiating a new normal is important when you go through a loss. While it is, again, a normal piece of the break-up puzzle, keep in mind that you are grieving. Extreme decisions, especially with long-term consequences are not ideal when you are feeling unstable. However, don’t write them off! This may become a creative space for you to realize new areas to grow and expand. Log those little promises away for reassessment later.
- Depression: And now we’ve reached sadness. This is the place that the previous stages often work so hard to avoid because it is so very painful. At this point, you may experience a lack of concentration, motivation, sleep, and appetite. Your body physically manifests your emotional experience. Pain is an inevitable component of loss. You don’t have to purchase property and put down roots in pain, but being present and validating your experience will help you own the closure to your relationship.
- Acceptance: This is the calm after the storm. While you are probably not yet returning to a sense of thriving, acceptance means you are making peace with your circumstance and can breathe into the fact that your pain did not break you. You may find this to be another stage of withdrawal but it is different than denial. The key to acceptance is staying present in the moment and cued up for growth.
These stages of a breakup may occur in various orders and some phases may be easier to move through than others. Grieving stages can even happen in anticipation of the break-up as well. You may undergo one or more phases more than once — even years later if you find a piece of your experience needs to be re-visited. Awareness and compassion are key to engaging in and processing each phase for what you need.
Some break-ups are more challenging to process than others. The conclusion in a relationship can also provide momentum to expand other areas of your life. Estes Therapy is here to compassionately encourage your growth. Call to schedule an appointment with one of our incredible therapists today!
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Five Stages of Grief with a Breakup:
About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653