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The 7 Stages of a Breakup (and Tips for Moving On)

Millennial Magazine - stages of a breakup

As much as we might wish otherwise, relationships sometimes come to an end. Whether you decided to end it, your partner did, or it was mutual, breakups are tough on everyone. Recovering and moving on takes time, and depending on the seriousness of your relationship, that could take a while.

While the actual experience varies from person to person, the stages of a breakup follow a fairly predictable set of stages. Knowing what to expect during the stages of a breakup and how to navigate them will help you process, grow, and move on.

Breaking Up vs. Being Broken Up With

Being broken up with — especially if you did not see it coming — generally takes more time and effort to move on from. Whether you were the one to end it or not, being gentle with yourself and giving yourself time and patience are essentials as you move through the states of a breakup. It’s important to have a strong support system in place to help you get through such a tough time.

How Long Does it Take to Move On?

Therapists everywhere wish they could instantly answer this question. But the truth is that the time needed to move on varies from person to person. The journey may not be linear, either. Some people may progress from one stage to the next in numeric order while others may bounce back to denial, then skip, relapse, and head right to anger.

Here are the most common stages of a breakup:

Stage 1: Questioning

At this stage, you may find yourself questioning both the breakup itself and the relationship as a whole. (It’s especially relevant for the partner who was broken up with.) You might ask yourself questions such as:

  • “Why is this happening to me?”
  • “Why didn’t I see this coming?”
  • “Why did they agree to spend the holidays with my family if they were planning on leaving me?”

Looking for answers, explanations and closure are very normal impulses. Speaking to a trusted friend or journaling your thoughts can help you sort through these questions.

Stage 2: Denial

The denial state of the breakup can follow the questioning phase, or the two can happen simultaneously. When all of your questioning reveals behavior that seems to contradict the decision to break up, you may believe the breakup was a mistake. Denial can look like:

  • Trying to convince yourself or your partner that the relationship should not end
  • Pointing to previous moments in the relationship as evidence that the break up is a mistake
  • Seeking confirmation from friends and family that the breakup shouldn’t have happened

Although you might still be in shock, trying to apply logic to an emotional situation is not productive. Instead, talking to a supportive friend or a therapist is a healthy way to work through these thought patterns. Going for a walk or enjoying another kind of movement like yoga can help relieve tension and refocus the mind.

Stage 3: Bargaining

After questioning and reviewing the relationship, it is very common for people to find themselves in the third stage of breakups: bargaining. If you can avoid this stage you are less likely to relapse and get back with your partner (and thus, move on quicker).

This stage is incredibly tempting, especially if the breakup was a shock to you and you still have strong feelings for your ex. At this stage, it’s common for people to reach out to an ex and ask things like:

  • What can I do differently?
  • If I change X, will you come back?
  • Can we just give it one more try?

The real danger of this stage is that in your desperation to rekindle the relationship, you may be willing to put up with things or offer compromises that you are not really comfortable with or aren’t healthy for you. Until the impulse to bargain has passed, it is best to avoid reaching out to an ex.

Stage 4: Relapse

Relapsing back into a relationship with the person you broke up with is not inevitable, but it is common enough that it is considered a stage in the breakup process.

If you and your partner rekindle your relationship and it does not work out, you may cycle back through the earlier states of the breakup process before moving on. The urge to reunite is totally understandable, but the toxic pattern of getting back together and splitting up again is not healthy or helpful.

Stage 5: Anger

While you may feel angry at any point after a breakup, it often is realized with clarity once you have moved through the stages of questioning, denial, and bargaining.

Anger can look very different depending on the specific conditions of the relationship. Was there infidelity or was your partner dishonest? Did the relationship come out of left field and catch you completely off-guard? Did your partner refuse to work on the relationship? Or do you feel anger at yourself for not investing more energy into or time in the relationship?

Anger often gets a bad rap, but psychologists agree that it is an important and productive emotion. It is designed to promote our survival and discharging feelings of anger can help you feel a greater sense of calm and control. If you reach the anger stage in the breakup process, it is important to find healthy ways to discharge your angry feelings.

Stage 6: Acceptance

Reaching the point of acceptance is a true milestone in the breakup process. Understanding that the relationship is indeed over may lead to more positive feelings, including coming to realize that the relationship wasn’t the right one for you.

That said, a person can still bounce back to previous stages of the breakup process even after experiencing a sense of acceptance. If you’ve reached this phase, it’s a good time to make goals, try a new hobby, start a new exercise routine, or reconnect with friends. Investing in yourself and your own joy helps strengthen the sense of acceptance that the relationship is over and a new chapter is starting.

Stage 7: Hope

Reaching acceptance is a real turning point, but the final stage of breaking up is feeling a sense of hope for the future. This is the point where you can truly move on. When you’re able to disengage from your former partner and any expectation that you will get back together, you can focus on yourself, your future and your own self-worth.

The stages of a breakup, like life itself, is not a linear process. You may find yourself bouncing back and forth through stages before finally reaching an abiding sense of acceptance and hope. Through every phase, remember to practice self-care, talk to a therapist if needed, and remind yourself that the best is yet to come.

What do you think?

Written by Brooke Chaplan

Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most of her time hiking, biking, and gardening. For more information, contact Brooke via Facebook at facebook.com/brooke.chaplan or Twitter @BrookeChaplan

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