Everyone deals with breakups differently, but it can be helpful to know what emotions are likely to arise. Given the universality of this experience, the seven stages of grief can also be applied to breakups. Learning about these stages might help you feel less alone, build self-awareness, and even expedite the process of moving on.
7 stages of grieving a breakup
The seven stages of grief after a breakup are not always linear as they may overlap and shift in order. One stage might appear, disappear, and then appear again when you least expect it. These stages might not be a part of your specific experience at all. No matter what you’re going through, however, know that you aren’t alone as breakups are among the most common human experiences.
1. Searching for Answers
The first stage of a breakup is consumed by attempts to make sense of the confusion — to find answers. This can be especially true if you feel blindsided by the split, or the breakup was not mutual and you’re feeling especially rejected. During this period, it’s common to look back and scrutinize your actions, think about external factors that might have contributed to your breakup, or turn to online resources to explain your partner’s behavior. You might wonder: Where did I go wrong? Did I ask for too much? What led to the breaking point? It’s tempting to play detective, but the experience can be circular and mentally exhausting.
During the denial phase, you might think about you and your partner reconciling, or try to find excuses for why your partner can no longer be with you. Excuses might look like the following: They’re just not ready to be in a relationship. They’ll come back once they see how much they miss me. They just need time to figure things out. The denial phase revolves around avoidance — a coping mechanism to resist the process of accepting the finality of the relationship.
During the bargaining stage, you might brainstorm ways to repair the relationship and even shift the blame of the breakup onto yourself. It was unreasonable for me to ask for XYZ, I’ll just be less needy. I shouldn’t have done XYZ, I know I can be a better partner. I can be whoever my partner needs me to be. You’ll right what you perceive to be wrong — you’ll do anything to have your partner back. You might even ask to be friends, or impulsively make commitments that you can’t keep. During this phase, it’s common to feel sudden clarity — though it’s often a false sense of clarity given the emotions tied to the grief — and reach out to your partner, expressing your wrongdoings, apologizing, and figuring out how to make things right.
A relapse — which includes emotional and/or physical intimacy with your partner — occurs once you and your partner speak on the phone and/or meet up post-breakup. Maybe you write them a letter, or send a drunk text asking to talk. This stage is an attempt to relieve the pain of relationship withdrawal. However, the relief is often temporary. After you see your partner, you may be left missing them even more than before. A relapse can provoke feelings of confusion, regret, hurt, and sadness, and it can lead to the next breakup stage: anger.
Anger looks very different for each person. It may be as overt as raising a clenched fist and yelling in rage, or it may be as simple as increased heart rate. This stage often involves processing the hurtful actions of your partner. You might feel angry that your partner broke up with you out of nowhere, or that they deceived you in some way. Perhaps the anger is rooted in a combination of behaviors that led to the breakup. Anger following a breakup can also be rooted in many other feelings, including resentment, regret, and jealousy.
Once the anger subsides, you may find yourself overcome with nostalgia, sadness, and emptiness. All of these emotions are not only normal, but healthy. After all, you lost someone important to you. During this stage, you might begin to process the grief of saying goodbye to a loved one — along with the future plans you had with your partner, your partner’s friends and family, and whatever else the relationship brought you. Sadness can feel debilitating, often evoking a sense of hopelessness. While friends and family can support you during this time, you might consider seeing a mental health professional for further help. You can also explore our breakup survival kit.
Acceptance is the light at the end of the tunnel — the final stage following a breakup. After you’ve had more distance from the relationship, you can come to terms with the fact that your partner is no longer yours. You might still feel sadness and anger, but the emotions no longer hold you back in the way they previously did. During this time, you might consider dating again, or participating in activities and hobbies that you initially avoided. However you choose to move forward, acceptance can help you gain perspective and return to your old self.
The bottom line
There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to healing from a breakup, the process isn’t linear, and you might jump between stages, stay in one stage for longer than anticipated, or skip some stages. However your emotional recovery looks, it’s important to remember that each stage will pass. If you’d like to learn more about navigating breakups, check out our tips on how to get over a breakup.