A breakup can leave you feeling helpless and alone. Let’s break down the process of emotional responses to give you a chance at finding hope, understanding and a chance at new love.
Relationships are tough. Anyone that tells you otherwise has been fooling you. Any marriage or couple’s relationship counselor will tell you, true relationships take a lot of hard work and perseverance. Even a bad relationship can often seemingly fill the whole in our hearts, despite the pain and suffering they can cause. People are complicated, and we want, need and desire personal relationships and the sense of togetherness that goes with them.
At certain points in a relationship the inevitable truth becomes clear: It’s over. You may have progressed from “Please don’t leave!” to “Finally, at last it’s over!”, but that does not mean there won’t be emotional consequences and baggage to unpack and deal with. The last text message comes in. The last box is picked up from their place. You finally drop them from your Facebook friends list, the reckoning and withdrawal finally come.
It can be an exhausting ordeal. Leaving you with a sense of emptiness that carves a hole in your heart. Without guidance, you may never fill that hole and move through the stages of grief onto a new, better and loving life path.
Even when a breakup is obvious for months or years, even needed and healthy for you, it does not make the impact any less dizzying or hurtful. The fear of being alone. The dread about your now uncertain future. The overwhelming sense that something, anything could have fixed your problem all jumble together.
Turning your brain into a cluster of raw, disturbing emotions. The stages can occur all at once, in order, or come and go without understanding of the process of letting go. Here they are in the common order they occur:
The search for knowledge has always driven the rational parts of our brain, but love, relationships and commitment can often defy the rational. You seek understanding about who, what, where, how and what could have been done to fix the situation. But relationships often are not rational, and your drive to understand may make you act in even more irrational ways.
Stages of Grief: Wanting and Needing Answers
Each text, touch, slight, communication or argument is dissected, studied and rethought with the hope you can unlock the secret and fix the unmendable. This leads to desperate arguments with friends, family and coworkers where you explain what happened and they just don’t get it. They don’t see the situation the same way you do. If you could convince them, maybe you could convince your ex as well, and easily fix what took months or years to sever. You strive for information, looking for the key to your current torment and loneliness.
Stages of Grief: Denial
You’ve always given your friends and family the best advice on relationships. You get along with everyone! There is no way that you failed in a relationship, when you have so much to offer the world. You displace what you want to happen against the blow to your ego.
The process is to hurtful, to embarrassing and future-shattering to face right now. In doing so, you turn to a postponement of the inevitable and delay, delay, delay. Not only are you stopping the breakup with your ex, you are stopping the confusion in your head. The momentary clarity and peace is short-lived and worsens the feelings as you hope to save the relationship.
Stages of Grief: Bargaining
Something must be done, this is unacceptable. You’ll talk to your ex, you’ll make everything better, or maybe a close friend of theirs can talk some sense into them. Someone, somewhere, can do something to stop this problem and that person is you because the thought of being alone again makes this option the most appealing. You stand at the precipice of nothingness and gaze into it, there is nothing for you there, so you step back and cling to any other possibility.
You make unkeepable, unrealistic promises to yourself and shoulder the responsibility of the weight of the world on yourself. Even though both people contributed to each argument, unresolved or disputed issue, now you will tidy things up with no help or contribution. Deep inside though, you know two people got to this point and one person cannot stop it.
Stages of Grief: Relapse
The mental and physical suffering is real and unbearable, so you could convince your ex to give it “One more try!” (And probably not for the first time). They could relent under the same grieving process and give in. This tiny, monetary relief from your emotional distress and sense of hope and happiness are felt. This hope and happiness is short-lived because it does not come from the relationship, instead it thrives because of the cessation of uncertainty in your own brain.
It will not, and does not last, especially as you have decided to carry all responsibility during the bargaining phase. Sadly, the end outcome will probably be the same as all the other times of breaking up and reconciliation. You could repeat this process multiple times before finally moving on, stuck in a loop.
Stages of Grief: Anger
Anger, true seething and relentless anger may not come to you initially. This feeling may seem far off from the fatigue, confusion and hurt that came initially. Fear of the unknown is a powerful feeling and that dread may have staved off the this potentially empowering emotion. Empowering, because it may remind you that everything was not your fault. That you also do not bear the entirety of the blame.
In fact, it may be a sign that you were mistreated or maybe, just maybe, you deserve all that you want in a relationship. Now your temperament based on family history, personal relationship history, and other facets of what happened may point that anger in any number of directions to include your ex, situations, another person or even yourself.
That anger is now within your control and may provide a way to channel away from the paralyzing dread that drove you over and over again into a failing relationship. Deep inside you, a shift is occurring. It decides how you now see the relationship and your ex. This can provide a reason to make a positive shift and realignment in your life if you decide to let it happen.
Stages of Grief: Initial Acceptance
The beginning of the end and the start of a fresh beginning can happen here. You have finally stopped contact, and the relationship is truly over. Whether the end of the relationship was your choices, or the ex, you have surrendered the hope of reigniting a relationship. As you make new boundaries, exert more control over your life and stop the constant emotional roller coaster you realize that you alone could never maintain the relationship. This could feel like a surrender, but instead it is a victory of self-control and self-realization.
At some point, not letting go was not about the other person, or the relationship, instead it was the not wanting to destroy the possibility of happiness and hope for the future. As you accept your new reality moving along your path, so to do new paths of peace, love and tranquility. Moving away from the belief that one person could have sustained any relationship and move away from the belief that more time, effort and energy could have fixed things.
Stages of Grief: A New Hope
There is hope that you are not responsible for everything your ex did, said or thought. You believe you can exist without your ex, and that you can succeed. This is a new opportunity that can be scary at first but has always existed, waiting for us to take it.
A breakup with an ex can dismantle years of effort and work, so the grief is real and understood. Your feelings are not being discounted so do not feel bad for having been through the process before or maybe again and again. The process of grief could be brief, only a few minutes, depending on the emotional stock you feel in another person or relationships in general.
For others, that heavy weight could last years, or end and come back without warning. When this happens, you can feel isolated and cut off from others. With any emotional trauma, there is a recovery process. Recognizing that within the chaos, there is a reason you feel this way and it is normal. Grieving is part of what makes us human and understand in that moment you are not alone when you feel like you are staring into the abyss. Understanding and accepting the process can be healthy, a way to accept the new beginnings that are coming.