Have you ever been healing from a breakup and wondered if and when you will ever feel normal again? If you answered “yes” you are not alone – and you’re not imagining the pain. In fact, the stages of grief in a breakup are real and they’re hard. 

Sometimes, when you’re getting over a breakup, it feels like a part of you has died inside. That’s because, in a way, a part of you has died. It’s the part of you that counted on your partner and maybe even had plans for the future. 

When you lose a significant relationship, you grieve that loss just like you would if someone had actually died.

One of the world’s greatest experts on grieving was a psychiatrist named Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D. She studied death and dying and came up with a model that explains the grieving process. 

In her model of the stages of grief, Kubler-Ross breaks down grieving into five stages. These stages of grief are probably the best understanding that healers have of the grieving process.

But dealing with a loved one’s death isn’t the only healing process that can follow the stages of grieving. Breakups, too, can be experienced in these five stages. Understanding the grieving process can help you with healing from a breakup.

What is Breakup Grief?

Breakup grief is exactly what it sounds like: the deep pain and sense of loss you can feel after a breakup with a significant other. This breakup grief can include a wide range of emotions, from sadness and anger to loneliness, confusion and guilt.

When you’re grieving a relationship, you’re not only mourning the loss of your partner but also the hopes, dreams and future plans you had with that partner. It’s no surprise that mourning a breakup can feel so intense!

People dealing with a breakup may experience different stages of grief, much like after a loved one dies. It’s also common to experience emotional and even physical symptoms of grief.

Emotional Symptoms of Grief After a Breakup

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feelings of rejection, jealousy or anger
  • Less self-esteem
  • Mood swings
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Forgetfulness

Physical Symptoms of Breakup Grief

  • Shakiness
  • Nausea
  • Muscle tension
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain
Understanding the stages of grief in a relationship - healing from a breakup

Are There Grief Stages of a Breakup?

Research the stages of grief after a breakup and you’ll get a lot of conflicting information. Some experts talk about the 5 stages of grief after breakup. Others talk about 7 different stages. Still, others say there are no real stages at all.

So, what should you believe? In my years of working as an online couple and individual therapist, I’ve helped hundreds of clients navigate relationship challenges and even breakups. And I’ve seen that breakup grief is very real.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that the actual stages of grief in a breakup are not set in stone. It’s common to begin to move through the stages of grief only to fall back to an earlier stage. It’s also common to experience these stages out of order.

Don’t get discouraged if your emotions after a breakup don’t match up with the grief experiences below. Instead, use the information to better understand your feelings and support yourself through the process of grieving.

5 Stages of Grief in a Breakup

The five stages of grief in a breakup are the same as they are when healing from the death of a loved one. And they can often feel just as painful.

The five stages are as follows:

Denial

Denial is the first of the stages of grief in a breakup. In this stage, you don’t feel much besides numb. Denial, which is sometimes called shock, is an important stage because it allows you to ease into your grief. When you are in denial, you usually haven’t fully understood what has happened and you aren’t yet feeling any of the difficult feelings that you will soon be facing. 

It might sound like staying in denial would be better than going through your grieving process, but it isn’t because if you get stuck in denial, you can’t focus on healing from a breakup.

Anger

When you are experiencing anger as one of the stages of grief in a breakup, you feel, well, angry. You may be angry at your ex, angry at yourself, angry at whomever you blame for breaking the two of you up, or you may even be angry at God. However your anger shows up, know that it is important for you to feel it. 

Note: I said “feel it,” not “act on it.” That’s a very important distinction! Acting on your anger can cause you more problems for your future and usually isn’t helpful for getting over a breakup. But allowing yourself to feel your anger is an essential step to healing. Find healthy outlets to express your anger such as taking a boxing class, going for a run, journaling about your feelings then tearing up the paper, or talking to a therapist.

Bargaining

In the bargaining stage of grief in a breakup, you want to go back to the past and fix or change what has happened. You might promise to never yell again if only you could have the relationship back as it was. Or you might wish your partner would just change his/her mind and come running back to you. In this stage you might also feel guilt and regret and wish that hindsight wasn’t 20/20.

Depression

After you realize that bargaining didn’t work, you go into the depression phase – one of the hardest stages of grief in a breakup. This is different from Clinical Depression because what you feel in this stage is a normal reaction to the loss of a relationship. You might feel sad or lost or just not yourself. You might have difficulty eating, sleeping, or enjoying activities in this stage. You’ll likely spend a lot of time wondering how to get over a breakup, and wondering when you’ll feel normal again.

Even though it feels like this stage will last forever, know that it won’t. In fact, none of the stages of grief in a breakup last forever. And, they aren’t linear either. Your grief will likely jump around from stage to stage before finally settling into the final stage.

Acceptance

In the acceptance stage of grief in a breakup, you begin to accept that things have changed and that the relationship you once enjoyed is not part of your life anymore. While you may not feel happy about this change, you can accept that it is true and learn to focus on other positive aspects of your life. This is also a great time to take a look at yourself and any areas for personal growth. Maybe you can finally learn French or take up gardening. Or perhaps you could learn what it’s like to date yourself for a while and just focus on you.

Understanding the stages of grief in a relationship - healing from a breakup

How to Navigate Grief After a Breakup

If you’re deep in these stages of breakup grief, it can be hard to see your way out of them. But there are some things you can do to help.

Feel Your Feelings

The pain, loss and loneliness you may experience have a breakup are hard, but it’s important to let yourself really feel those feelings. Otherwise, it can be hard to truly move on and heal. Don’t try to push away and suppress any emotions that come up. Instead, allow yourself to sit with them and take time to process them.

Adjust Your Life

One of the hardest parts about a breakup isn’t just the loss of a romantic relationship, but the total disruption it can have on your entire life. Your friend groups may be affected and your daily routines that once involved your partner suddenly have to shift. Embrace this change by focusing on creating new routines and habits that you really enjoy. Maybe your partner won’t be there to make you breakfast every morning anymore, but you can create a new morning tradition of enjoying a pastry from your favorite bakery.

Invest In Other Relationships

Remember: the loss of your relationship does not mean you are alone – even if it feels that way! Take the opportunity to invest in your relationships with family, friends and even coworkers. Say yes to invites you may have turned down before and focus on getting quality time with people you love.

The 6th Stage: Moving on From The Stages of Grief in a Breakup

After a breakup is a great time to start therapy or go on a retreat. Though getting over a breakup is hard as hell, it can also be the beginning of a breakthrough for those that choose to do the inner work and reflection. 

Are there areas you could work on to be a better partner? Are there areas in which you could grow to become the type of person you want to attract? 

Would working on how you communicate concerns to your partner help you uncover red flags sooner than you have in the past so you don’t waste time with partners that are not a good fit? Do you need to explore what a healthy relationship really looks like?

Even after you have gone through the stages of grief in a relationship, reached acceptance and done the inner work, know that anniversaries, birthdays, or other important events may bring up old feelings. Or feelings may just show up out of the blue for no reason. Grief is one heck of a roller coaster =(

FAQs About Breakup Grief

How long do the stages of grief after a breakup last?

Unfortunately, there’t no set timeline for the stages of grief after a breakup. It might be nice if there were! It could be easier to get through the tough times if we knew, for example, that we’d be through all the stages within two months.

But everyone’s journey through the grieving process is unique. Some may find themselves moving forward relatively quickly, while others take more time to navigate their emotions. Factors like the duration and nature of the relationship, personal coping mechanisms, and available support systems all play a role.

How do you survive a breakup when you are still in love?

Navigating a breakup when you’re still in love is undeniably tough. It’s like your heart and mind are in this constant tug-of-war. But there are ways to get through it.

First off, give yourself permission to feel your emotions. It’s okay to be sad, angry, confused, or even hopeful for a while. Just let those feelings wash over you without judgment.

Next, lean on your support system. Talk to friends or family who can lend a listening ear and offer comfort. Sometimes, just knowing you’re not alone in this can make a world of difference.

Consider setting boundaries, too. If staying in touch with your ex is making it harder for you to heal, it might be best to take some space for a while. It’s not about shutting them out completely, but rather giving yourself the time and space you need to process everything.

Self-care is crucial during this time. Make sure you’re taking care of yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally. Engage in activities that bring you joy and help you feel grounded.

And remember, healing takes time. Be patient with yourself and trust that, with each passing day, it’ll get a little easier. Eventually, you’ll find your way through this, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.

Breakup

What is the hardest time after a breakup?

The hardest time after a breakup can vary from person to person, but there are a few common phases that tend to be particularly challenging.

The very beginning of a breakup is often the hardest part. There’s often a period of shock and disbelief. It’s like the reality of the breakup hasn’t fully sunk in yet, and you’re grappling with this sense of loss and confusion.

Then comes the wave of emotions. This is when all those feelings you’ve been trying to hold back come flooding in – sadness, anger, loneliness, you name it. It can feel like an emotional rollercoaster, and sometimes it’s hard to see a way out.

But perhaps the hardest part of all is the uncertainty about the future. You’re not sure how you’re going to move on, or if you’ll ever find love again. It’s a time of doubt and insecurity, and it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Just take it one day at a time, and remember that you’re stronger than you think.

What not to do when healing from a breakup?

When it comes to healing from a breakup, there are a few things to avoid. 

Most importantly, try not to suppress your emotions or numb yourself to the pain. It’s tempting to distract yourself with activities or substances to avoid feeling the hurt, but ultimately, this can prolong the healing process. Allow yourself to feel your emotions fully, even if it’s uncomfortable at times. This is an important part of the healing journey.

Secondly, avoid fixating on your ex or clinging to the past. It’s natural to reminisce about the good times or wonder what could have been, but dwelling on these thoughts can prevent you from moving forward. 

Instead, focus on the present moment and invest in activities and relationships that nourish your growth and well-being. Give yourself the space to grieve the loss, but also recognize that your future holds endless possibilities beyond the confines of the past relationship.

How Therapy Can Help with Breakup Grief

Though the stages of getting over a breakup give an outline of what you may feel after the loss of a relationship, there is definitely a wide range of possible reactions to losing someone. And figuring out how to get over a broken heart is different for everyone.

Whatever you are feeling, know that it is okay and it eventually will pass. And if you need additional support to heal from a breakup, that’s ok! 

Talking with a therapist can help. An individual therapist can help you navigate your emotions while going through the stages of grief, help you unpack the issues in your past relationship and also help you make sure that you are caring for yourself. A therapist can also help you work through any unhealthy relationship patterns you might experience with a partner, so you can enter any new relationships healed and more ready for partnership.

If you need help getting through the hard times or are ready to do that inner work, contact us to set up a free 30-minute consultation.