Break-Up Stages of Grief
LOVE HURTS...BREAK-UPS HURT MORE
The end of a relationship is a brutal experience. It signifies the end of a partnership, a family, dreams, goals & aspirations that a couple shared with each other about the future. A lot of times, before the actual demise of a relationship, you know that the relationship is failing and the chances of it surviving are bleak. However, no matter how far in advance you begin to prepare for the impending break-up, it does not dull the pain that comes with it. The post break-up period is similar to being on a roller-coaster of emotions. To make matters worse, emotions don’t show up in moderation after a break-up. It is an overwhelming flood of emotions that makes it very difficult for people to keep their head above the water. You feel like you are swimming against the stream and the harder you try to stay afloat, the more you feel that you are going to drown.
In my practice as a relationship counselor at The Tri-Valley Center for Relationship Therapy, I work with people needing support after a break-up and most of them go through the various stages of the bereavement process, similar to what people go through after the passing of a loved one.
Post breakup stages of bereavement
You know that the relationship is over. You and your partner are no longer living together, you both have severed all the ties that kept you together such as joint finances, joint residence and your friends & family are aware that you both are no longer a couple. Despite the obvious and concrete severance of the relationship, you refuse to accept reality. You cling on to hope like it is the last life vest for someone that does not know how to swim. This is the stage where you are unable to establish clear boundaries with your ex around contact. This is when you send those late night text messages or find unimportant reasons to call your ex. This is the “It can’t happen to me. It’s not over” stage.
Once reality starts to set in that the relationship is indeed over and the love of your life is now your ex-partner, anger appears. The anger might be directed at your ex, especially if their actions resulted in the break-up, such as infidelity or abuse. You may feel angry at the situation or at the fact that it happened to you. Thoughts such as “Why me?” or “How could my partner do this to me?” are very common. This is the stage when you may send hateful emails to your ex or leave angry voicemails letting them know that they wronged you and how they will not get away with it. You begin to let your friends & family know about how your ex treated you poorly & you look for validation that you were not treated with respect.
This stage is intertwined with the denial stage. You begin to brainstorm ideas & begin to entertain fantasies about what you can do to revive the relationship and reconcile with your ex. This is when you start to use negotiation such as “Let’s do couples therapy”, emotional blackmail such as “How can you hurt your family like this,” pleading, threats, to convince your ex to return to you. Coaxing friends & family to intervene or convince your ex about what they are missing out on is pretty common. Depending on your spirituality, you may also negotiate with the universe that you will strive to be a better partner if your ex came back to you.
Once you realize that your efforts to revive the relationship or convince your ex to return to you are in vain, depression sets in. You might feel tired all the time, have low energy, zero motivation for work, exercise or pleasure. Feelings of hopelessness, sadness along with bouts of crying come flooding in and before you know it, you can’t keep your head above water. You lose interest in activities that used to bring you joy and you begin to isolate yourself from your friends & family. Thoughts about how your future is bleak and your life is meaningless without your ex-partner dominate your thinking. This is the most debilitating time after a break-up or divorce.
This is where you want to be after a break-up but it doesn’t come to you soon enough. It is when you fully accept that the relationship did end, your ex did leave, or perhaps they moved on to another partner & relationship. It is the realization that despite the relationship being over, you will be OK, that life does hold promise for you & there is so much to look forward to in the future. Some sadness might still linger but you begin to dream about what the future holds for you and start enjoying the excitement of the possibility that there might be someone around the corner waiting to know you & love you the way you deserve to be loved!
In my experience, not everyone goes through these stages in a linear fashion or at the same pace. Most people go back & forth between the various stages and at times, get stuck in denial, depression, anger or bargaining stage. However, with the help of counseling, you can navigate these stages with a bit more ease because you have the support of your therapist and you are not alone when the flood of emotions overwhelm you. It is also important to remember that you cannot rush through these stages to get to acceptance. By not fully acknowledging all of your feelings & working through each one of them, you run the risk of having them reappear in the future, perhaps with a different partner or relationship.
Written by: Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., L.P.C.C. specializing in sex therapy, couples therapy & marriage counseling, premarital counseling, individual relationship therapy & LGBTQQI couples counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. in the East Bay, in Dublin & Oakland.
If you are going through a break-up or divorce or perhaps dealing with the post break-up emotional roller coaster, please know that you don’t have to go through it alone. Divorce/uncoupling counseling at Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. can support you & guide you as you make sense of the overwhelmingly confusing experience.
Call 925-400-3541 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a free 30 minute phone consult or fill out the contact form and you will be contacted within 12-24 hours.