The Stages of a Breakup and How to Get Through Them
By Sophia Jennings
Ending a relationship can feel incredibly disorienting. You invested time and energy into another person, and it didn’t work out. As you come to terms with what happened, you might feel a mix of shock, anger, and disbelief. To help ease the anxiety and uncertainty, we asked experts to define the five common stages of a breakup—and how we can use it as a chance to grow.
Stage 1: Confusion
Right after a breakup, it’s normal to feel confused about what happened and whether or not you made the right decision. You might find yourself overwhelmed with memories of both the positive and negative aspects of the relationship. This is healthy, according to sex and relationship therapist Shadeen Francis. “We need to allow ourselves to reflect on both the good and the bad in order to feel ready to move forward,” she says
Especially if you’re the one who was broken up with, it’s normal to have a lot of questions. Francis suggests that instead of focusing on questions you have for your ex, focus on what you can ask yourself: What did and didn’t you like about the relationship? What do you need to be fulfilled in a partnership? What do you want to take away from the relationship? By taking the time to really think about these questions, you can understand more of who you are and what makes you happy in a partnership.
Stage 2: Numbness and denial
After the intense feelings of a breakup, you might feel emotionally exhausted, numb, or in denial. During this period, relationship coach Jillian Turecki recommends you take space for yourself and avoid further discussions with your ex. “If there are no children involved, I advise having no contact for a while,” she says. “It helps tremendously.”
While you stop any contact with your former partner, it’s important to notice if you’re shutting down any emotions. It’s understandable to want to avoid uncomfortable feelings, but, says Francis, “trying to pretend that you don’t feel angry or sad or disappointed will only prolong the time you need to heal from the hurt.” If you’re struggling to connect with your feelings, you may want to try light exercise, meditation, or seeing a therapist.
Stage 3: Longing
Whether you initiated the break-up or were broken up with, it’s normal to find yourself longing for your former partner. For many, getting back together is a healthy move after some time apart. Reuniting with fresh eyes and the energy to work on your issues together can lead to a happier chapter together. But in order for that to happen, you’ll need to address the reasons you broke up in the first place. If you’re thinking about getting back together with an ex, sex educator and trauma specialist Jimanekia Eborn suggests asking yourself, “what is bringing you back to this person? Is it for you? Is it for them? Or is it for both of you?” If the answer isn’t “for both of you,” it might be best to reconsider returning.
Stage 4: Rebounding
If you decide not to get back with your ex, you might find yourself looking for new, more casual forms of connection. For many, rebounds are a healthy way to learn more about what you want. At the same time, they can distract us from the reflection and inner work we need to do. Therapist Jordan Green explains that this desire for distraction is heightened by any feelings of rejection from your ex-partner. “It’s normal to seek approval and attention to validate our worth and boost our self-esteem,” she says. “Rebounds help us to avoid the pain of a break-up by seeking the high of a new exciting relationship.”
But if you want to avoid distracting yourself through rebounding, Green suggests staying busy by re-focusing your energy on yourself. Switch up your daily routine, learn a new hobby, and connect with your friends during this time. If you fill your time creating new memories with new activities and friends, you can experience the same feeling of moving on from your ex and starting a new chapter.
Stage 5: Looking forward
Finally, it’s time to move forward. It’s important to remember that grief comes in waves, so while you may feel ready to move on one day, you might feel sad another. That doesn’t mean that your healing has regressed—it just means that a grief wave has hit that day, and that’s okay. “We can be both sad about a breakup and be hopeful about the future,” says Francis. Remember that the grief becomes less frequent and less intense as time goes on.
Whether you choose to rebound, reconnect, or never speak to your ex again, make sure to practice self-compassion throughout your break up journey. Breakups are never easy, but by knowing what to expect, you can begin each new chapter in stride. Take as much time as you need, and when you feel ready to date again, Bumble will be here for you.