8 Stages Of A Breakup And How To Navigate Them
×
Recovery Cheat Sheet
Free Cheat Sheet: Discover Over 40 Powerful Ways Of Mending That Broken Heart

In the last five years I've coached over 1000 people through their breakups. Here are 40+ short, simple, and actionable solutions that worked exceedingly well for most of them — neatly packaged in a sexy one-page cheat sheet.

Get The Free Cheat Sheet

8 Stages Of A Breakup And How To Navigate Them

By Max Jancar | Published: January 17, 2024 | 18 Minute Read | Healing

Click play to listen to this article.

This article is based on one of the key lessons in my Radical Recovery Course. If you like it, consider purchasing the course.

Going through a breakup sucks. It’s confusing, it’s overwhelming, and it feels like drowning in a fucking sewer sometimes. Thankfully, understanding its stages and how to navigate each one makes the journey a bit easier to trudge through.

Specifically, it helps you determine where exactly in the recovery process you reside emotionally, how long it’ll take to get past your breakup, and what obstacles you can expect along the journey.

All pretty useful shit, so let’s get into it.

Addressing The Misconceptions

As useful as the topic is, breakup stages are misunderstood by many. So before I list them, be a good buckaroo and bake the following on the inside of that brain of yours: breakup stages — and with them, the entire recovery process — don’t unfold linearly and we usually have a different starting point.

Allow me to unpack this.

Breakup stages not unfolding linearly simply means you don’t go from one to the next and never revert to any of the previous ones. Typically, you’ll cycle back and forth through each stage several times before you reach the final one.

In practice, this looks like crying waterfalls one day and feeling a bittersweet sense of acceptance and relief the next. Or participating in a champagne orgy and banging lingerie models one week but rotting at home, and wanting to slit your wrists the next.

On the other hand, having a different starting point for breakup stages means that while you, like most people, might end up in stage one after your breakup, someone else might find themselves in stage two or three. Some people might even skip certain stages altogether. All of this is normal. We all experience a breakup somewhat differently.

Talking of experiencing a breakup, let’s finally get to its stages.

The Stages Of A Breakup

Below I’ll unpack our breakup stages, what you can expect in them, and how to transition from each one as fast as possible. Just remember that they aren’t a perfect representation of what everyone goes through. Think of them as a simplified model of a complex and convoluted process that helps you better navigate a breakup.

Breakup Stage #1: Shock, Disbelief, And Denial

This stage serves as your mind’s initial defense mechanism to the sudden change, cushioning the emotional impact of the breakup.

During it, you may find it hard to accept what has happened. You might feel numb or struggle to believe that the relationship has ended. It’s also common to question the reality of the situation, thinking things like:

Drugs, sex, video games, shopping, whatever’s your poison — don’t suppress your shock, disbelief, and denial with it. This is arguably the best way to get through this breakup stage. In other words, don’t bottle up your feelings or run away from them. These things will only traumatize you further and make you miserable.

Focus on acknowledging and accepting your loss instead. It’s a much healthier way of dealing with this breakup stage. And if you can’t do it alone, consider hiring a therapist to help you out.

Are You In This Breakup Stage?

If you answer most of the questions below with a “Yes,” then you probably are:

  • Do you think you’ve overreacted?
  • Do you think your ex overreacted?
  • Are you ignoring reality, or at least trying to ignore it?
  • Are you still waiting for things to turn around?
  • Do you have a hard time admitting that your relationship is over?

Breakup Stage #2: Rumination

This stage is characterized by intense reflection, contemplation, and dwelling on the details of the past relationship. During it, you’ll often find yourself caught in a loop of repetitive thoughts, analyzing what went wrong, re-examining past conversations or events, and questioning your own actions or decisions.

Thinking about your ex and the life you had with them in excruciating detail can make you go mad. But nevertheless, it’s still just another fleeting web of emotions you’re dealing with.

While you do go over the best and worst moments of your dead relationship one scene at a time, on repeat, viscerally reliving each breath, and it feels like torture, this experience ultimately helps you, not hinders you.

On the one hand, it helps you process the whole thing, leading to feeling better eventually. On the other hand, it helps you figure out what mistakes you made in your relationship and how to avoid them in the next one.

When facing the rumination stage, meditation, yoga, and journaling are your friends. Lean on them. You can also experiment with distracting yourself with healthy activities that involve at least some form of light movement, like going to the gym, taking a stroll, cooking a meal for yourself, or spending time with friends.

Are You In This Breakup Stage?

If you answer most of the questions below with a “Yes,” then you probably are:

  • Do you keep reminiscing about your past relationship?
  • Do you keep thinking about your ex — the best, happiest, or worst moments?
  • Do you see your ex everyone you go, yet know it’s not them (e.i, in or among the faces of other people).
  • Do you keep starring at your phone, waiting for that text, that one call that could change everything?
  • Do you keep checking up on your ex via social media, wondering what they’re doing, with who they’re going out, and what’s new in their life?

Breakup Stage #3: Disorganization And Confusion

In this breakup stage, you’ll be subjected to umpteen emotional and mental shifts. It truly will feel like you’re going mad sometimes.

You’ll have days when you oversleep, days when you undersleep, days when you lack appetite, days when you overeat, days when you’re hyper-productive, days when you’re sluggish and unmotivated, days when you’re overly positive, and days when you’re overly negative.

Thankfully these emotional shifts are completely normal. So don’t panic. It’s all part of the healing process. Grief continually calls attention to itself, and being in a state of disarray is just one way it gets your attention. It’s a result of your mind’s way of trying to restructure the world because the one it knew, the one it was structured around prior, is now gone.

When you’re grappling with this breakup stage, consider free-form writing for a start. It’ll help you make sense of your disorganized, muddled thinking. Then focus on creating habits of making to-do lists, calendars, reminders, and so on. These habits will eventually get you to reclaim the focus and motivation so you can function normally again — at least in crucial situations in the realm of work and school.

Are You In This Breakup Stage?

If you answer most of the questions below with a “Yes,” then you probably are:

  • Do you find it difficult to focus on work or just about any other meaningful task?
  • Do you suffer from any kinds of sleeping problems?
  • Do you have moments where you feel overly lethargic, sluggish, and your brain foggy?
  • Are you overeating/undereating all of a sudden?

Breakup Stage #4: The Emotional Mess

This is the most complex breakup stage on our list. In it, you’ll be inundated by a plethora of intense emotions. Most commonly, devastation, anger, sadness, guilt, and anxiety.

In this case, devastation refers to feeling the breakup was unfair and getting lost in the victim mentality. Anger to harming those around you either emotionally or physically. Sadness to a gateway drug to depression. Guilt to the inability to accept your breakup and feeling like shit for what you’ve done or haven’t done, the things you said, or haven’t said. And anxiety refers to getting frustrated, panicky, and insecure about everything all of a sudden.

As a result of these feelings, you can also expect emotional fragility, tamper tantrums, frustration, irritability, powerlessness, loneliness and isolation, self-blame, regret, dumpers remorse, fear of the future, and even physical symptoms like restlessness, racing thoughts, insomnia, and increased heart rate.

When it comes to navigating this stage, note that while you can’t control your emotions, you can always control how you respond to your emotions. Therefore, a) let yourself feel what you feel, and b) respond well to whatever you feel. For instance, instead of kicking your dog in the face when you’re pissed off, go see a therapist or call up a good friend.

Are You In This Breakup Stage?

If you answer most of the questions below with a “Yes,” then you probably are:

  • Do you want your ex to suffer?
  • Do you fester hate toward your ex and blame them for the breakup?
  • Do you find enjoyment in your ex’s suffering?
  • Are you furious with yourself?
  • Do you feel hopeless and lost?
  • Do you want to stay in bed the whole day?
  • Do you feel miserable?
  • Do you want to die?
  • Do you feel unlovedworthless, abandoned, or inadequate?
  • Do you feel overwhelmed to the point of crippling anxiety?
  • Do you bounce back and forth from being angry/sad to content and at peace?

Breakup Stage #5: Wanting Your Ex Back

This breakup stage involves a powerful longing and a desire to rekindle your dead relationship. During it, you may experience a surge of nostalgia, reminiscing about the good times shared with them. You may also find yourself idealizing your relationship, remembering the positives while downplaying or overlooking the negatives.

This stage also marks the spot where most people, due to their longing for their ex, develop various unhealthy habits like the following:

When you’re dealing with this breakup stage, it’s most important to realize that getting back with an ex is almost always a futile pursuit. Second, implement what’s called the no contact rule — click here to read an entire guide on it. Third, go on a social media detox; read about it here. That being said, if you ever do decide to risk it and try to get back with your ex, read this guide.

Are You In This Breakup Stage?

If you answer most of the questions below with a “Yes,” then you probably are:

Breakup Stage #6: Ambivalence

Ambivalence is one of the trickier breakup stages. In it, you feel as though you love and hate your ex at the same time.

People also tend to have a lot of conflicting feelings about their breakup that they don’t know how to even feel about in the first place, and they usually juggle between the ideas of “I want my ex back” and “I’m better off alone.”

Sometimes ambivalence grabs you by the neck, and you have no control over it. Other times you can quickly calm yourself and get a more realistic grasp on your situation. These shifts in moods and feelings are also sporadic and random. One minute you may feel one way, the next another way.

When you’re dealing with the ambivalence stage, don’t try to force yourself to lean one way of your feelings. Just observe them, let them be there, and accept them. They’ll go away in time. You can also try cultivating some gratitude. Because the fact that you’re feeling ambivalent is a sign you’re nearing the final stage of a breakup — it’s a sign the shit show is almost over!

Are You In This Breakup Stage?

If you answer most of the questions below with a “Yes,” then you probably are:

  • Are you confused about how you feel towards your ex?
  • Does hearing your ex’s name unleash a frenzy of conflicting emotions and desires?
  • Are you pissed off at them one day and content about the breakup the next?
  • Do you think you’re switching the opinion of your ex too quickly to assume natural?

Breakup Stage #7: Acceptance

Acceptance is the final breakup stage. But, contrary to common belief, it doesn’t relate to happiness. Here are a couple of its hallmarks:

For those of you who want to get back with your ex, this stage is your time. In it, you have the highest chance of reconciliation because you’re not enveloped in neediness, fear, and desperation as much as in prior breakup stages.

And because getting to this stage takes a long time, you can adequately reflect on your relationship during it and discern where you’ve gone wrong and what has to be done to avoid breaking up again, be that with your ex or someone new.

Are You In This Breakup Stage?

If you answer most of the questions below with a “Yes,” then you probably are:

  • Have you made peace with the fact that your breakup happened?
  • Do you feel like you’ve finally made it? Almost as if a weight was lifted from your shoulders.
  • Are you sure you can go on and live life on your own?
  • Are you over the idea of reconciliation?
  • Does dating other people seem exciting or fun?
  • Do you feel like you’ve got some of your confidence back?

Breakup Stage #8: Beyond Acceptance

Some people call it uncoupling or disengagement. Some call it letting go or moving on. Others call it the meaning-making stage or the sixth stage of grief.

However, most experts don’t even consider this a stage at all. They regard it as a period in which people start ascribing meaning to their breakup based on their response to the event.

Of course, meaning is relative and personal, and the time until one finds it is different for everyone. Some people find it in a few weeks; others don’t find it for years.

The same can be said about where people find meaning. Some find it in religion or spirituality. Some in excelling at their career. Some in taking care of their kid. Some in staying healthy and fit. Others in keeping a bustling social life. Again, it’s different for everyone.

Ultimately, meaning comes through finding a way to keep loving your ex while simultaneously moving on with your life, making the best of it, and following whatever values and goals feel most important to you.

Are You In This Breakup Stage?

If you answer most of the questions below with a “Yes,” then you probably are:

  • Have you found a new sense of purpose or meaning in your life?
  • Have you learned important lessons from your breakup?
  • Are you feeling a sense of closure?
  • Are you more self-aware and self-confident?
  • Do you feel empowered, hopeful, or optimistic about your future relationships?
  • Have you managed to maintain a positive yet realistic outlook on life and love?
Free Cheat Sheet: Discover Over 40 Powerful Ways Of Mending That Broken Heart

In the last five years I've coached over 1000 people through their breakups. Here are 40+ short, simple, and actionable solutions that worked exceedingly well for most of them — neatly packaged in a sexy one-page cheat sheet.

Get The Free Cheat Sheet

Don’t Take The Stages Of A Breakup Too Seriously

As I mentioned at the start of this article, breakup stages aren’t a reliable representation of what everyone goes through post-breakup.

In fact, stage theory — be that relating to stages of a breakup, getting an ex backrebound relationships, no contact, etc. — became stage theory, not because there are actual stages in it, but because it helps people impose order on their chaos and offers them predictability over uncertainty.

We are pattern-seeking beings trying to make sense of an inherently chaotic and unpredictable world, after all. So it makes sense to develop theories that help us achieve that.

So while breakup stages serve as valuable and helpful descriptive guidelines, there’s no correct way to experience grief. We all experience it somewhat differently.

You can even expect that your own experience of grief will change over time, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. In fact, it’s likely a good thing and a sign that you’re making healthy progress toward acceptance and improved personal growth.

(Optional) Top Questions About The Stages Of A Breakup

How Long Do Breakup Stages Last?

The duration of the stages varies depending on the individual and their situation. However, in general, each stage can last anywhere from a few days to several months. Sometimes even years, but that is relatively rare.

Why Do I Feel Stuck In One Of The Stages Of A Breakup?

Feeling stuck in one of the stages of a breakup can occur due to unresolved emotions, a lack of closure, or the continuous idealization of the relationship and your ex. If you’re in this headspace, try to recognize that healing is a non-linear process involving many emotional fluctuations and setbacks. Then accept the whole thing — because you sure as shit can’t change it.

Can The Stages Of A Breakup Affect My Physical Health?

The stages of a breakup can indeed affect your physical health. Emotional stress can manifest physically, causing symptoms like sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, headaches, or even a weakened immune system.

Is It Normal To Regress To Earlier Stages Of A Breakup?

It is normal to regress to earlier stages of a breakup. Healing is not linear; it’s common to cycle through various stages as you process your breakup. Factors such as unexpected encounters with your ex, significant dates, or even daily stress can all trigger regressions.

Can You Skip Stages In The Breakup Recovery Process?

Skipping stages in the breakup process is possible for some people. As I always say, everyone’s recovery journey is unique, and not everyone will experience each breakup stage in the order presented in this article. Personal resilience, support systems, and coping mechanisms can all influence how a person navigates through their breakup.

Is It Normal To Feel Relief After A Breakup?

Yes, feeling relief after a breakup is completely normal and is often a sign of an arguably much-needed emotional release or liberation. This feeling can emerge regardless of whether the breakup was mutual, initiated by you, or your now-ex.

What Is The Hardest Stage Of A Breakup?

Many people find that the most difficult breakup stage is often the first. So that’s the “Shock, Disbelief, And Denial Stage.” Lots of people say that during it, they feel numb and overwhelmed and often can’t come to terms with the demise of their relationship no matter what they do. Even after extensive therapy and coaching.

Is There A Connection Between Grief And Breakup Stages?

Yes. A breakup is a death of a relationship. So when we’re talking about breakup stages, what we’re fundamentally discussing are the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These were introduced by the famous psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, and form the world’s most prevalent explanation for how we experience, well… grief.

Do Dumpees And Dumpers Go Through The Same Breakup Stages?

Yes. The only difference is that dumpers usually get through them faster than dumpees. This is because most dumpers fell out of love weeks, months, or even years before they actually pulled the plug. Therefore, they have a head-start in letting their ex go. The only time a dumper will go through a different array of stages is when they start feeling what’s called dumpers remorse — when they break up with their partner but regret it later.

Need More Help With Recovery?

Free Cheat Sheet: Discover Over 40 Powerful Ways Of Mending That Broken Heart

In the last five years I've coached over 1000 people through their breakups. Here are 40+ short, simple, and actionable solutions that worked exceedingly well for most of them — neatly packaged in a sexy one-page cheat sheet.

Get The Free Cheat Sheet

Related Articles

Recovery Cheat Sheet

Don’t Forget Your Free Recovery Cheat Sheet…

In the last five years I’ve coached over 1000 people through their breakups. Here are 40+ short, simple, and actionable solutions that worked exceedingly well for most of them — neatly packaged in a sexy one-page cheat sheet.

Get The Free Cheat Sheet

Not Interested.

Don’t Forget Your Free Recovery Cheat Sheet…

In the last five years I’ve coached over 1000 people through their breakups. Here are 40+ short, simple, and actionable solutions that worked exceedingly well for most of them — neatly packaged in a sexy one-page cheat sheet.

Get The Free Cheat Sheet

Not Interested.