7 New Stages of Grief After a Breakup
In Which One Are You? (Quiz)
Immediately after a breakup, you will find yourself at the beginning of the so-called stages of grief – whether you like it or not.
You are forced to suffer through them.
But knowing WHERE exactly YOU are in this process will give you an enormous advantage. Because then, you can actively influence how long you stay in each phase … and the benefits you get out of it.
And thus, shorten your recovery by months (sometimes YEARS, even).
Table of Content:
- The Journey
- The Stages of Grief – A Revised Version
- Breakup Stage #1: The Shock Phase
- Breakup Stage #2: The Denial Phase
- Breakup Stage #3: The Mad Phase
- Breakup Stage #4: The Emotional Roller-Coaster Phase
- Breakup Stage #5: The Acceptance Phase
- Breakup Stage #6: The Conscious Disengagement Phase
- Breakup Stage #7: The Moving On Phase
- Conclusion and What You Must Do Now
When your Ex forced you onto the road of recovery, I'm sure you couldn't possibly fathom what would await you.
I know I couldn't back then.
It's just like being tossed in front of a huge mountain and looking up at the cloud-covered top.
What's beyond the clouds, we have no idea yet.
We know that we must climb up there, but how? One thing we know is that the road is rocky and cold.
But what we surely don't realize at the beginning is that the way up that mountain has many basecamps, or pre-built virtual stops:
The stages of grief.
There's a theory developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross that states the five emotional stages people go through after the death of a loved one.
The five stages of grief that Kübler-Ross described are:
According to her, everyone dealing with some type of loss must go through all of these stages of grief.
This model is extensively applied (and abused) to many different situations when it comes to loss and grief – from getting over substance abuse to going through a breakup or divorce.
But the question is, can you apply the theory of the states of grief to the latter, and if yes, what benefit will it bring you while you're getting over a breakup?
The Stages of Grief – A Revised Version
The problem I have with Kübler-Ross's model when applied to a breakup or divorce is that it neglects some in-between stages that I've witnessed and felt in my own skin.
These sub-stages are very important, and it is vital for your recovery to be aware of them. Every step has its own purpose and benefit, and by knowing where you are, you can take the appropriate measures and avoid the common mistakes.
So, what are all the breakup stages as I experienced them not only in myself but also witnessed in so many clients since 2005?
There are seven distinctive stages of a breakup.
Let's take a look at them all.
Breakup Stage #1: The Shock Phase
“There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: the expected for which one has refused to prepare.”
— Mary Renault
“What just happened?”
The shock phase starts immediately after you've been informed about the breakup by means of “the talk” or by any other way (spouse moves out, stops answering calls, or simply by text).
You have an idea about what happened, but you don't realize its full impact on you yet.
It's much like being in an accident; you feel that something happened to you, but you're just numb and unable to comprehend the consequences.
This phase typically lasts only about a few days and leads directly into the “denial phase.”
Breakup Stage #2: The Denial Phase
“To find out if she really loved me, I hooked her up to a lie detector. And just as I suspected, my machine was broken.”
— Dark Jar Tin Zoo
“This isn't happening to me …”
“I KNOW him/her … he/she wouldn't do this to me.”
“They will come to their senses eventually … this is ridiculous.”
You know that you are in the “Denial Phase” if you can answer most of the following questions with a “Yes”:
- Are you constantly waiting for the phone to ring or checking texts and social statuses?
- Do you spend most of the day thinking back about your happy moments together?
- Do you see your partner everywhere, only to realize that it wasn't really them?
- Do you write texts, emails, and letters to assure them of your love?
- Do you try to look extra attractive in order to make them regret their decision?
As soon as the “Shock Phase” subsides after a few days (sometimes just hours), we start to realize what really happened:
Our partner left us.
What happens now is exactly the same as in the “5 Stages of Grief” model: we simply refuse to accept the breakup as a reality. It is completely beyond our grasp.
How can a wonderful relationship like that end?
How could they have changed so quickly?
We dismiss the fact that there may have been red flags, indications that things weren't going too well in the past. Yes, there had been problems, but we never would've thought that our partner would refuse to work them out.
We would never have thought that they would simply leave …
Now we are faced with that terrifying fact, but we are simply not able to deal with it so quickly.
That's where denial comes in as a temporary coping mechanism.
Denial is a human reaction to an overwhelmingly emotional event.
Denial gives us time and space to gather our strength for something we know we must face very soon.
“He won't leave. If I just wait a little bit, things will be again as they were before.”
This stage leads directly into the “Mad Phase,” which usually happens fairly quickly after that.
Breakup Stage #3: The Mad Phase
“It is sometimes an appropriate response to reality to go insane.”
— Philip K. Dick
“I'm going to get him/her BACK.”
“We belong together!”
You are in the “Mad Phase” if you can answer most of the following questions with a “Yes”:
- Are you trying to seduce your partner in order to win them back?
- Are you begging/pleading to give your relationship another try?
- Are you withholding the breakup from family and friends?
- Are you trying to make your partner jealous in order to win them back?
- Are you trying to guilt talk them into coming back?
Once we feel that we cannot longer deny what happened – that the reality has caught up on us – we enter the third stage of getting over a breakup:
The “Mad Phase”
While we didn't allow ourselves to show our anger before, NOW we do.
But we don't direct that anger toward our Ex-Partner (yet); for now, we just let it control our actions.
We are not ready to let go of the dreams and future plans we have with this relationship, so we want to protect it – violently, if necessary.
This phase is characterized by three things:
- wanting them back
- undoing things
- fixing things
We tell them that we love them as often as they allow us to tell them. We promise that we'll do things differently, that we'll never repeat the alleged mistakes we've made …
If they just took us back.
Then we do stupid things … things we will regret later.
We are obsessed over them: we phone them, text, drive by, want to “talk things over” – we are overly jealous.
In our understanding, we are still together … they just have to accept that already.
We want closure and to “understand” what happened.
We are convinced that the Ex can provide us with all the answers we need and that they also hold the key to our happiness:
Because one word from them can turn things around and end our pain, making things as they once were before.
We feel that we have lost all our power.
Not long after that, we find ourselves in the next phase.
Breakup Stage #4: The Emotional Roller-coaster Phase
“But pain's like water. It finds a way to push through any seal. There's no way to stop it. Sometimes you have to let yourself sink inside of it before you can learn how to swim to the surface.”
— Katie Kacvinsky
“How can it be over? How do you just not care anymore? How is it so easy for you to go on in life acting like I meant nothing to you? How how how how …”
This is by far the most excruciating and most difficult stage.
You are situated in the “Emotional Roller-coaster Phase” if you can answer most of the following questions with a “Yes”:
- Do you feel that you will never be happy again?
- Do you often wish that you just could lie down and die … or at least sleep the whole day?
- Have you lost interest in everything?
- Do you have difficulties performing your daily duties?
- Do you feel helpless?
- Do you feel unloved and abandoned?
- Do you think that your Ex was close to perfect?
This phase is characterized by intense emotional pain, self-doubt, guilt, deep desperation, and overwhelming loneliness.
One minute, you feel great and hopeful; the next, you just want to lie down and cry.
It's almost like being on a roller-coaster ride of emotions.
But actually, this is a good sign, even if it doesn't feel this way.
You are leaving the previous phases behind, and you are getting closer to the top of the mountain: your recovery.
What we must realize in this painful phase is that it has to hurt before it gets better.
We MUST push through the pain.
Sounds like a cliché, but it's really true.
Also, it's in this stage that you really start to “think things through,” read: you fall victim to obsessive over-thinking.
The “what-ifs,” the “if-onlys,” and the “whys,” especially the why were they able to move on so quickly?-whys.
You feel abandoned and alone … you have lost so much. Not just the partner, but even more things:
- the future plans you had
- the certainty a relationship brings
- the rituals and habits you had together
- the status you had as a couple
- the family, kids, house, etc.
And above all, there's this desperation, loneliness, and fear.
The irrational fear that you'll stay alone forever.
More and more, we are convinced that we cannot make it alone. We feel that we need our Ex to exist.
How long we stay in this terrible stage is determined by our ability to accomplish three things:
- Keep our Ex out of our lives by conducting strict no contact.
- Contain the overthinking process to a bare minimum.
- Accept what happened and stop seeing them as the ultimate solution to our problem.
Once we are able to do this, we slowly move into the next stage, which is Acceptance.
Breakup Stage #5: The Acceptance Phase
“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
“She's gone … she's really gone. What do I do now?”
The “Acceptance” stage is the first significant step toward recovery.
You have accepted that the breakup or divorce happened and that they won't come back.
You now realize that things won't get back to how they were before.
And THIS is a huge accomplishment. This means that now, you won't waste all your energy on things you can't change anymore.
Now, you start to look ahead.
You're in the “Acceptance” stage if you can answer most of the following questions with a “Yes”:
- Have you acknowledged that the breakup happened?
- Have you given up hope of a reconciliation?
- Do you feel that you can manage your daily tasks much better?
- Do you feel much more hopeful that you can get over them?
- Are you showing more interest in events and in other people?
At this moment, you feel better. Not quite out of the woods yet, but there's significant relief.
This is understandable if you take into account that the majority of the emotional turmoil is caused by the excruciating over-thinking process and the inner conflict of wanting them back.
This conflict has mostly been resolved by this stage.
So, you continue to live your life, even smiling once in a while, and things don't look as bad as they did before.
The problem here is that this is as far as it gets for many people.
There are people out there who feel that they can't move on from their Ex even after many years (the all-time record with one client being 30 years!).
They've accepted that the breakup or divorce happened, but they are still hung up over their Ex.
Why is that?
The reason for this is that they are stuck in the “Acceptance” stage … or they just jumped to stage #7, skipping the important “letting go” stage.
You cannot skip this next stage and heal properly.
IF you skip this, this very breakup WILL sabotage all your future relationships.
Let's see what happens in this so important phase.
Breakup Stage #6: The Conscious Disengagement Phase (Letting Go)
“Letting go doesn't mean that you don't care about someone anymore. It's just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.”
— Deborah Reber
We had good days together and bad days. The partnership ended, but it was an important part of my past. Today, I look forward, I want to make new experiences and spend time with myself …
I consider this phase as the ultimate climax of your recovery.
You are in this phase if you can answer most of the following questions with a “Yes”:
- Have you released all anger toward yourself and your Ex?
- Have you given up all negative and false belief systems?
- Do you know that you can survive alone?
- Do you start to have a clear idea about why the relationship failed?
- Do you catch yourself feeling good more often, completely forgetting about your Ex?
- Can you talk to your Ex without completely breaking down?
- Do you start to think that you've finally made it?
- Do you feel a never-known confidence and strength?
The difference between the acceptance stage and the disengagement stage is that you are now consciously letting go of your ex.
What does disengagement from your Ex really mean?
It basically means giving up and letting go of the following three things:
- Giving up the love and need you feel for your Ex-Partner
- Giving up all anger you might have toward your Ex or yourself
- Giving up the mental processing
It means replacing the thought pattern:
Without him/her, I can never …
I will and I can … for me.
It marks a fundamental change in thinking and mindset.
Disengagement means withdrawing the focus from your Ex and redirecting it toward yourself and your personal goals.
How well you are able to do that depends on the work you've done in the prior stages.
If you have skipped anything or taken the “easy way out,” then this stage will be very difficult, if not impossible, to reach. Pushing through the pain without repressing your emotions in the prior stages of grief is essential.
Once you have done the work to consciously let go of your Ex, you can move to the next stage … moving on to a new life.
Breakup Stage #7: The Moving On Phase
“Sometimes it takes a heartbreak to shake us awake and help us see we are worth so much more than we're settling for.”
— Mandy Hale
Finally … I can breathe again. I am free. I feel unlimited happiness.
This is the last phase, the last step you have to take.
You know the drill: in order to be here, you'll have to answer most of the following questions with a “Yes”:
- Do you have an idea of the reasons that led to the breakup?
- Do you know your own needs, and have you learned to respect them?
- Have you learned to be alone without feeling lonely?
- Have you started to love yourself more and more?
- Do you feel that you can trust people again?
- Have you learned what to expect of a future relationship?
- Do you set yourself goals in your job and private life?
When you are here, then you have made it.
You stand at the top of the mountain and look into the valley.
You've accomplished so much:
- You accepted the loss of your partner.
- You pushed through the pain and through all different kinds of emotions.
- You've learned to live alone.
- You've re-connected to the person you really are.
- You disengaged yourself from your Ex.
You have not forgotten your Ex, nor do you look back in hate. You have forgiven them and yourself for the mistakes you both have made.
You are thankful for the experiences, the good and the bad, and you have recognized and acknowledged what went wrong.
You've stopped being a “partner” and you've begun to be your “SELF.”
Conclusion And What You Must Do Now
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
— Ernest Hemingway
Whether you have made it already or you just look ahead in anticipation of what awaits you, have in mind that not all the phases are linear:
In most cases, you'll jump around through them.
Setbacks are possible, as well as sudden jumps ahead, but also catastrophic slides down the mountain.
Often, it is two steps forward and one step back.
But you have to keep going forward. NEVER give up.
If you need help moving quicker through the stages of grief, avoid setbacks and bypass typical healing traps, join our popular breakup survival newsletter here (currently over 25.000 subscribers).
After you've made the last step – the last stage of your breakup – there still one more coming (the ultimate last step):
The leap into a new life.
Finding a new partner will be much easier if you've gone through the stages the right way, without skipping a step.
The new “YOU” will attract what you really need.
And this time, you have a new and better shot at the ultimate goal: THE fulfilled and happy relationship with a partner who really gets you.
And for that my friend, I wish you all the best in the world … you've definitely earned it.
Your friend and coach,