The 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup No. 6: Relapse

For nine days, I am exploring the 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup. Earlier in the week, I wrote about the first five stages, Shock, Denial, Desperate for Answers, External Bargaining and Internal Bargaining. Today we are exploring the sixth stage of grieving a breakup, Relapse.

6. Relapse

Because the pain is unbearable, you are relentless in your pursuit of reconciliation, and are actually able to convince your ex to try again. (This may not be your first or even second time around with this person.) By reconciling, you relieve the agony of withdrawal, at least temporarily. Although not without some discomfort and insecurity, due to the tenuous nature of the relationship now.

Relapsing, that is, giving in to withdrawal, is another way to avoid the fear of the unknown, namely life without your ex. It’s your way of staving off the pain of acknowledging that the relationship is no longer viable. You are doing everything in your power to buy time now so you don’t have to face the pain.


9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup No. 5: Internal Bargaining

For nine days, I am exploring the 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup. Earlier in the week, I wrote about the first four stages, Shock, Denial, Desperate for Answers and External Bargaining. Today we are exploring the fifth stage of grieving a breakup, Internal Bargaining.

5. Internal Bargaining

There’s another insidious form that bargaining takes: the “if onlies”. In this stage, you replay moments, scenarios, decisions, actions and inactions that occurred within the relationship. You obsess about what you should have done differently to prevent the breakup.  If only you had picked him up at the airport that day; if only you didn’t complain about your job so much. Why didn’t you go on that camping trip? Why didn’t you tell her you loved her more often? If only you were a different person who did different things in a different way! You’re bargaining with your past self, hoping to alter how time has already unfolded. It’s a seductive loop to get stuck in, because what you imagine is so much less painful than what you have to face.

Maybe it’s true: maybe you could very well have changed the outcome by altering behaviors in your past. Meanwhile, back in real life, we have no idea if your theories are true. More importantly, the likelihood that you possess the ability to go back in time to redo stuff that went awry is pretty slim. If you actually had that power, there are probably many things you would go back and do differently. So would I.

The 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup: No. 2 – Denial

Yesterday I wrote the first in a series of posts describing the stages of grief that many people experience after an epic breakup. Today I will describe the experience of denial. And in the coming days, we’ll look at seven more stages that I believe are helpful in orienting you to where you are in the grieving process.

2. Denial

Nope. It’s not possible. This did not happen. Your ex doesn’t mean it. He or she couldn’t. Life without your ex is too unfathomable, so you don’t believe it. You just cant. You’ve put everything into your relationship. It’s been your world, your identity. Every last vestige of hope is invested in the viability and durability of your relationship. This must be a stage, it’s temporary, you think. No matter how remote the possibility, you’re continuing to carry on as if you’re still in a viable relationship, because then it hasn’t ended. That’s you postponing your grief because you are not currently equipped to acknowledge that there is anything to grieve about. It’s your primal way of trying to keep yourself regulated. You can’t tolerate the loss and so you don’t.

Denial is complicated to pinpoint, however. Because it can be too scary to face your epic breakup, you may deny its end without even realizing that’s what you’re doing. There’s a critical distinction to be made between overloading, short-circuiting, and just being completely unable to fathom the loss, and knowing you can’t fathom it so intentionally protecting yourself from the reality of breakup.

When you are deliberately denying, that’s no longer denial, that’s avoidance. Avoidance is different. In this stage of shock after an epic breakup, shock is primal and right now there may not be anything you can do about it except exist with your feelings knowing that when you’re ready, a path forward does exist.