After Breakup, Who Says Your Feelings Have to Make Sense?

When your relationship first ended, you may have been far clearer about why the relationship didn’t work, and why your ex was wrong for you. However, you now find yourself having uncomfortable thoughts about the ex—longing, melancholy, and memories of the good times are seeping back into your psyche. Your once-clear perspective becomes more cloudy: what you are feeling right now doesn’t line up with what actually happened between you and your ex. Yet you miss the relationship; you miss that partner who was so wrong for you. It just doesn’t make sense:

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Revisiting trauma in the wake of a tumultuous relationship

Deb Stgo/Flickr

Deb Stgo/Flickr

When you’ve had a stormy relationship that’s ended, one of the most tormenting aspects of its aftermath is that you can think you’re ok, you ‘re feeling stable, but then you plunge right back into confusion, disgust, and fear all over again. Chances are the more tumultuous the relationship was, the more tumultuous your response to breakup will be. Why? Because when you’re in a tumultuous relationship, your brain is in a perpetually heightened state of intensity. This could mean that when the breakup first occurred, you might have gone through periods of relief and calmness. However, now you begin to realize just how traumatized you were and still are. The trigger for that realization could be something you are aware of, or something you’re not. Your discomfort might have started right away, immediately post-breakup, or a year from now. No matter when, it won’t be denied.

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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.

9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup No. 4: External Bargaining

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

If your ex would just take you back, you’ll be a better, more attentive partner. Everything that’s been wrong, you’ll make right. If you can convince your ex that the relationship will be better this time, you can make your pain go away. At this stage in your grieving process, your capacity for reason and judgment are significantly impaired, making you prone to offering bargains you can’t and don’t want to keep (you probably shouldn’t be operating heavy machinery either). Do you really want to be responsible for fixing all the relationship’s problems? Do you really want to put the entire burden of repairing, maintaining, and sustaining it on you?

Any relief you get by cajoling your partner into consenting to another try is usually fleeting—you can’t seal every crack or compensate for every problem the two of you had, especially after taking the breakup blow and having your trust in this person damaged in the process. As much as you might believe you can singlehandedly fix everything that’s been wrong, it’s impossible to maintain the level it would take to do that, and you just can’t be responsible for everything.

If your ex relents, it may initially rekindle the relationship. However, the amount of pressure that’s now on you to keep the relationship afloat is unrealistic, and it becomes too exhausting and unrewarding to sustain.

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.

The 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup, #1: Shock

The 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup, #1: Shock

About six months ago, I wrote about The 7 Stages of Grieving a Breakup. Many of you responded, offering comments here and also on my Facebook page. As I’ve been writing about breakup a lot lately, I have expanded my consideration of these stages even more. The 7 Stages were a good start, but there’s more to it. For example, there’s different kinds of bargaining and different kinds of anger in the aftermath of breakup.

In the coming weeks, I am going to introduce some of my expanded impression of these stages. Now there are nine. These stages aren’t a linear progression. They don’t necessarily present “in order,” nor is it apparent when one stage ends and another begins. Your stages will switch around often. They may occur all at once, cross over each other, or morph into indistinguishable emotional blobs. You may have no idea what stage you’re in. You may feel stuck for months in one stage. You may cycle forward and backward through stages at warp speed…while in slow motion. You may repeat them many times in many forms along the way. You’ll have moments of hopefulness between the waves before you’re submerged again by fear, shame, unworthiness, and despair.

My goal is to help you get your bearings and offer you a rough roadmap through the rocky, unpredictable in-breakup terrain. While you may not be able to see through your pain right now, know that a path forward does exist. Here is the first of the 9 Stages of Grieving a Breakup. Shock. Tomorrow you can look forward to denial…

 1. Shock

“Huh? What do you mean, it’s over?” This new information overloads your brain. The concept that you have become disposable, replaceable, and irrelevant shoots through you in spasms. It’s as if your identity was just stolen and you don’t know where to go or what to do with yourself to retrieve it. Not only have you lost track of yourself, but you feel lost and un-tracked in the world. You are overwhelmed by the dread of having to exist without your ex’s continued investment in your whereabouts and your security, without knowledge about your ex’s emotions and everyday life. It’s as if you are plunging endlessly into an endless abyss of anonymity.

Shock is a primal response to a sophisticated loss. It’s the result of being inundated on all levels – all five of your senses overload while questions you can’t answer rain down on you, to the point at which you just short-circuit. There’s the logistical, like “How will I pull it together for work tomorrow?” To the existential: “What’s the point? Maybe it’s all in vain…” Yet, despite the shock, there are immediate decisions to be made and real world obligations to manage. You feel numb, and spacey, and unfocused, so your autopilot function takes over to help you get through what you have to get through.