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.