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10 Painful Stages of Heartbreak & Grief All of Us Go Through After a Breakup

Breakups are never easy. But if you understand the stages of heartbreak, you will be able to move on and find love again. Here’s how.

stages of heartbreak

Unless you end up spending the rest of your life with your first love, odds are you’re going to experience one of life’s greatest woes: debilitating post-breakup loneliness and the ten stages of heartbreak that go along with it.

Breakups are totally worth it as long as you learn something, right? You may come out a stronger, wiser person on the other end of a breakup, but the process of getting there has to be some kind of cosmic joke.

The stages of heartbreak

It doesn’t seem to matter whether you were in a relationship or simply lusting after your crush from afar, heartbreak gets the best of everyone. From crying rages to hermit-like tendencies, we all seem to follow a vague pattern of heartbreak that charts our course through a breakup. [Read: 33 interesting words for lovers, breakups, and fights]

Feeling lost about where you rank on the heartbreak-o-meter? We’re giving you a chart of the 10 stages of heartbreak.

1. Possible first: anticipation

When it comes to the stages of heartbreak, your first round can go one of two ways. Your possible first stage may just be anticipation.

Your lover was playing the long con, and you were wise to their game. You caught their subtle eye rolls, felt them backing away from you, and took note every time they told you they were hanging out with friends when they were really out at the club. This breakup may not have been a surprise to you, but it sure did hurt all the same. [Read: 20 signs your relationship is -oh-so-over already]


1. Possible first: shock

Breakups bring us unbelievable heartache. Some feel that mourning a breakup is psychologically similar to mourning a death. The loss is so overpowering sometimes the mind can’t comprehend the difference. This can be particularly hard to bear when we don’t see the end of a relationship coming.

If this breakup came out of left field, your first stage of heartbreak is probably going to be shock; big, slap-you-in-the-face shock. You were just living life, happy as a clam, thinking everything between the two of you was hunky dory.

There was no anticipation, no telltale signs. You had no opportunity to slowly back away or to try and remedy the situation. Instead, the person you care for more than anyone just told you they no longer love you.

This is one of the hardest things to endure. [Read: Suddenly single?! Things you HAVE to avoid doing]

2. Confusion

During this stage of heartbreak, you will start to ask yourself a lot of questions. You might think, “what did I do wrong?” or “how did I not see this coming?”

Initially, you want to try to understand what happened. The drive to know is very consuming and your rational thoughts and behaviors might not be very functional at this point.

You will probably fixate on things that your ex said or did at various times that you see contradicting their desire to break up. Sometimes, it will make more sense than others. But being clear on the reasons for the breakup is usually short-lived, and you will go back to asking questions again. [Read: How to get through a breakup – 30 ways to get you back on track]

This constant confusion is difficult to manage for most people. But the feeling will eventually pass. Over time, you get clarity about what went wrong in the relationship, and you will learn from it.

But now, you are just dying to understand the breakup just a little bit. You think that if you know why they dumped you, you could start to move on. But letting feelings go can be tricky, especially if you try to stay in control.

In this phase, be kind to yourself. Everyone feels confused at some point during a breakup. You just need to reconnect with your feelings so you can focus on the relationship with yourself, which is the most important one.

3. Denial or it’s not over… It still isn’t over!

Denial of a breakup isn’t as bonkers as you flat out denying that you’re no longer a couple. Rather, it’s more like you’re in denial that you’ll stay broken up. [Read: Stages of a long-term relationship breakup you have to experience]

You have hopes of getting back together and picking up where you left off. I mean, you have to reconcile at some point, right? You were the perfect couple!

You may shelve your hurt feelings during the denial stage and try to psychologically convince yourself that this breakup is just a phase and you’ll be back together soon.

PS: This is really harmful to your psychological state. You ignore your grief when what you really should do is drown your sorrows in a pint of mint chip ice cream and binge-watching Netflix with your friends. [Read: The pain of loving someone who doesn’t love you back]

4. Bargaining, or friends with benefits and other endeavors to win them back

Bargaining is all about doing whatever it takes to get your ex back and ridding your heart of the pain you currently feel.

You swear that you’ll be a better mate, more understanding, more available, more attentive in the sack. You’ll even do that thing they like with the vibrating and the tongue and the…

The list goes on and on. Whatever you can do or say to get them to entertain the thought of getting back together, you’ll try it. This stage is rife with social media stalking.

If you hope to reconcile, you need to make sure he’s not out with other girls or that she’s just as upset as you are, and… Whoa, did they really change their status to single? Ouch.

Becoming your ex’s “friend with benefits” is often a bargaining chip that women like to use. Do yourself a giant favor: unless your ex was the best lay you’ll ever have, skip this mistake waiting to happen.

If you thought your heart was shattered during the breakup, becoming a friend with benefits explodes in your face so hard those shattered shards turn back into sand! [Read: Reasons why the no contact rule always works]

5. Anger or the ranting stage

Best friends unite—it’s the ranting stage of heartbreak! During this phase, you’ll move across the border from sad, wallowing heartbreak into pure pissed hell. You’re angry. You’re tired. You’re ready to rant.  

How could your ex do this? Don’t they see what a catch you are? How could they not appreciate everything you’ve done for them? They’ll never get head as good as you gave ever again!

Opposite of the example above, where you find out who your true friends are and cling to them for life as your new source of happiness, you may end up hating the world and everything in it—including your friends.

You may become so angry that you lash out at those who love you the most. You may start acting out in self-destructive ways.

This stage isn’t pretty, but it’s all a part of the process. Becoming angry means that you’ve taken off the rose-colored glasses. It means you’re concerned about yourself now. [Read: How to let go of anger: Release the rage and resentment]

6. Sadness or wallowing

Howard Hughes has nothin’ on you. You are deep into the sorrow stage. Right now your life consists of non-stop crying and reclusive behavior. You’re sad about everything: your breakup, the way you look, where your life is headed, the squirrel who keeps digging in your backyard.

This is one of those stages of heartbreak that is incredibly hard, but it’s also one of the most therapeutic once it’s over. Which, just warning you, could take a while.

Don’t let yourself be a hermit for too long. Engage your friends and allow yourself the chance to laugh, smile, and get fun drunk again. *You probably haven’t experienced that in a while!* Restart your social calendar so you start to feel like a real human being again. [Read: Self-discovery after a breakup – How to happily move on]

7. Rebounding or looking for love at the wrong time

Somewhere between wallowing and acceptance comes the rebound relationship. A relationship is generally considered a rebound if you jump into it soon after a breakup from a serious relationship, or while you are sad, distressed, angry, or generally emotionally unavailable.

Rebounds are generally messy and involve a lot of hurt, but that doesn’t mean they’re worthless or wrong. For example, remember the days when you thought you could never love again? That it wasn’t worth putting time and effort into getting to know someone else’s little quirks and sex habits?

If rebounding to a nobody taught you anything, it’s that you really do have the potential to have a connection with someone new. The best part? It feels amazing. [Read: Rebound relationship rules to follow for a slam dunk]

8. Acceptance… Sort of?

If acceptance means ignoring your ex and staring daggers into their soul when you have the displeasure of sharing the same social scene with them, then yeah, you’re totally over it.

But seriously, acceptance usually happens when you least expect it. Suddenly a day goes by where you don’t even think about your ex. Every location, food, song, or movie you see doesn’t automatically remind you of some awesome time you had together.

Instead, you’ve accepted the breakup and begun to move on. You understand why it didn’t work out and why you’re better off apart. You focus on yourself and learn to live a life focused on “me” instead of “we.”

9. Reflection

This stage of heartbreak is a more calm one. Once you have moved through the first phases, there will come a time when you will have to reflect on the relationship. What went right and what went wrong? [Read: How to get over a breakup and pick up the pieces of your heart]

This is a very important phase because if you don’t reflect on the relationship, you might repeat the same mistakes in the next one. Do some inner reflection and see what you did right or wrong. How can you do better in the future?

Many times, one of the biggest problems in relationships is the lack of communication or sexual incompatibility.

Did you fight too much? Conflict is natural in a relationship, but how you handle it depends on how successful it is. Too much fighting in a non-constructive way can be the downfall of a lot of relationships.

Sexual issues can also be a central part of a breakup. Maybe one of you wanted sex a lot more often than the other. Or one of you was more vanilla and the other was kinkier. Either way, there should be a way to compromise. [Read: All the quotes you need while going through a breakup]

10. Letting go

This is the final phase of breakups. It might not even feel like you can make it this far, but you will. Every other phase you have gone through will lead you here – it’s inevitable.

When you reach this point, you will understand that there was a reason for all the pain, confusion, and mistakes. You can now look back at the relationship with a sense of fondness and remember the good times.

If you refuse to let go, then it can haunt you for the rest of your life. Breakups can be heartbreaking and can create some very deep wounds. Getting over someone is a lot of hard work, but you have to do it in order to move on with your life.

The key is to move past the pain in order to heal. The ending of a relationship can be a wonderful growth opportunity if you choose to handle it that way.

[Read: How to be single after a long relationship: 16 ways to start over]

The 10 stages of heartbreak are unforgettably painful, but they also teach you something. You’re worth more than begging for someone’s time and affection. You are strong. And after this trauma? You can take a bullet without even flinching.

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Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...