How to Successfully Navigate the 7 Stages of a Breakup

Breaking up with someone or experiencing the stages of a breakup can be emotionally challenging, whether you are the one initiating it or the one on the receiving end.

The pain of realizing that the person you love no longer wants to be with you is deeply hurtful. Similarly, ending a relationship with someone you still care about, even if it’s the right decision, can be equally painful.

The stages of a breakup often mirror the stages of grief, and both parties must navigate through phases such as denial, anger, and ultimately, acceptance.

In this article, we will delve into what to expect when going through a breakup, as well as gain insights into the time it takes to heal, as shared by relationship experts. If your relationship is hanging by a thread, take a moment to discover your partner’s love language and dreams. And maybe, just maybe, consider a break as a first step toward healing.

Woman walking alone in the dessert illustrating the different stages of a breakup

Breaking Up vs. Being Broken Up With

Whether you are the one initiating the breakup or the one experiencing it, the emotional journey can differ. If you are the person who was broken up with, it might take longer to come to terms with the reality of the situation. On the other hand, deciding to end a relationship is not easy either.

For the person initiating the breakup, there may have been a period of contemplation and soul-searching leading up to the decision. As explained by a licensed clinical social worker, “It’s still very painful to break up with someone, and if you’re the person who did the breaking up, you probably already resolved your reasons why.” This understanding can ease the shock and denial phases but does not diminish the overall pain of the breakup.

It’s important to recognize that both individuals involved will progress through these breakup stages at their own pace, and the experience will vary for each person.

How Long Does it Take to Heal After a Breakup?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the duration of post-breakup healing. The timeframe depends on various factors, including the duration of the relationship, the intensity of emotions, the level of investment, and the relationship’s state at the time of the breakup.

Typically, the healing process may take a few months, but for long-term relationships, it could extend much longer. Additionally, how the relationship was functioning before the breakup plays a significant role. Was everything seemingly fine, or were there clear signs of deterioration? Foreknowledge of the breakup can expedite healing, whereas an unexpected breakup can prolong the process.


Woman healing by walking on the beach with a rainbow

Healing time…

One critical element in determining healing time is how the relationship was tied to each person’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Factors such as dependency on the other person for approval, acceptance, validation, and identity significantly influence the healing process. If you believed that the relationship was your only chance for a soul mate, the pain can be particularly intense.

It’s worth noting that the commonly cited rule that it takes half the duration of the relationship to get over it is a generalized guideline that may not apply universally. Healing timelines are highly individualized.

The Seven Stages of a Breakup

Stage 1: Shock

woman in shock first stage of breakup

This stage is especially relevant if you were the one who was broken up with and did not anticipate the breakup. The shock phase is characterized by pain, disarray, and confusion. You may seek explanations and desperately try to understand what went wrong. It can be bewildering, as everything may seem surreal.

(Duration: Approximately 1-2 weeks)

What to Do: During this initial stage of the breakup, allow yourself to feel the shock and pain. You are not sensitive, you are human, and the feelings are normal! Share your feelings with supportive friends and family. Seek answers and clarity, but be patient as understanding may take time. Journaling can be a helpful way to process your emotions. Remember, being good to yourself also helps – consider going for a run and pushing yourself, going swimming, or even screaming underwater to release pent-up emotions. Taking care of your physical and emotional well-being is important during this tough time.

Stage 2: Denial

woman sitting by the water denial stage of breakup

Shock and denial are closely intertwined as you grapple with the harsh reality of the breakup. People in denial may focus intensely on past promises and assurances made by their partner, attempting to rationalize why the breakup occurred. Denial can involve convincing oneself that the partner didn’t mean it or that they will change their mind. It’s a phase where logical reasoning often struggles to make sense of the situation.

(Duration: 2-4 weeks)

What to Do: Denial is a natural response. Try to gradually accept the reality of the breakup, even if it’s painful. Engage in self-care activities and surround yourself with positivity. Consider talking to a therapist or counselor for professional guidance as you navigate this stage.

Stage 3: Bargaining

woman on the phone calling

Bargaining is the stage where individuals may attempt to negotiate or make compromises, either with themselves or their ex-partner, in a bid to salvage the relationship. Questions like “What can I do differently?” or “Can we have another chance?” may surface. The ‘if only’ scenarios dominate this stage, leading to a yearning to reunite. It’s crucial to avoid reaching out during this phase, allowing time for clarity and closure.

(Duration: 1-2 months)

What to Do: Resist reaching out to your ex during this phase. Reflect on the lessons learned from the relationship and focus on personal growth. Set boundaries to prevent relapse into previous stages. Channel your energy into self-improvement and rediscovering your identity.

Stage 4: Anger

woman angry fourth stage of a breakup

Once the initial shock, denial, and bargaining phases subside, the reality of the breakup sets in, often accompanied by a surge of anger. The source of anger can vary, such as anger towards a cheating partner, an abrupt breakup, self-blame for not investing more in the relationship, or a combination of these emotions. Jealousy and competitiveness may emerge, directed either at the ex-partner or oneself. Anger often precedes deeper emotions like hurt, disappointment, grief, shame, and helplessness.

(Duration: 2-3 months)

What to Do: Allow yourself to express anger in healthy ways, such as through exercise, creative outlets, or talking to a trusted friend. Avoid dwelling on blame and instead seek understanding and healing. If needed, explore anger management techniques to manage this intense emotion.

Stage 5: Sadness and Grief

Woman sitting by the water grieving breakup stage

As anger begins to fade, the grieving process commences. During this phase, you slowly accept the reality of the breakup, though you may not have fully come to terms with its finality. Grieving involves coping with the loss of not only your partner but also the version of yourself within the relationship. It encompasses the loss of future plans, mutual friends, shared experiences, and familial connections. Feelings of depression, emptiness, apathy, self-doubt, desperation, loneliness, and abandonment may arise. Seeking support from loved ones and professionals can aid in navigating this challenging stage.

(Duration: 3-6 months)

What to Do: Embrace your emotions and allow yourself to grieve. Seek professional help if you experience overwhelming sadness or depression. Rely on your support network and prioritize self-care practices like meditation, hobbies, or pursuing activities that bring you joy.

Stage 6: Acceptance

Woman walking on the beach acceptance breakup stage

This stage signifies the light at the end of the tunnel. Acceptance can range from apathetic surrender to genuine hope and moving forward. The journey through acceptance may not always follow a linear path, as individuals can oscillate between acceptance, denial, or bargaining. You’ll recognize acceptance when you begin disengaging mentally from your ex-partner, focusing on your individuality rather than the relationship. It’s a phase where new beginnings, hope, and the potential for future relationships become apparent.

(Duration: 3-6 months)

What to Do: Celebrate your progress in accepting the breakup. Shift your focus toward personal growth and set new goals and aspirations. Explore new interests and activities that align with your individuality. Embrace the potential for new beginnings and hope for future relationships.

Stage 7: Moving On

Women laughing together moving on from a breakup

Moving on is distinct from acceptance. It signifies true disengagement from your former partner. You redirect your focus away from the relationship and the person, moving toward self-fulfillment, self-worth, and personal needs. You stop obsessively checking their social media, cease constant thoughts about them, and genuinely wish them well without being part of their life. When you reach a point where you are comfortable with being alone, emotionally independent, and capable of self-sustenance, you are prepared to embark on new relationships without the baggage.

(Duration: Ongoing)

What to Do: Continue practicing self-love and self-compassion. Prioritize your own well-being and needs. When you feel ready, consider opening yourself up to new relationships, but avoid rushing into them. Ensure emotional independence and readiness for new experiences. Focus on rediscovering your strength and resilience as you continue your journey of personal growth and healing.

The Stages of a Breakup Differs

In conclusion, it’s crucial to understand that the stages of a breakup are not set in stone, and individuals may experience them in various sequences or revisit certain stages during the healing process. Emotions can fluctuate, with moments of intense anger followed by periods of realization and even denial.

However, regardless of how these 7 stages of a breakup manifest in your personal journey, it’s essential to recognize that each phase can be navigated and overcome. Breakups are undeniably challenging and demand both self-compassion and support from your loved ones. While the process may be painful and time-consuming, rest assured that both parties will eventually emerge stronger, wiser, and with valuable lessons learned. With time, there may also come a renewed openness to love when the right moment presents itself.

What to Do for Emotional Healing

Remember that these durations are approximate, and each individual’s healing process is unique. It’s crucial to be patient with yourself and seek professional support if you find yourself struggling in any stage or facing emotional challenges. Healing is a personal journey, and with time, you’ll emerge stronger and wiser.

Now that we’ve examined the distinct stages of a breakup journey, let’s dive deeper into the crucial aspect of navigating this challenging process: actively seeking solace and healing in the midst of a difficult and often painful situation. Breakups can overwhelm you emotionally, but there are proactive strategies and practices that can guide you through the turbulent waters and help you emerge from each stage stronger and more resilient. In this section, we’ll empower you with actionable guidance on how to actively improve your well-being at every step of the way, enabling you to find comfort and renewal during this trying time.