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The Phases of Relationship Breakups

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Been through a breakup? You’re not alone. All relationships face challenges at some point — and not all survive. Breakups can be painful and stressful. They can also seriously affect a person’s well-being and ability to cope with day-to-day responsibilities.

That’s why it’s important to know how to take care of yourself through the process. When you give yourself time and permission to heal, or “grace and space to grow,” you can emerge stronger and more resilient.


The journey to feeling better

It’s normal to not feel normal as you recover from a breakup — and there are common phases that most people go through. Knowing more about each phase, understanding typical behaviors, and talking it out can help you through the hurt.

Common phases of breakups

Everyone’s journey is different, but here are some of the feelings you may experience — and not in any particular order:

Phase: Pain

How it feels: It’s common to experience pain in a breakup, especially in the early stages. You may have feelings of sadness, denial, anger toward your ex, or feel ashamed for not being able to make it “work out.” You may long for what it was.

What to watch for: Common pitfalls include strong emotions and reactions, like over communicating with your ex, trying to bargain the relationship back into being, or lashing out at the hurt. You may isolate yourself to deal with your feelings.

What you need to know: It’s normal to feel pain and negative emotions in a breakup. Take time for yourself — time can help the hurt. Talking to someone can also help you process your emotions.

Phase: Distraction

How it feels: This phase is about taking steps to distract yourself from the pain with new interests and different behaviors. You may push the bad feelings away with novel or exciting experiences that make you temporarily feel stronger — or convince yourself you’re already over it.

What to watch for: It’s common in this phase to try to distract yourself with destructive, impulsive behaviors and risk-taking — for example, drinking heavily, making unnecessary extreme purchases, obsessively working out, or engaging in risky, extreme sports or activities. (“After all, what do I have to lose?”)

What you need to know: There’s a difference between new interests and unhealthy risk-taking. You’re still healing, so take good care of yourself. Explore new interests and healthy behaviors that can make you feel better long-term, like physical activity in moderation, getting outdoors, taking up a new hobby or enjoying low-key activities with friends.

Phase: Stepping out

How it feels: In this phase, you may feel like you don’t want to be alone anymore, and you’re longing for human connection. You may be ready to dip your toe back into the dating pool and feel better about yourself by socializing.

What to watch for: In this phase, you may be ready for socializing or you may just be insecure about being alone, wondering if you still have anything to offer a partner. Negative behaviors in this phase can include promiscuity, rebounding, partying, serial dating and hookups without emotional connection.

What you need to know: Make sure you’re ready to make new connections and know what you’re looking for in a relationship. You’re the only one who can define what “ready” means for you. Be honest with yourself — and with the people you are seeing.

Phase: Withdrawal

How it feels: This phase is full retreat. You may be tired of dating and putting yourself out there, opting for isolation instead. You may feel like you’re not worthy of a relationship and worry that you’ll always be alone.

What to watch for: This phase can feel a little like depression. You may feel pessimistic or gloomy, have low self-esteem and not much energy. You may overeat or not eat enough, sleep too much or too little, and avoid dealing with people and social situations.

What you need to know: Taking time for yourself is okay, but continue to nurture relationships and physical activities in your life that lift you up. Reach out to loved ones and other positive relationships. Seek support — talking with a trusted friend or a professional can really help.

Phase: I’m good with me

How it feels: At this point in your breakup journey, you’ve worked through the hurt and feel stronger and seriously better about yourself. With some time, self-care and acceptance, you’ve developed greater self-esteem and regained your confidence and optimism.

What to watch for: You’re on the right track! You proactively do healthy things, date with a better sense of what’s right for you, and nurture your relationships with friends and family.

What you need to know: See what a difference self-acceptance can make! Feeling good and self-assured can radiate out, leading to better relationships with yourself and others. Take time to appreciate yourself, continue to reflect, embark on and grow on your own personal journey.

Talking helps work it out

When a breakup happens in military life, you could find yourself far away from your regular support network of family and friends — or you may feel like you need to “tough it out.”

But talking to a peer or a pro — someone who can offer confidential support and be present to listen — can make a big difference in how you cope with the stress of a breakup.

And remember, more help and support are always at hand:

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