How to deal with heartbreak: 7 stages to get over someone you loved

Breaking up with someone you love can be one of the most difficult experiences you will ever encounter.

Whether you are breaking up with your partner or your partner is breaking up with you, getting over a breakup can be a heart-wrenching, soul-draining endeavor, one that leaves many people struggling for months or years if not handled properly.

Moving on with your life is essential, but the only way you can move on is if you deal with the breakup properly.

In this guide, we have written everything you need to know about accepting your breakup, understanding the grieving process, and moving on as a bigger and better person.

How to deal with heartbreak: Accepting, Understanding, and Embracing the Breakup

Understanding Your (Ex-)Relationship

The first step towards leaving a relationship and getting over a breakup is understanding it.

Experiences vary from one person to another, and your bond with one partner can be completely different from your bond to another.

Some psychologists refer to the frames of relationship model, in which three general types of relationships are described:

– A-Frame Relationship: One partner is heavily reliant on the other for their basic needs, both physical and emotional.

A-frame relationships are very one-sided, with one partner having much more power than the other.

Any change in this power structure can lead to the first person “falling over”. For the dependent partner, breakups can be very difficult if not traumatizing.

– H-Frame Relationship: These relationships are those in which both partners live lives that almost never intersect.

Their lives run parallel to one another, meaning their work, social life, hobbies, and social circles are independent of one another.

When breaking up, both partners should be able to recover quickly. However, they may find difficulty finding a new partner in the future if they do not change their relationship expectations.

– M-Frame Relationship: This is the healthiest relationship framework, where partners are both reliant on each other for emotional and social support but are equally independent enough to manage a breakup without much distress.

Partners love each other without forgetting who they are. In some cases, these relationships can also be the most painful during breakups.

The better you understand the general framework of your failing or previous relationship, the more successfully you can navigate the messy phase of breaking up.

But how do you know the difference between “just another fight” and the final breakup?

[Struggling to get over a break-up? In my new eBook The Art of Breaking Up: The Ultimate Guide to Letting Go of Someone You Loved, you’ll learn how to accept yourself, your feelings and the breakup, and ultimately move forward with a life full of joy and meaning. Check it out here.]

Figuring Out the Breakup: The Path to Disaffection

Many people have trouble distinguishing the death of a relationship and the need to finally breakup from just another fight or disagreement.

This is because of the way our personal allowances for the relationship shift as the relationship evolves.

Flaws and issues that we pass off as unimportant in the beginning may become huge problems as the relationship matures.

For example, you may have the annoying habit of picking your ear at the dinner table.

For a new relationship, your partner may find your normally-annoying behavior as an endearing and quirky quality, and perceive it in a way that adds value to your character and thus your overall relationship.

As the relationship matures and other greater disagreements begin to pop up, your partner will begin to reevaluate the little quirks and see them instead as annoying habits.

The allowances you were offered in the past begin to dissolve, and things that were once cute will now seem tiresome.

Every imperfection between you, your partner, and your shared dynamic will be assessed under a more pronounced level of scrutiny.

It is at this point that you or your partner decide if they are willing to change, or if you will defend yourself and see your partner as petty.

Partners who are unwilling to change ultimately doom the relationship to failure, ensuring that a breakup is inevitable.

(To dive deep into mindful techniques to improve your self-esteem and live in the present moment, check out Hack Spirit’s most popular eBook: The No-Nonsense Guide to Using Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy for a Better Life).

Why Breakups Are So Difficult for Your Brain

Image credit: Shutterstock – By Roman Kosolapov

Breakups are never easy. We find ourselves in a state of mind unlike any other: unable to concentrate on anything else, an absolute obsession over the ex, and an utter feeling of hopelessness and despair that can hang over you for months.

But why exactly do we feel this intense emotional, mental, and even physical reaction?

To find out, researchers from Columbia University looked into the brain activity of individuals who had experienced recent breakups.

Surprisingly, they found that the parts of the brain associated with sensations of physical pain would be triggered when individuals were shown pictures of their ex-partner.

In another study, researchers found that the brain processes a breakup the same way it processes drug addiction withdrawal.

The level that you crave an ex-partner after a recent breakup is similar to the way drug addicts crave for a drug.

Love drives us through a reward/motivation system in the brain – we are motivated by the reward of being with our partner – and losing that system cold turkey can extremely difficult.

Why You and Your Partner Deal with Breaking Up Differently

As difficult as breaking up can be, it may seem unusual for many heterosexual partners to see their opposite sex ex-partner dealing with the breakup in a completely different way.

While it may hurt to see that your ex-partner isn’t experiencing the same level of pain as you, it is important to remember that this is normal, and it’s due to the inherently different ways the opposite sexes deal with breakups.

According to psychologist Melanie Schilling, “women need to connect and men need to do something”.

This is why after a breakup you will usually see men preoccupying themselves with something new, such as jumping into a new sport, going abroad, finding a new time-consuming hobby, or even immediately getting into a new relationship.

Meanwhile, women need social interaction, looking for emotional support from their social circle.

This can be partly explained by the social expectations of men and masculinity.

Men often believe they must protect themselves from intense negative emotions, believing they should instead “man up” instead of dwelling on something that is already done.

Women, however, have much more emotional freedom to truly release their emotions, giving them healthier options when it comes to moving on.

But moving on from your relationship can depend not only on the type of relationship you had, but the type of breakup you experienced.

Breaking Up, Learning, and Moving On

Woman sitting on top of mountain. If you want to change your life, you can.

Types of Break Ups (And How to Deal With Them)

There are many ways you and your partner can breakup, and the situation and manner of the breakup can help to determine the best way to begin getting over it.

The most common breakups include:

1) The break up that shouldn’t have happened

Not all break ups are done for the right reason and not all break ups need to be permanent.

Break ups can happen for trivial reasons and for circumstances out of your control.

When this happens, then you need a plan of action to get your ex back.

The thing is, men and women want different things from a relationship. And not many people actually know what the opposite sex really wants from them.

A new theory in relationship psychology is revealing exactly what men need from their partner to live meaningful and satisfying lives.

It’s called the hero instinct.

Men have a built in desire for something “greater” that goes beyond love or sex. It’s why men who seemingly have the “perfect girlfriend” are unhappy when they get married and find themselves constantly searching for something else — or worst of all, someone else.

According to this theory, a man wants to see himself as a hero. As someone his partner genuinely wants and needs to have around. Not as a mere accessory, ‘best friend’, or ‘partner in crime’.

And the kicker?

It’s actually up to the woman to bring this instinct to the fore.

I know it sounds a bit silly. In this day and age, women don’t need someone to rescue them. They don’t need a ‘hero’ in their lives.

And I couldn’t agree more.

But here’s the ironic truth. Men do still need to feel like a hero. Because it’s built into their DNA to seek out relationships that allow them to feel like a protector.

The simple truth is that understanding more about the hero instinct can help you reverse a break up that should not have happened in the first place.

How do you trigger the hero instinct?

The best way to learn how to do this is to watch this free online video. James Bauer, the relationship psychologist who first coined this term, gives a terrific introduction to his concept.

Some ideas really are life-changing. And when it comes to getting your ex back, I think this is one of them.

Here’s a link to the video again.

2) Cheating or Abuse

The Situation: Your partner has hurt you. They’ve emotionally or physically cheated on you, they’ve been dishonest with you, or they have abused you.

It was difficult to accept the situation, but when you finally did, you knew you could never be with them again.

How You May Feel: That it was your fault. That you deserved to be abused, lied, or cheated on. They may have convinced you that you drove them to do it, and everything they did was because of you.

How To Get Over It: Don’t blame yourself. Blaming yourself can keep you in your own pit for months if not years.

What they did is not because of you; it’s a product of their own issues, and it’s something they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. Unlike you, who can begin moving on today.

Don’t care about someone who doesn’t care about you.

3) The Sudden Breakup

The Situation: Everything seems to be going fine. You recently had a great date, you have vacation plans coming up, you’ve introduced them to your family and friends, and you see a great future with them.

Then out of nowhere, you will get a text or message that reads something like, “It’s over. I can’t do this anymore.”

How You May Feel: Lost, confused, disoriented. This is the one that can really knock people off balance. The rug is pulled out from under you, and you don’t even know where to start when it comes to putting your life back together.

How To Get Over It: The first step is being thankful that it’s done, and you didn’t waste a second more on a relationship that was doomed to fail. Don’t focus on what you did wrong or what you could’ve done better; if they won’t tell you, then it’s time to move on and try again.

4) Natural, Slow Fizzle

The Situation: You and your partner had a great spark for a long time. You vibed on everything, and you thought this was the one that would last forever. Unfortunately, the sparks slowed down. Conversations started becoming dull, and both of you started getting bored. Eventually, you just stop talking and seeing each other.

How You May Feel: You have a yearning for something that is no longer there. You feel frustrated and confused because you knew that you two could click, so why aren’t you clicking anymore? You are angry at your partner because you have no idea what happened, so you blame them for not trying hard enough.

How To Get Over It: Don’t blame anyone. Sometimes relationships just weren’t meant to be. If you think the spark is gone, then ask them how they feel; if they feel the same way, then communicate with them: ask them if this is something they want to keep trying to fix, or if it’s time to drop it.

5) The Ultimatum

The Situation: You have a wonderful relationship, but there is one very important issue where you and your partner aren’t on the same page.

You spend weeks or months discussing it, but you can never find common ground; you just don’t feel the same way about something.

Maybe it’s marriage, kids, or moving to another city. Then one day they give you the ultimatum: “Propose to me in six months or this is done.”

How You May Feel: You will either feel angry and insulted that your partner pulled an ultimatum on you, or you will feel trapped and pushed into a corner.

If you choose to stand your ground, you will lose your partner; if you choose to budge, you might be losing your own values. You are forced to make a tough decision.

How To Get Over It: If you choose to stick to your values and lose your partner, then you just have to accept it. Accept the reality that people can be perfect for each other in every way except one, and that one aspect may be the deal-breaker.

(Struggling to get over a break-up? In my new eBook, The Art of Breaking Up: The Ultimate Guide to Letting Go of Someone You Loved, you’ll learn how to accept yourself, your feelings and the breakup, and ultimately move forward with a better life. Check it out here) 

6) Your First Love

The Situation: Your first love. You’ve never experienced heartbreak before. Then for one reason or another, it’s done.

The relationship is over, and you are now experiencing the withdrawal of breaking up for the first time in your life.

How You May Feel: Hopeless, lost, in absolute despair. You think that you’ve blown the one shot you have at a perfect life with the perfect partner.

You hate yourself for not being the perfect person for them, and you try relentlessly to do anything to get your partner back. This feeling can last months if not years.

How To Get Over It: There is no easy way out. It’s a learning experience, and like every lesson, the more times you experience it, the more you understand it.

The first time is the roughest, but perhaps the best tip you can remember is this: this is the first time.

There will be others, there will be more. Feel the pain, embrace it, let yourself hurt; and then move on.

Maneuvering the 7 Stages of the Breakup, and Avoiding Common Mistakes

The breakup has 7 stages of grief, each with its own general timeline and common mistakes. Maneuvering these stages successfully is key towards getting over your breakup and starting your life anew.

Grieving stage 1: Desperation

General timeline: Immediately post-breakup

What is it: You are confused and you have to know why this happened, how this could happen, why you deserve this pain. You will be seeking answers in desperation.

Common mistake: You will actively seek out your ex. You will harass them, pester them, message them on all channels, and force them to talk to you. You will also ignore everything they say because you don’t like it.

Helpful tip: Write down or record everything they say to you. Read it over and over again. You have the answers; you just don’t want to listen to them.

Grieving stage 2: Denial

General timeline: 1-2 weeks

What is it: You refuse to believe this is happening. This entire relationship has been your whole life, and now it’s gone. You don’t want to face the reality of it, so you don’t even think about it.

Common mistake: Social media stalking. Because you are still in denial, you still want to ignore the fact that you are no longer in a relationship. You stalk everything your ex does, because you still think you are part of their life.

Helpful tip: Meditate. Meditate for 15-30 minutes a day. Let yourself breathe in and breathe out; even if you don’t want to accept it yet, at least you can begin preparing and calming your mind.

Grieving stage 3: Bargaining

General timeline: 2-3 weeks

What is it: You will do anything to get them back. You bargain everything, promising anything you think they might want. You completely give yourself offer to them.

Common mistake: Becoming their casual hook-up. They may start calling you whenever they want sex, and you will jump on it right away just to please them. You start to believe that sex will help revive the relationship, even though your partner just sees it as a hookup.

Helpful tip: Talk to your friends, and ask them to tell you how they feel about your ex. They will help clear your mind and help you see him or her in a new light, one you are currently unable to see.

Grieving stage 4: Relapse

General timeline: 1 month

What is it: This stage is optional, depending on the partner. You may convince your partner to give the relationship another shot. Unfortunately, their heart won’t be in it like yours, and you will ultimately succumb under the pressure.

Common mistake: Becoming completely submissive. You give your partner everything you think they want, so much that you are no longer like a person. Instead of winning back their love, however, you are just shifting the power dynamic of the relationship.

Helpful tip: Get rid of all physical reminders of your partner. Do your best to avoid the relapse altogether; out of sight, out of mind.

Grieving stage 5: Anger

General timeline: 1-2 months

What is it: You will direct your anger at various parts of your life: your ex, your family, your friends, your work. You can even be angry at yourself because you will feel inadequate and unlovable

Common mistake: Going on dating apps to find new flings. While dating can help the grieving process, having one-night stands can be counterproductive, leaving you feeling angrier and more bitter at yourself if done too early.

Helpful tip: Join a gym. You will have extra energy and the anger can be redirected to a physical outlet. Not only will joining a gym help you expend your extra energy, it will also give you great boosts of dopamine.

Grieving stage 6: Initial Acceptance

General timeline: 3-6 months

What is it: You finally surrender. You truly accept that the breakup has occurred, and you are living a life that is now moved on from the relationship. You can finally begin to see yourself without the bitterness, jealousy, or anger of the last few months.

Common mistake: Dating immediately. If you date too quickly, you will find that you are still too vulnerable, both emotionally and mentally, to begin the foundation of a new relationship. You need adequate time to work on yourself and fulfill your own needs.

Helpful tip: Find new hobbies. Change your life in little ways. Mix things up – maybe move apartments, or at least move your furniture around. Do everything you can to give yourself a new life that doesn’t resemble your previous life.

Grieving stage 7: New Hope

General timeline: 6 months +

What is it: You have surrendered, but now you realize that there was nothing to surrender to. Your life is yours, and your decisions are up to you. You finally understand the fact that you could have changed and started anew all this time – now you are ready to move on.

Common mistake: Seeing your ex. It can still be difficult to contact your ex at this point, especially if their grieving process was shorter than yours (or if they had no grieving process at all). Stay away from your ex for a while longer; work on yourself, and establish your own strong foundation of mental and emotional stability.

Helpful tip: Date casually. See what’s out there. Find people with similar interests, and talk to them, have dinner with them, make love with them. You don’t have to commit, but you also don’t have to be afraid anymore. Life must go on.

Post-Breakup: Loving the New You

If you’ve made it through the 7 stages of grieving, or if you’ve made it this far into the guide and understand all the pitfalls and obstacles on the long road ahead of you, congratulations.

You’ve reached the post-breakup phase, and you’ve successfully transitioned the relationship and breakup from being a part of your identity to just another chapter in your history.

It’s time you focus on loving the new you. The grieving is done and the learning is complete, and the person you see in the mirror is stronger, wiser, and better than they were before the breakup.

Make the most of your breakup experience, because for good or for bad, this is the person you’ve become. It’s time to love yourself again.

If you’re still struggling with heartbreak, then check out my latest eBook: The Art of Breaking Up: The Ultimate Guide to Letting Go of Someone You Loved. Letting go of someone isn’t as easy as swiping left of right. But with the help of the no-nonsense advice in this eBook, you’ll stop agonizing over your past, and be reinvigorated to tackle life head-on. Check it out here.

FREE eBook: 4 Steps to Starting Over With An Ex

Do you want to get back with your ex?

Then you need to check out our FREE eBook, The Ex Back Handbook.

We have one goal in mind with this book: to help you win back an ex (for good!).

If you want a foolproof plan to reverse your break up, you’re going to love this guide.

Check it out here.


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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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