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How Am I Supposed to Feel After a Breakup?
Going through a breakup can be very difficult and stressful, and there's no one way you're supposed to feel about it. Often, you are filled with many confusing emotions at once, and you may wonder if what you're feeling is normal. For a while, you might even become overwhelmed with emotions, but don't worry—it's absolutely normal to feel this way. It's quite a process to let go of a person you really loved.
In this article, you will learn about the complicated emotions people commonly experience after a breakup, and—more importantly—how to cope with them.
The Emotional Stages Most People Go Through After a Breakup:
- Shock and denial
- Desperate need for answers
- Fear, loneliness, and sadness
- Bargaining (a.k.a. the "crazy" stage)
- Peace and acceptance
Everyone will go through different stages at different times, so don't worry if you feel like it is taking a little longer than expected to get over a loss. Sometimes, you might even repeat a stage that you've already gone through. Continue scrolling to learn more about each stage and how to cope.
1. Shock and Denial
Shock and denial go hand in hand. At first, you will feel like you are dreaming. Even if you knew that the relationship was in trouble, you never actually thought that a breakup was possible—your significant other loved you too much to leave. Despite all the bad times, there were many good times. You shared so many wonderful memories that this cannot be real.
You tell yourself that your significant other will soon realize that they are wrong and come running back. You can't believe that this is happening to you because you were once "the perfect couple." You tend to forget all the bad things or see them through rose-colored glasses. You continually tell yourself that you guys will fix things, and everything will be okay.
You're constantly be staring at your phone, waiting for the caller ID to say their name. You believe that they will call soon; they must be busy. At this point, you still will not be able to refer to them as your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend. You tell people that you are not really broken up—you both just need a little time.
2. Desperate Need for Answers
Once the shock of your breakup has worn off, you will likely start asking yourself lots of "what if," "why," and "how" questions, such as:
- What's wrong with me?
- Why didn't he/she want to try to make it work?
- How could I have fixed things?
After a breakup, it's completely normal to feel a burning desire to understand why things happened the way they did. This is a very painful stage, as many of the questions people ask themselves after breakups reflect profound feelings of rejection and inadequacy. You may find yourself fixating on things you or your ex said or did—replaying the memories over and over in your head and trying to pull a rational answer from them.
You may feel like all you can think about is your ex.
The pain and confusion that stems from heartbreak can consume every part of your life, becoming all you think or talk about. You will likely find yourself seeking answers from your coworkers, family, or friends, going over every aspect of the relationship and trying to find logical explanations for why things shouldn't have ended.
Agonizing over memories of your relationship, both good and bad, can even cause you to dream of your ex. This, in turn, can affect the quality of your sleep and cause you to wake up feeling sadder and more exhausted than you were when you went to bed. Unfortunately, there's no way to fix this—you must simply let it pass with time.
3. Fear, Loneliness, and Sadness
The phone has not rung, and it has been quite a while. You are getting over the shock and starting to realize that they might not call. You start to think to yourself that maybe this is real. And that's when fear starts to kick in.
You fear that you will be lonely forever. You fear that you will have nobody to talk to. You fear that you will not be able to make it in this big, scary world without them. You fear that when you are sick, there will be nobody there to comfort you.
Sadness and depression often kick in when the initial shock wears off.
While you may have felt some initial sadness mingling with the shock of the breakup, it truly hits when you start to understand that the split is real. You'll likely want to stay in bed and hide under the covers, feeling lonely, depressed, and sorry for yourself. Talking to friends and family is not an option, and you want nothing to do with what is going on around you.
For some reason, you will torture yourself. You will sit and cry and listen to “your song” a million times, to the point where there are no more tears left. You will look at pictures of your ex over and over again. You'll tell yourself that you will never be able to find a person who will love you the way that they did. You'll question if you're good enough and if someone else could ever love you.
4. Bargaining (a.k.a. the “Crazy Stage”)
This stage is a little bit of everything mixed into one. It is the stage where shock, denial, fear, loneliness, and sadness kind of come together. I know that many of us have gone through the crazy stage. This is when you have realized that the breakup is real, but you are not going to let it stay that way. You are going to do everything you can to try to make this person come back into your life. You are willing to do anything if it means being with them again.
You may feel compelled to contact your ex and beg to get back together.
While this may seem like a good idea, there are many benefits to the no-contact rule. But it can be very hard to resist getting in touch with your ex. They haven’t called, so you decide to call them. They haven’t written an email, so you plan to write them one. They haven't texted you, so you tell yourself you'll text them.
Unfortunately, most people in this stage don't do these things one time and move on—instead, they bombard their ex with calls, texts, emails, and letters and beg for them to respond. You promise them that this time will be different. You promise to make all of the wrongs right. You try to remind them of all the good memories and make them see that it wasn’t so bad after all. You promise to do anything to make it work.
You read articles and books and watch TV shows on “how to get your ex back.” This is now war. You tell yourself that you're going to make them love you. The outcome of this stage can vary. Because you are setting yourself up for disappointment, when you don't get the response you were looking for, you might revert back to one of the above stages. Some people will be in denial or feel lonely again, while others will experience more anger.
You may obsess over monitoring their social media.
If you decide not to contact your ex, or you do, and they don't respond, you may resort to obsessively checking their social media accounts. After all, you want to make sure that there are no other significant people in their lives, and the only way you can do that is by constantly looking at their online activity.
If you do go down that rabbit hole, remember that the way people portray themselves on social media isn't always an accurate representation of the way they really feel. So even if it looks like your ex is carefree and living their best life just days or weeks after you break up, that probably isn't the case. In fact, people often post these kinds of photos for the express purpose of making their exes jealous (regardless of whether they are the dumper or the dumpee).
Sometimes, bargaining can lead to relapse.
You may be able to convince your ex to try again (especially if yours was an on-again, off-again relationship to begin with). While this will temporarily ease your pain, it will only make things worse if you break up again. No matter how much you wish it were possible, you can't make a relationship work if you're the only one who wants it to. Healthy relationships require effort from both partners, and you can't blame yourself for not being able to uphold a relationship on your own.
Now that you have been crying for a while and have not moved from your spot on the bed for weeks, you start to think about all the things that you did for this person.
You tell yourself things like:
- I don't understand why they left me.
- I was such a good boyfriend/girlfriend.
- Nobody else will ever do what I did for them.
- Good luck trying to find somebody who will do the things I did for you.
At this point, you need to blame somebody. You are tired of blaming yourself, so it suddenly becomes their fault. You are sick of hearing that song and turn the radio off every time you hear it. You want to rip their picture into a million little pieces and burn it.
Though this stage can be emotionally taxing (as if all the other ones aren't), it can also be empowering. Anger—whether it's directed toward your ex, yourself, or the situation in general—can put an end to the numbness and make you feel alive again. It can also give you positive direction and help you lift yourself out of your slump. For many, anger is the first step toward healing.
Note: While anger can be a healthy stage in the healing process, it's important not to take it too far. Resist the urge to badmouth your ex to his friends and definitely don't pull a "Before He Cheats" and vandalize your ex's car (or anything else they own). Burning a picture is one thing, but damaging property is going too far.
6. Peace and Acceptance
Even though you feel as though you will never get to the point of peace, you will. One day you will sit back and realize that you have made it! In spite of the heartache, tears, anger, and fear, you are still alive! Thinking of this person will bring about happy feelings instead of feeling like a knife is cutting through your heart. You will be much stronger than you were before, and you will have learned a lot about what you need and want.
A key shift occurs in this stage—instead of looking back, you will start to plan for the future. For the first time in what feels like ages, you will be excited about life and other people again. You will come to the empowering realization that you don't need your ex to be happy because only you can make you happy. You will realize that you are capable of loving again and that you are worthy of being loved. This is a major breakthrough, so you should be proud!
There are many benefits to forgiving your ex (and yourself), so as soon as you feel like you can let go of those last traces of bitterness, let it happen. For some, this last step can be difficult because that anger—no matter how toxic—can feel like the last connection with your ex. But cutting that final tether will truly free you and give you the strength to rebuild yourself and move on.
Sometimes it can take quite a while to reach this point. Accepting the breakup and coming to terms with why it happened is very different from actually forgiving your ex and—more importantly—yourself, so don't rush it. You will get there, and when you do, you will know that you have well and truly moved on.
Ways to Cope With Your Breakup
Nobody can predict exactly how long it will take for the pain to go away, and every person is different, but here are some general tips to help you get through your breakup.
Remember the good times and all that the relationship taught you.
It is really hard when you have created so many memories and shared so many important details of your life with another person. Letting go is not an easy thing to do. The main goal is to understand that yes, your life will change, but this does not mean you have to forget all the good memories and times you shared with a person. This is a part of you and always will be. Remember what this person has taught you and be thankful that you were able to experience the things that you did.
Make an effort to stay healthy throughout the "letting go" process.
You just have to make sure that you keep yourself healthy during these stages. You need to try your best to get advice and support from the people around you. Eat properly. Try to get out of the house and socialize a little.
Don't jump right into another relationship (or rebound sex).
Many people suggest jumping into another relationship or simply seeking rebound sex right after a breakup to get your mind off the other person. I do not suggest that.
At this point, you have many emotions built up, and immediately starting a new relationship will not allow you to heal from this one or give the new relationship a fair shot. So give yourself time. Get to know yourself. Discover what makes you happy and try to be strong. Many times after a big breakup, we discover things about ourselves that we weren’t even aware of.
Find a new hobby.
Now's the time to test out that new activity you've been dying to try. Be it baking or boxing, diving into something new can really take your mind off of your ex. Learning something new stimulates your brain and helps start the rebuilding process. It will also boost your self-esteem because you will realize that you are capable of anything you put your mind to. Here are some of the best hobbies to try after a breakup:
- Rock climbing, yoga, or any other type of exercise
- Volunteering for a cause you care about
- Learning to knit or crochet
- Taking an art class
- Learning how to play an instrument
- Learning how to cook
Listen to music.
Lean on your friends and family.
When dealing with the roller coaster of emotions involved in recovering from a breakup, it's key to rely on those around you. Whether you reach out for a shoulder to cry on or someone to scream from the rooftops with, spending time with your friends and family can really boost your mood when you're feeling low.
While it can be tempting to spend your time alone, and you may even avoid your friends because you don't want to be a "downer," your true friends will be there for you through thick and thin. They'll understand your pain and want to do anything they can to make you feel better.
Let yourself cry.
Crying after a breakup is totally normal, so if it feels like the tears need to flow, let them. Keeping your emotions bottled up can often make things worse and lead to an uncontrollable outburst at a later date (like the first time you see your ex after the split—yikes!). Having a good cry can be extremely cathartic even when you aren't dealing with something stressful like a breakup, so it's even more helpful when you are.
Know that you cannot make someone love you.
After all is said and done, if you still feel that this relationship has a chance, then maybe you and the other person can work on it. But remember you cannot make another person love you.
Give them the time and the space they require to get their head straight as well. They have gone through this breakup too, and I am sure they are feeling a whole bunch of different emotions. We have to remember that. We tend to be selfish when it comes to these things. This person might be going through the same thing as you. Being overly persistent and clingy is just going to push them away even more.
Don't be so hard on yourself.
Just because a relationship did not work out does not make you a bad person, and it's important to avoid negative self-talk that reinforces that belief (or ones like it). Going through a breakup does not mean that nobody will ever love you again.
Maybe you did try your best to do all you could for the other person. When you are with another person, remember you are part of a couple. A couple is two people, and you are only one of the two. You can only do what you can do, just like the other person can only do what they can do.
If you truly love a person, you should want what is best for them. It would not be fair to make a person stay in a relationship that is not fulfilling to them. It does not mean that you are lacking something (maybe they are lacking something within themselves) and no matter how many things you did for them or no matter how much you loved them, they will never find the satisfaction they are looking for.
Allow yourself time to heal.
Unfortunately, there's no magic number when it comes to breakups—no one can say how exactly how long it will take to process your thoughts and feelings. It could take anywhere from weeks to months to heal completely, but it's important not to rush yourself.
Give yourself the time required to heal. Let your emotions out and address them. Do not try to pretend like you are okay if you really aren't; this will just prolong the process. Remember that time heals all wounds!
Tell yourself you deserve to be happy (and really believe it).
This is the most important piece of advice I have for you, but it's also the hardest one to follow. Letting go of feelings that you aren't good enough or that you aren't worthy of love can be almost as hard as letting go of your ex, but it is absolutely necessary. Just because someone might have stopped loving, you should never stop you from loving yourself. So tell yourself—every day—that you deserve to be happy (and believe it!).
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: My husband left me on March 15, 2019 after 17 years together. My main problem right now is I’m still crying a lot, almost every day and I want to stop. I want the crying to stop and I don’t know how. How can I stop crying over my ex-husband?
Answer: It is natural for you to still be crying. You spent many years of your life together. This is a very new break up and you need time to grieve. Give it time. Make sure you're taking care of yourself and doing things that you love and the crying will stop when you are naturally ready.
Question: We were best friends. I can't fathom a life without him. I don't know how to deal with the fact that I will never speak to him or see him again. It feels like death but worse because it is voluntary withdrawal and rejection. How do I deal with these feelings of rejection?
Answer: I know exactly how you feel because that happened to me. It does feel like the end of the world and you cannot imagine how life will go on now that he is out of your life. Nothing that I am going to tell you right now will make the pain stop right at this moment because we need time to heal and deal with the fact that our lives will change, but I know for a fact that you will survive and you will get through it and like any pain one day it will be a distant memory and you would have forgotten how bad you were feeling. Just know that there is so much out there in the world and you can and will find something even stronger and more fulfilling than what you have now. I know that you probably do not believe that now, but with every breakup, you learn something about yourself and it becomes a growth experience. Give yourself the time you need to grieve and adapt to your new existence but know that this is just temporary and that you need to take care of yourself mentally and physically.
Question: My boyfriend of 5 years ended it 3 weeks ago because he thinks he’s gay. I had no signs anything was wrong. He was always the perfect partner in every way. I feel angry because it feels like he’s lied for the last five years. How do I stop feeling angry and upset?
Answer: It seems as though your boyfriend is trying to figure something out within himself. I understand the anger you may be feeling but just because he thinks he may be gay it does not mean he doesn't love you or that his love was not true. We sometimes have to accept letting go for the benefit of the other person. Give him a little space and allow him to figure his feelings out. It will be better for both of you.
Question: Should I sometimes feel that I was the only reason we broke up?
Answer: Hello, I am sorry you are going through this. It is completely normal to sometimes feel that we are the main cause of a break-up. Truth be told that is not what is important at the moment. Both you and your partner are going to hold some responsibility in the break-up. I am sure neither of you is perfect. Obviously, something was not right in the relationship which caused the split, but you should not feel guilty about that. There are always going to be problems in a relationship and staying in a healthy relationship requires work on both parts. Communicating your problems, issues and concerns are what keeps the relationship growing and going strong. If you feel that you played a bigger part in the reasoning behind the breakup, try to figure out why and try to work on that part of yourself. Sometimes these situations can help us to grow and learn more about ourselves. Do not beat yourself up about this breakup. We live and we learn, this is the truth, Good luck to you.
Question: My wife left me a month ago after 14 years of being together. I’ve spent the last month agonizing, crying, feeling guilty and feeling the lowest ever. I had some good news about a new job & I feel a lot more optimistic. It is normal just to feel your mood improve even after you’re the one who’s been rejected? I was also upset about my wife potentially meeting someone else. This is fading a bit too. Is this normal?
Answer: We all grieve on our own terms and our own time. Initially I think what gets us the most is the rejection and the shock of the split. It usually hits us all pretty hard. I am not sure the circumstances of your relationship, but maybe you had your chance to accept the fact that this relationship is over and now you may realize that it could be for the best. It may have just happened that you received your good news during the same time you were coming to this realization. It probably also lifted your spirits and help you to realize that things will be okay. If you accept that the relationship is over, you are also going to accept that your wife will most likely find someone else just as you will most likely find someone else as well. Sometimes when we split it is actually for the best. It does not mean that we no longer care about the person, but maybe things just are not able to be worked out and best for both people.
Question: My girlfriend of 9 months left me on 8 October 2019 because she thought I cheated on her. Then I told her that it was a joke. I didn't cheat on her. But she doesn't believe me. Should I be angry or should I be understanding because I lied to her?
Answer: I totally understand why she is upset. Usually, people do not lie about something like that. She probably doesn't know if she should believe you. If you really didn't cheat on her and want her back you will have to prove it to her. You shouldn't be angry with her. When someone is cheated trust is lost, same with lies. Give her time to trust you again.
Question: Me and my boyfriend have been together and co-existing in the same house for 12 years. I finally put him out now I feel like I want him back. Do you think this is because he is talking to another girl or do you think its just me feeling a certain way because I know he is really gone? Every time I think about him I get this bad feeling like I miss him but when he was here I paid him no attention.
Answer: I think that you are probably feeling some jealousy because you were so used to him being yours and him being with you. You will definitely need time to adjust to the change. Obviously there were issues in the relationship. I am not sure what your issues were but change is always hard and always an adjustment. If things were not working before they will not work now. They will not work until you fix the issues and work together to rebuild the relationship if that's what you want. Give yourself some time to try to decipher if what you are feeling is jealousy or if you really want to put in the hard work and effort it takes to rebuild the relationship.
Question: My husband has left twice in 1 year, and now he wants us to buy a house together. How can we when I don’t trust that he will not bail again?
Answer: I totally understand why you would question this. In my opinion I wouldn't go ahead and purchase a house together until you feel secure in the relationship again. Definitely do not rush back in. He should understand this and your concerns.
Question: My ex left me for someone else and lied to her about a lot of things. If she knew it would end their relationship - I don’t want my ex back but I have this overwhelming need for “revenge” - why should he get happy ever after?
Answer: Though you may feel the need for revenge getting in the middle of their relationship probably would not work out the way you are hoping. More than likely she will think you're just being spiteful. I would let it go because if they are meant to be then they will be. Sometimes we don't realize that the end of a relationship is really a blessing and allows us to find the relationship that is really supposed to be. Relationships don't always work out but they always teach us something. So though your ex did not turn out the way you had hoped revenge would not solve anything. Just focus on yourself and let him be and good things will happen for you.
Question: I'm a woman. I was married to another woman for 3 years, she was my best friend, we always hung out, did everything together, but because of circumstances, we realized that we couldn't give each other what we needed, and I'm finding men attractive, she however lives with me and it hurts seeing her cause i want to hug her. Will this pain end?
Answer: Yes eventually the pain will end but in my opinion living together is probably not the best idea when you are initially trying to move on from each other. Maybe in the future you will be able to have a friendship but you need time apart in order to heal and understand your own feelings. The pain will take much longer to end if you are in this situation.
Question: I actually broke up with my boyfriend because he doesn’t have time for me. He works every day and rarely speaks to me but I’m still finding it hard to move on even though I wanted the break. What can I do?
Answer: You have to think about the reasons why you broke up with him in the first place. You were obviously not feeling like things were going the way you would have liked them to be. But you cared for this person so if course you will feel sadness. You just have to take your time in healing ai you can then be able to pursue what you want in your next relationship.
© 2010 Jennifer Bates