2019-02-20
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Break-ups are awful. They break your heart. They crush your hopes and dreams. They leave you lost and confused. The pain of a break-up does, however, eventually fade. How long it takes to recover from a break-up depends on a variety of things, such as how long you and your significant other had been dating, whether the break-up was amiable or bitter and why the relationship ended. A break-up that comes as a result of cheating will be very different than one that ended because both people recognized they wanted different things. Both will be painful, but one comes with a great deal more unanswered questions as well as betrayal.

Regardless of how or why the relationship ended, most people go through seven distinct stages of moving on. Each of these stages comes with their own challenges, but each will eventually end.

Questioning

When your significant other says “we’re over,” the first thing that pops into most people’s heads is “why?” This lingering sense of unanswered questions is the first stage of a break-up. The need for answers can cause you to stop thinking or acting rationally. You are consumed by the desperate desire to understand. You might either fixate on moments where your ex seemed unsure about the break-up or see their pain in the aftermath as proof that they miss you. You might also find yourself trying to explain to your family or friends why the break-up should not have happened, as if you believe convincing them will convince your ex to take you back.

During this stage, one of the most important things is to keep yourself as calm as you can in the moment. Freaking out will not cause your ex to take you back, nor will it stop you from hurting. Also work on accepting that you may never find answers. Living with unanswered questions is not easy, but dissecting every word your ex ever said or searching through their Instagram posts in search of regret will do nothing but delay your healing.

Denial

Most people do not want to admit that their relationship has ended. You put your time and energy toward creating a life with another person. Now, you are being told that all your hard work was for nothing. You refuse to admit to yourself that the relationship is over. You tell friends that you and your significant other are just “taking a break” or that you both just “need a little space.” The unstated assumption is that of course you two will get back together. Your relationship is not over. Your significant other just needed a little time! You cling to any hope you can find that the relationship is not really over.

Hard as it can be, the best thing to do is to accept that the relationship is over. Give up hope of getting back together with your significant other, and let yourself grieve what you have lost. Then, start working on moving forward. Put the sickeningly sweet pictures of the two of you in a drawer, and move the little gifts your partner gave you out of sight. Avoid anything that makes you think your significant other might come back to you. That will not happen, and moving on cannot happen while you still cling to the past. 

Isolation

Isolation is exactly what it sounds like. You isolate yourself. This is the time when you tend to fall into the pattern of Hollywood break-ups. This is where you drown your sorrows in ice cream, chocolate, beer and listen to sad songs on repeat. Isolation is when you have less than no desire to go out with your friends or even leave the house. Isolation is sweatpants and old t-shirts and throwing the biggest pity party you can create. You identify far too much with those Instagram posts that involve deep-sounding quotes superimposed over empty bridges or grey skies.

Isolation is the stage where you really have begun to accept that the relationship is over, and you are miserable as a result. The reality that you are alone is just starting to sink in. Do not let yourself fall apart during this stage. If you need to cry, cry, but do not hide under your blankets or refuse to take a shower. Force yourself to leave the house, and try to avoid indulging desires to fill your Facebook news feed with break-up quotes. Do not let yourself fall into irrational, negative thoughts such as “I’ve lost my only chance with my soul mate” or “I’ll never love again.” There are other fish in the sea. So, get up and go find them.

Anger

Anger is the other stereotypical reaction to a break-up. Once again, this stage is exactly what you envision when you hear “anger” used in relation to a break-up. Anger is when you start throwing away any and all reminders of your ex. You trash their gifts, delete any emails or texts you had saved, unfriend them on social media and destroy anything of theirs you may still have. 

When it comes to anger, the biggest thing to worry about is doing something you will regret later. While it may seem satisfying now to trash the phone he got you for your birthday, taking a hammer to it will just require you to buy a new one. Similarly, hooking up with half a dozen people will not punish your ex. Avoid self-destructive or vindictive behaviors when you are angry. The odds are that you will only hurt yourself or your friends, not your ex.

Bargaining

When you were dealing with the isolation stage, you began to accept that the relationship was over. Bargaining is when you have a sudden, and terrible, resurgence of hope in reconciliation or are reminded how much you wish the relationship had lasted. So, you start bargaining with yourself, God, fate, your cellphone, your dog, anything and everything that will listen. If you do the right thing or say the right words, you can get your ex back! You will give up Facebook for a month if your ex will take you back. You will become a small group leader if God will soften your ex’s heart. You will do whatever it takes!

Bargaining usually comes when you have subconsciously realized that an ended relationship means that you are alone. The fear of being alone causes you to regress back to the earlier stages of dealing with a break-up. To your friends, it seems like you have lost all the progress you made. Bargaining, however, marks a desperation that indicates that you still know the relationship is over. You are just making one last ditch effort to bury your head in the sand.

Depression

Eventually, you cannot pretend anymore. The relationship is over. Nothing will bring your ex back. You are forced to accept that you may never get answers to why it ended. Promising to give up watching “The Bachelor” will not bring your ex back, and using the shirt they left at your place to clean toilets will not make you feel better. When reality sinks in and the fantasy crashes down around you, apathy and misery truly sets in. You may struggle to recall what life was like before you began having a relationship with your ex. 

During the depression stage, make sure to surround yourself with positive and empathetic friends. Also be sure to avoid falling into risky and self-destructive behaviors such as binge eating, excessive drinking or casual sex. Instead, try to involve yourself in things that give you joy, and look for the silver lining whenever possible. If the feelings of mild depression do not ease, become severe or cause you to consider harming yourself, seek professional help immediately.

Acceptance

There is light at the end of the break-up tunnel, and you will get there. This, oddly enough, often seems to happen all at once. You wake up one morning and realize that a picture of your ex no longer hurts you. You can think about your relationship without crippling pain. That the relationship failed evokes only a distant sense of regret akin to “what a shame.” You focus on the future again instead of obsessing over the past. You might still have moments of sadness, and you might not want to spend time with your ex. This, however, is completely normal. You may always be vaguely disappointed that the relationship did not work out, but it is no longer controlling you.

Getting over a break-up takes time. Some people go through all the steps in a matter of weeks. Others take years to heal. Do not be surprised if one relationship takes you longer to get over than others. Also do not be concerned if you seem to bounce between steps or experience them for different lengths of time. Everyone is different, so every heart heals differently. Be patient with yours while it does so.
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