How to Deal With Grief After a Breakup: Step-By-Step

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The emotional pain that follows a breakup can be genuinely profound. Love and the ending of romantic relationships can create the deepest wounds that may take some time to heal from. Losing a romantic relationship is complicated. And when it happens unexpectedly, the ensuing grief can be enough to make a person feel defeated without any will to move on.

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Dealing with the emotional responses to the loss of a relationship can be overwhelming for anyone, whether the breakup was expected or unexpected. Grief and loss can be felt by both parties to a failed relationship regardless of who initiated the split.

Can a Breakup Cause Grief?

People can and do grieve the loss of romantic relationships. However, not all breakups will create the same types of grief, nor will they all hurt the same way. Because there are many different ways to experience loss, especially when there's an end to a romantic relationship, the emotional responses that follow can and often lead to a period of grief and bereavement.

The emotional pain following a breakup can feel devastating and challenging to recover from, similar to other types of grief. A person suffering from heartbreak feels some or all of the symptoms of distress resulting from their loss. Here are some ways in which people tend to experience grief after a breakup. 

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Types of Grief You May Experience After a Breakup

A breakup signifies the end of a relationship that's different from suffering through a partner's death. But the grieving process can be very similar, leaving you feeling bereaved and in a state of mourning for quite some time. Much like other types of loss, there are different types of grief you may experience after a breakup. The following are some common types of grief you could be dealing with.

Normal grief

When the expected reciprocity in your romantic relationship fails, it can lead to a breakup, usually because one or both parties decided to move on. Your grief reactions will depend on who initiated the breakup and the length of your relationship, among other things. When the break is mutual, the grieving process tends to be less impactful and easier to work through.

Complicated grief

The grieving response to emotional pain gets complicated when you still have an attachment to your ex. Couples who remain friends after a breakup or find it impossible to avoid seeing each other can have a more challenging time working through their loss. There's a constant reminder of what was making it difficult to move on from the failed relationship.

Disenfranchised grief

Grieving the loss of a relationship becomes even more complicated when your friends and loved ones don’t understand the depth of your loss. Many people don’t recognize the type of loss felt following a breakup. Your support group might not appreciate the importance of your loss if you weren’t married to your partner, and they might find it challenging to understand your grief. 

The Stages of Grief After a Breakup

Regardless of who the initiator is in a breakup, the parties will likely suffer through a similar grieving process afterward. Grief is a natural and normal response to heartbreak. Grief after a breakup can feel overwhelmingly painful, and the grieving process can mirror that following the death of a loved one or other significant loss. Here we look at the stages of grief and how each can affect a bereaved individual after a breakup.

1. Denial

Denial is often one of the first grief reactions experienced after a breakup. By denying the news that your relationship has ended, your mind works to protect you from any unwanted negative emotions.

Denying the reality of a breakup allows you time to process the information without becoming overwhelmed with grief. Many people whose relationships have ended can't grasp the finality of their situation. They think that their partner's coming back and refuse to accept the breakup.

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2. Anger

Experiencing anger after a breakup isn’t uncommon. Once the reality of the separation sets in, it's natural to experience anger at your former partner. The circumstances surrounding your breakup might cause you to feel angry.

Some people might suffer the infidelity of their partner, while others might experience their partner falling out of love with them and no longer wanting to be in the relationship. There are many other reasons why people in a relationship break up, and anger almost always creeps in when grieving this type of loss. 

3. Bargaining

Many couples who experience a breakup will try to salvage their relationship by maintaining a friendship afterward. Trying to hold on to a part of the relationship is a form of bargaining. One or both people in a relationship may feel that they're not ready to let go of what they had altogether.

As a result, they may continue a friendship despite their breakup. For some couples, staying friends after a relationship may work out, but continued connections to an ex can also delay the grieving process.

4. Depression

The overwhelming feelings of sadness that follow many breakups can lead to depression over time. Trying to hold on to a relationship that no longer works or not allowing yourself to move forward from the loss can contribute to feelings of profound sadness that won't go away. 

You may want to monitor your feelings and the grief process for a few weeks to see if you're experiencing regret after breaking up with someone or if you're suffering through a chronic sadness or apathy that's turned into depression. 

5. Acceptance 

Accepting that your relationship has ended may be one of the most challenging parts of the grieving process, especially early on after the breakup. There's no particular time frame in which grief heals. Some people will accept that their relationship has ended, and they'll move on rather quickly. At the same time, others may feel overwhelming sadness for months after a breakup. 

The acceptance phase of the grieving process is an excellent time to reflect on the relationship and what went wrong, learn from those lessons, and carry them forward as you forge new relationships.

Tips for Dealing With Your Own Grief After a Breakup

When your relationship ends, you may be dealing with many conflicting emotions brought on by the grieving process. Coping with the many varied emotional responses might prove challenging early on, especially if your breakup came unexpectedly and wasn’t something you initiated. 

Here are a few healthy ways to cope with your grief as you learn to process it.

Give yourself time to be sad

The loss of a relationship is reason enough to feel grief and sadness. There are no magic words that anyone can say to ease the pain of your suffering. Sometimes you have to go through your sorrow and allow for the expression of your emotions. 

However, there are ways of dealing with your grief to help you regain control. You may find it beneficial to give yourself a particular time limit to process your breakup. After that, you can fully focus on rebuilding your future. 

» MORE: Need help with funeral costs? Create a free online memorial to gather donations.

Develop a self-care plan

The end of a relationship can create a lot of self-doubts and contribute to lowered self-esteem. Experiencing a lack of confidence, low energy, and a general sense of defeat isn’t uncommon after a breakup. An important thing to consider is focusing on your mental and emotional state. Try adding a daily exercise routine, healthier eating habits, and spiritual care.

Focus on your future

When you break up with someone you love and want to be with, it's easy to get hung up on the reasons why your relationship ended. Going over the details of what went wrong instead of focusing on processing your grief can be tempting. 

Breakups sometimes cause a lot of emotional pain that makes us want to figure out what happened. Reflecting on your past relationship is a healthy way of processing your grief. However, getting stuck in the past isn't.

Tips for Supporting a Loved One Through Grief After a Breakup

We've all seen the television commercials and romantic movies portraying a jilted lover surrounded by their supportive friends eating pizza and ice cream. These are rituals that help you cope when dealing with the pain and sadness of a breakup. 

Having someone support you through your loss helps speed the grief recovery process. Here are some ideas for you to help a loved one suffering through a devastating breakup.

Bring the pizza

The film and television industry has nailed this one. A great way of helping someone get over their loss is by spending time with them and feeding them comfort food. Whenever we spend time with our loved ones who are suffering, it makes them feel loved and supported, making the grieving process a little bit easier for them. Stop and pick up some comfort food before heading over and plan on staying for a while.

Create a judgment-free space

In a breakup, there are always two sides to the story. However, it's not up to you to figure out what went wrong in your loved one's relationship. When listening to your loved one go over the details of what's happened, try to refrain from making judgments, choosing sides, or offering your opinions.

Being supportive requires you to be a great listener without adding your narrative to the situation, possibly making your loved one feel worse. 

Hang out together

We all know that being in a relationship sometimes keeps us from spending the time we want with our friends and other loved ones. Your time together is an excellent time to reconnect and strengthen your friendship. You don't have to focus on talking about the breakup unless your loved one wants to. 

Let them decide if they'll talk about it by allowing them to take the lead in the conversation. Consider focusing on bonding and enjoying the time you have together without pressuring them to talk about what happened.

Grieving the Loss of a Relationship

Grief and loss go together when a relationship ends. A breakup can lead to overwhelming feelings of profound emotional pain and sorrow. Getting through the grieving process will take time, as with any other type of significant loss.

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