The Stages of Breaking Up

torn-photograph-relationship-break-up

Have you ever wondered what happens when a relationship is reaching its end? What occurs before, during, and after a relationship break-up?

Most often relationship break-ups are seen as a single event in time — one partner decides to end the relationship or both partners mutually agree that it is best to go their separate ways. But this is a short-sighted view of relationship breakdowns — relationships begin to unravel over time, in stages. Professor and relationships expert Steve Duck breaks down relationship dissolution into five phases, each with its own emotional and behavioral signs.

1. The Breakdown Phase

This is the first step towards relationship break-up and is characterized by you or your partner’s dissatisfaction, with the relationship. At least one person perceives that something is wrong in the relationship, but they may not discuss this openly with their partner.

2. The Intrapsychic Phase

You and/or your partner goes through a time of reflection of your feelings towards the other and your relationship. You struggle internally and begin to question the benefits of being in the relationship. You usually do not show this strife outwardly, but if you do, it’s usually shown in the form of increased judgment or hostility towards your partner. Communication with your partner decreases, while communication with other people –friends and family– increases.

This phase is concerned with internal problem-solving and your partner is not meant to know about it.

3. The Dyadic Phase

The dissatisfied person (you and/or your partner) confronts the other with their feelings. This stage can be long or short, but will usually include some discussion on how the relationship can be repaired (if the other is willing to). You may try new ways of dealing with their relationship issues.

The outcome of this stage determines if relationship breakdown will continue (i.e. move to the next phase), or if the relationship can reach a place where both of you are satisfied.

4. The Social Phase

breaking-upOne or both of you decide that the relationship is finished, but aren’t sure you want to go through with breaking up. You weigh your options and wonder what life will be like without your relationship and partner. You work out an explanation for yourself and others for why the relationship broke down. You then turn to family and friends for affirmation, support, and advice.

You will probably seek someone who doesn’t know your partner or someone they suspect will take your side. In discussion, you will tend to blame the other partner or circumstances for the relationship ending; rarely will you focus on yourself.

5. The Grave-Dressing Phase

This is a time of coping with the relationship being over. You need to put the relationship behind you and move on. You create a rationale that is acceptable to you for why the relationship dissolved. You reinterpret events of the past in a way which soothes your feelings of guilt and loss of self-worth and identity. You rethink their ideas of your ex-partner.

Above all, you have to rationalize your past feelings in a way which decreases the significance of your ex-partner and failed relationship. You need to protect your self-concept of yourself as a person who understands relationships and is capable of a new and more gratifying relationship.

If you don’t complete this phase you will continue to be plagued with feelings of doubt, guilt, and low self-worth.

How long each phase takes and the way a person goes through them depends on the individual’s personality, attachment to the relationship and partner, and prospects for a new relationship. But every break-up will go through these phases, in one way or another.

Do you recognize these stages? How do you cope with a break-up?

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4 thoughts on “The Stages of Breaking Up

  1. In discussion, you will tend to blame the other partner or circumstances for the relationship ending; rarely will you focus on yourself.

    NEVER did and still can’t. I think it’s because whenever I’m in any relationship, I take FULL responsibility for my actions, which of course garner reactions from whomever or whatever relationship you’re in.

    Above all, you have to rationalize your past feelings in a way which decreases the significance of your ex-partner and failed relationship. You need to protect your self-concept of yourself as a person who understands relationships and is capable of a new and more gratifying relationship.

    I’ve seen this happening, but those who did it, were never finished with their past, hence found it difficult to move on or sought out the same kind of partner, making the same mistakes……
    (hope I’m interpeting this correctly, Alee)

    I’ve only had one really significant breakup(divorce) in my life and that’s my exhusband, the father of my son. It was major in that I felt my heart was being ripped from my body, lost weight which I could ill afford till I had to get a transfusion and I felt an utter failure to that wonderful institution of marriage, my family and even society. This may surprise you, Alee, but although I date a lot, I haven’t been intimate with a member of the opposite sex since my divorce. It’s one of the reasons I consciously date younger men. They never pressure you and just enjoy the company of an older female who can party like a rock star. Plus I know tons of famous Zürchers(foreign and domestic)!!!!!. Nonetheless, my way of dealing with a failed marriage has been to accept my part in our breakup with tons of self analysis. Avoiding discussing with my females friends(who are still a tad clueless as to why we divorced) , cleansing my heart and head of anger, guilt, revenge, taking care of me AND DATING YOUNG GUYS.

    Story:
    He saw me out with a replica of him, but more than 10yrs younger. I got a call from him next day, bitching about me “robbing the cradle” and “what would our son think”. I listened, told him I was busy with my young’un (was not. This guy told me I have no rythmn and we parted ways that night!!) and that I’ll get in touch with him at a much later date. I never called back on this topic, though everytime we meet (because of our young son) he tries to bring up the subject. I mean, he’s living with his girlfriend since 8yrs!!!!.

  2. foosrock,

    I’m the same way: I take responsibility for my part in the break-up (that doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge the other person’s part, however). But we’re talking more of the majority of cases rather than specific ones.

    “I’ve seen this happening, but those who did it, were never finished with their past… (hope I’m interpeting this correctly, Alee)”

    Well, I think you’re interpreting it as dismissing your prior relationship altogether and pretending it was never important to you. While that can happen, what is meant is that you have to minimize the importance of the relationship and partner — it can’t be as important as it used to be.

    If you’re focused on your partner and what they’re doing, or what happened in the past, this hinders you from moving on.

    “This may surprise you, Alee, but although I date a lot, I haven’t been intimate with a member of the opposite sex since my divorce.”

    That does surprise me. 🙂

    But don’t you think it’s time to move on with your life (i.e. begin a serious relationship, if you’d like to)? I can only imagine going through a divorce. I know it must have been really difficult. But it’s been years. Maybe you need to complete the final (Grave-Dressing) stage?

    I also think it’s none of his business who you date, especially since he has been dating someone else.

  3. Alee, I’m re-reading the Grave Dressing phase and can’t grasp it. Can’t you put it simpler?.

  4. foosrock,

    It’s complicated? Ohh…

    Well, in a nutshell, you need to rethink your prior feelings to your partner and relationship, and let it go. You have to minimize their importance, currently, and in the past. You say to yourself, “I thought it was this, but it was really this.”… Does that makes sense?

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