Every Stage of Your New Life Post-Breakup, According to Experts
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No matter how resilient you are or what your coping style is, it’s a widely accepted universal truth that breakups, for lack of a better word, suck. Certainly, everyone has their own unique way of dealing with an untimely split. How you rebound may depend on your personality, the dynamic in the relationship that ended, the way in which the breakup went down, or what kind of support system you have. That said, there are a set of standard phases that most people will experience after such a loss.
According to a 2015 study of more than 5,000 people from 96 countries, women experience more emotional pain following a breakup than men. However, researchers found that while women are hit harder than men, they also have an easier time healing — in fact, men never fully recover. According to Trina Leckie, a breakup coach and host of the Breakup BOOST podcast, recovering from a breakup can be especially challenging for men because of societal expectations that they have to “buck up” and hide their emotions compared to a woman’s ability to be so open about hashing out their feelings.
“When you bottle up those emotions, they will eventually come to the surface,” she explains. “There is no getting around it, which is why it’s important to face things head-on instead of trying to shuffle them under the rug.”
A breakup can bring up a crushing feeling of failure, coupled with massive frustration. Guys who aren’t prone to show their emotions are still suffering in their own way, even if they don’t seem like it on the outside.
“Men especially struggle with breakups because it’s a huge blow to their ego,” notes Nick Notas, dating coach and co-founder of the relationships consultancy Reconnected. “They take breakups very personally. They often feel like their partner leaving them is a reflection of their self-worth.”
With all of that in mind, let’s take a look at the five phases that all guys can expect to go through after a relationship ends.
The Five Phases of a Breakup, Explained
Particularly if you felt blindsided after your partner pulled the plug on the relationship, it’s totally normal to struggle with denial about your ex’s decision.
“Men often start by thinking this is a temporary break and that their ex will change their mind,” says Notas. “They believe they both just need a bit of time to cool off, and that once they give their partner some space, they’ll realize how much they miss them and come back.”
You may find yourself putting your ex and your relationship with them on a pedestal, focusing only on the good times. As that can make it difficult to examine what went wrong, it’s important to remind yourself at this stage of why the relationship may not have actually been fulfilling, as doing so will make it easier for you to move on.
“People get caught up in denial because it can be really frightening to admit that the relationship was not working and that you have to go your separate ways,” explains Leckie. “There is so much anxiety, sadness, and stress involved. Plus, couples who have a pattern of breaking up and getting back together can also get so used to just getting back together, that they can’t believe that a breakup will actually stick. So when a breakup seems to actually be ‘sticking,’ they can’t fathom it — and convince themselves that it will only be a matter of time before they are back together.”
Think of denial as a sort of self-protective mechanism, shielding you from a world of pain that will inevitably hit you in full blast once you come to terms with reality.
Realizing your ex is gone for good can trigger some pretty intense feelings of betrayal, frustration, and anger. That anger, more often than not, is just “an emotional fighting response in an effort to try to force change to remove the underlying pain,” says relationship expert Coach Lee Wilson. And it’s a lot easier for some men to express their sadness in the form of rage.
This anger might be directed at your ex, or it may be directed inward at yourself (Why didn’t I see the signs that they were pulling away? What’s wrong with me?)
According to Leckie, when you start thinking, “They never deserved me anyway!” or “They’re going to regret this!” that anger helps you to rationalize to yourself that the breakup was probably for the best.
Getting that hostility out of your system might leave you with a sense of emptiness. That has the potential to leave you fixated on how to get back what you lost. This may include begging for another chance in a drunk text, sending your ex an elaborate gift to try and win them over again, or making a grand gesture like showing up unannounced with a boombox over your head (you know you’ve thought about it). And when none of that works, a guy might try to explain on deaf ears all the logical reasons why they’re perfect together.
“At the heart of bargaining is the misinformed belief that if the two of people can sit down and have a talk, a resolution will be reached and the relationship will be restored,” says Lee. “The reason this usually doesn’t work is because the root cause in most breakups is a drop in attraction — to the point that motivation is gone to continue the relationship.”
RELATED: How to Break Up With Someone Nicely
Leckie notes that many men will resort to making big promises that they can’t keep during the bargaining phase, simply out of desperation to get their ex back. However, if they do succeed, she says the next phase is “relapse,” where unless both people have had time to resolve the issues that plagued their relationship, history will almost certainly repeat itself (see: on-again, off-again relationships).
Accepting that the relationship is over could lead to feelings of defeat, sorrow, and depression.
“Their passion to fight leaves them and they are left with loneliness,” says Notas. “They reminisce on what they had. They wallow in regret. They feel despair at the prospect of never finding someone like her again.”
At the root of this depression, according to Lee, is a sense of powerlessness — both to reunite with the person they loved and to escape their current pain.
“In this stage, the pain and despair can become so intense that the suffering person falls back into one of the other stages and this could happen more than once before the person slowly comes out of the darkness and sees life after their ex,” he adds.
A breakup is similar to a death in that you’re losing someone you love, so it makes sense why you may feel an overwhelming sense of grief.
“It’s hard to think rationally at a time like this,” says Leckie. “You don’t have energy to do much of anything, you may socially isolate yourself, or even mask your pain with drugs and/or alcohol.”
Leckie also notes that it’s crucial to have a life outside of your relationship so that you don’t feel like your whole world has imploded when it ends. Either way, she says seeking out some quality time with friends, family, or some counseling through a therapist will almost certainly help you to move forward more quickly and effectively.
“It’s really important to reach out when you need support,” she tells AskMen. “It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength, courage, and a love for yourself.”
Whether it takes a few weeks or six months, you’ll eventually get to a place where you can face the facts that your relationship is over. According to Leckie, at this stage, you will no longer be trying to win your ex back, or anxiously waiting for them to reach out. Your social life will return to normal, and you may even have met someone who’s reignited some excitement around dating.
“Acceptance doesn’t mean that there isn’t a special place in the left partner’s heart for the one who left them,” explains Lee. “It also doesn’t mean that difficult days and nights won’t ever recur. What it means is the person realizes that life will go on and that there are other people, experiences, and things that can bring joy and motivation to their experience on earth. Mourning may return occasionally but the left individual will be patient with themselves knowing that they can continue and that happiness is still going to be part of their life.”
One expert-approved tip for shifting from depression to this stage more quickly? Delete your ex from all your social media feeds. You’re welcome.
Getting Back Out There After a Breakup
If there’s one thing experts want you to know about recovering from a breakup, it’s that you should never rush getting back out there just to fill a void.
“It’s like trying to walk on a broken leg,” explains Lee, who recommends staying purposefully single for a few months (while having no contact with their ex) to fully heal.
Notas advises spending time with loved ones, indulging in some hobbies you’ve been neglecting, and practicing self-care — taking yourself out for an amazing meal, getting into a new workout routine, or trying out a new meditation app.
“This helps you feel joy and connection while giving yourself the necessary time to process the emotions from the breakup,” he adds.
Once you do start to re-enter the dating scene, Leckie says it’s imperative to make sure you’re not just searching for a replacement for your ex.
“Don’t just date because you are lonely,” she states. “You need to feel whole on your own and only want someone around who positively impacts your life.”
And whatever you do, don’t just go on dates as a way to vent about your ex or to gain sympathy.
Are you ready to get back in the saddle? Here are some dating apps to consider.
Any form of rejection, before or after a breakup, feels like throwing salt in a wound. But as ladies make the first move on Bumble, you don’t have to stress about coming up with a clever opening line or deal with the ego blow that comes from having your message ignored. Since she has to message you first, you’ll know she’s at least a little interested from the get-go. That may very well be just the confidence boost you needed.
Labeled as the app that’s “designed to be deleted,” it’s pretty clear that Hinge is meant for those who are looking for something real, not just the instant gratification of getting laid. Plus, Hinge helps you get to know potential matches more quickly and deeply by allowing users to answer detailed questions about their plans, goals, vices, preferences, and more. That said, if you’re looking for a large pool of people to swipe from, this may not be your jam. But if you’re prone to swipe fatigue, you may find the small daily batch of matches both refreshing and far more manageable when you’re first dipping your toe back into the dating pool.
If you’re just looking for a good old-fashioned hookup with a local rando, you’ll definitely want to download this app, which allows you to match with other singles in your area using geo-location services. By the way — Pure erases all of your information every 24 hours, making it easier to have that spur-of-the-moment, no-strings-attached fun. Just be sure to strike up a convo ASAP after you match with someone because you only have that 24-hour window before your profile self-destructs.
Thanks to the speedy sign-up process, simple interface, and large user base, Zoosk is just as popular among people looking for serious relationships as it is with those trying to keep it casual. There are no long questionnaires to build out your profile, and you get to choose how you approach your matches, making the Zoosk experience very much what you want to make of it. If you feel like you’re ready for a real connection, it’s also worth mentioning that the site keeps a continually updated list of couples who met through Zoosk (including engagement and marriage announcements), so obviously they’re doing something right.
Did your buddies hate all your exes? Do you just not have the energy to spend all that time swiping? Either way, this app is a godsend. Ship lets your friends play wingman to find you a date, letting you kick back and enjoy the fun part: getting to know someone new. Not only can this app help you break the bad habits of only going for the same “type” (and falling into the same toxic patterns), but it can also eliminate some of the awkwardness that comes with making the first move in messaging someone.