When Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first introduced her theory, now known as the 5 stages of grief, it was aimed to help people cope with death and dying. As her theory became widely known, people began utilizing it and understanding death in a different way, a more positive and accepted way. We can now take parts of her theory and it apply it to the death of a personal relationship.
When a person dies, we grieve and mourn them. But what about relationships? They can die too, thus requesting time to process it in similar fashion. One reason why relationships are so difficult to cope with is because people have a hard time of realizing when the relationship has ended. As you read this, think back on how many relationships you were in and broke up only to get back together again, only to break up again. Some repeat this cycle repeatedly. You need to decide first when the relationship is truly over.
Step 1: Classification - So is the relationship really over? Well, that depends on you. Find a time in the day when you are alone and at peace to sit back and reflect on what just happened. Did you have a huge fight over an isolated incident or has this been building up for quite some time now. Humans react to emotion so much so it’s almost a major flaw. As people get angry, they tend to say or do things they might soon regret. Find out first if he/she really meant it was over when they said so. Again, do this when the emotion has simmered and you have had time to reflect on rather or not you want to even continue.
If you were the one that ended it, ask yourself why. Was it due to a recent argument? Infidelity? Mistrust? What was the reason you decided at the moment you did not want to continue it and do you still feel that way. All relationships, no matter what they have endured, can be saved. But it takes two persons willing to continue it, otherwise it has run its course.
Try and listen to your mind. Too many romanticists say follow your heart, listen to your heart, yeah that’s fine and dandy but a heart can’t make tough decisions. This is where you need to search within you and state clearly if you want to try and save the relationship, or move past it. Remember, don’t be afraid of a little heart ache now. For a little ache now is worth the long term happiness in the future.
Step2: Denial - So the relationship is over and you feel horrible. If the other person has identified the relationship to be over and done with, then you might have a hard time dealing with it, especially if you weren’t ready or prepared for it. Working to try and fix things and convince your partner why you should get back together is not a good thing. Your partner should return to you because they want to, not because you have good persuasion skills. Have you ever heard someone say “it’s not over till I say it’s over”? This is a person who is in denial, and a little self-absorbed too. Trying to force a reconciliation will only anger the other person and frustrate you more.
Denial is a short term solution, a defense mechanism used to avoid dealing with the truth. “I don’t care” “I’m fine, no big deal” are common statements made while in denial. Avoiding the truth and realization that it is over only delays the pain and hurt. There’s nothing wrong with trying to reconcile, however it should be done during an appropriate time. If weeks have passed and you’re still trying to reconcile with a person who has shown no interest in full reconciliation, then you are in denial.
Step 3: Anger - Why the term full reconciliation? Too often, a relationship is ended but continues in ways that pleases one person more than the other. The most obvious way is casual sex. This is a major no no. While casual sex satisfies both persons, its only short term and will lead to anger. One person continues receiving the pleasure of sex without commitment while the other person feels like ”hey I still have a chance to get back together” What happens when that doesn’t happen? It’s time to duck cause its about to blow up that’s what happens.
Feelings of anger are common when we feel we put so much into the relationship. Acts of betrayal or infidelity certainly fuel anger like gas to a fire. Anger is a normal
Step 4: Bargaining - Anger follows us at the end of a break up when we have invested so much into it. Infidelity brings out the most anger, scorn even. “Why me, I was so good to him/her” “I was there when no one else was” “This is the thanks I get” Once a person is anger, it means they have officially moved past Denial. But its not a great thing because anger can manifest itself in so many ways.
People tend to misplace anger and project it onto others very easily. “The next person I date is going to be sorry, I’m not going to be the nice guy/girl again” You need to resolve the anger you feel in a positive and healthy manner. Utilizing coping skills such as exercising, journaling, or taking up a new hobby are great methods a person can let go of some anger. In the severe cases, therapy will be beneficial.
When you negotiate with someone or when buying a car, its very foolish to let the other person know your what your position is. How successful will the poker player be if everyone knows he has a flush before betting? Often times a broken heart leads to terrible bargaining. “I’ll do anything you want me to” “I’ll change, I won’t do this/that anymore” Guess what, your not reconciling, you’re giving away all your power and control to this person. Be ready to be taken advantage of
Any leverage is lost by the person who is hurting the most because most often, that person is desperate to save the relationship. During a break up, once a person starts bargaining like this, the results will be short term and fragile. He/She might take you back because you’ve promised to do all these things now, and like in life, sometimes a good deal is to hard to pass by. But in relationships, its usually a case of I’ll take the deal and then return it when I tire of it later.
Is this really what you want? Remember when I said to think with your mind and not your heart? The mind will tell you “no, this isn’t what we want” while the heart will say “I don’t care what I’m giving up because I get to stay with him/her and I love him/her” More often than not, you will end up with buyer’s remorse.
Step 5: Depression - A roller coaster has many twists and turns along with various speeds and thrills. Relationships are like this during and after. During a break up, if you had feelings for this person, you will go through a roller coaster ride of emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Its important to understand what you’re feeling and come to terms with it.
Is it ok to be depressed? Absolutely. A break up can be a trying and difficult time for you in your life. The more you have invested and planned for the future the harder it will be for you. As with grief, its ok to cry and feel saddened. “Whats the point of dating anyone else if their just going to break my heart” Depression can cause a person a person to “disconnect” from the idea of love and happiness. This can isolate you from friends and family as well, sometimes clouding your judgment with negative and irrational thoughts. As most of your friends can attest, its very hard to cheer up you up during this stage.
Step 6: Regret – Be careful to not fall into this trap while in a depressive state of mind. Regret can cause further grief in the long run. Its important to understand what you’re going through in order to identify thoughts of regret and not act on them. Most people will have a small sense of regret while others will linger on regret and thoughts of “I made a huge mistake” Regret can cause a person to fall back into bargaining and use this as a ploy to get back with him/her.
Its ok to have doubts or second thoughts, that’s normal and usually the case with many of life’s biggest decisions. But ultimately, to be a stronger person, you must practice authoritative skills and commit to your decision. Again, this isn’t to say you can not go back and revisit sometime down the road. But there’s a big difference from 2 weeks after a break up and 6 months. You will be in a different state of mind and can be more rational and have better judgment if reconciliation is something you truly want to pursue because of what you think and feel, or if its in response to a sense of regret. Huge difference.
Step 7: Closure – Its only when a person achieves closure can a person move onto the next relationship in a healthy way. After you have gone through the emotions of a break up and you think you are ready t move on to the next relationship, do a moral self inventory of yourself. In AA, this is done in step 4 and this is a very important process of recovering from a heart ache.
A thorough and fearless moral inventory is necessary to avoid how instincts can exceed proper function. You want to try and discover your personal liabilities, not find blame. A misguided inventory can lead you to blame others or result in guilt. The fact that you’re willing to take inventory shows a level of self acceptance and responsibility to your next relationship. Do not be afraid to take this on in an honest way, for once you discover personal liabilities, you can begin to correct them. If we do not know what we did wrong or where we went afoul, how can we improve? If you don’t learn from previous mistakes, expect to repeat them again. Then you get to start the cycle all over again…
Noe A. Lopez, M.Ed., LPC
New Leaf Counseling + Consulting