Unabashed Emotions

What Are the 5 Stages of Grief in a Relationship Break-up

By unabashedemotions


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Grief is an intense amount of sorrow caused by the loss of a dear one, a relationship breakup, or any other circumstance. But are there stages of grief? Does grief follow a pattern?

According to a study by the American Psychological Association, 40-50% of marriages in the US end in divorce.

That’s approximately half the people tying the knot of marriage, and considering that 90% of people marry by the age of 50, we mean hundreds of millions of people in the USA itself.

Who came up with stages of grieving

Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross was the first person to define clearly the psychology of grief and the five stages of grief and loss that you experience when you are diagnosed with a terminal illness.  These stages, or steps of grief, are the most common progression of emotions when given devastating news. 

They are:

  1. Denial, or “no, this must be a mistake.  You’ve mixed up my lab results with someone else’s.”
  2. Anger and frustration at hearing such bad news. “This is completely unfair.  Why me? I don’t deserve this!”
  3. Bargaining, trying to see if doing an act of redemption could save you. “If I return to my faith, will God pardon me?”
  4. Depression, as the news sinks in.  “What’s the point? I’m going to die soon.”
  5. Acceptance, or the last stage in the process, where you understand that there is no avoiding this, and you might as well live your last months/days/moments peacefully and lovingly.

Do stages of grief follow the same order

A lonely depressed person sitting near a brick wall with the Bible on his lap

In which order do these stages occur?

Well, these stages are not a neat, linear progression.  People going through the stages of grief could move back and forth from time to time, skipping a stage or going to one stage twice but then finally, overcoming them all 

There is no set timeframe for the movement through the stages of grief, and some people will stay in a certain stage longer than others.

What are the 5 stages of grief

Let’s examine these 5 stages of grief and the reasons they are commonly felt by people going through a grieving process.

1. Denial

The stages of denial are simple, it is just based on self-justification and shock. People wonder about what crime they committed to deserve such a misfortune. 

Some people are aware of the situation brewing for the time being, but for others, this causes a complete surprise.

In the Kubler-Ross stages of grief in a relationship, this is the first instinctive reaction. It can last for a few days to a few years.

Denial is the brain’s way of allowing our minds to process horrible news in a way that is easier on our mental state.  So denial serves a purpose: it allows us to filter this news in a more palatable, gentle way. It helps us survive the brutal information initially, allows us to pace the input process so it is not more than we can handle.  

Depending on the person, the denial stage can last anywhere from 24 hours to a few years.

Most people move out of this stage eventually as they come to terms with the news and feel strong enough to let it all in.

2. Anger

Kubler-Ross believes that this is an important stage in the phases of grief and recovery. Some studies on stages of grief in a relationship consider this as optional.

Depending on how aware you are of the developing situation, you need not go through this stage of anger. It is especially true if you are conscious of your own faults in the relationship.

People with strong personalities will spend more time at this stage.

It is rare if a person does not feel angry when receiving terrible news.  Anger is normal and nothing to feel guilty about. Do not let anyone tell you not to be angry, that it is a waste of energy because “you can’t do anything about the situation.”   

Anger is masked pain. When the anger lifts, you will be left with the pain, which is also a very natural reaction to your situation.  How do you deal with this anger? Remember, it is good to just sit in it and feel it. It will not hurt you. If you feel the need to speed through this stage, you might try meditation, prayer, some gentle sport such as yoga to quiet your mind.  

A lot of people take forever to get over this stage. It becomes a cycle of grief, anger, revenge until the end of their lives.

Accept your anger, and feel it wholly.  Do not push it aside. You have the right to be angry; life has dealt you an unfair hand.

3. Bargaining

Trying to bargain your way out of a bad diagnosis is a natural reaction, even if logically you know it is magical thinking. 

The moment you find yourself cursing and begging the universe, you should know that you have passed the stages of anger and have reached the bargaining phase in the stages of grief in a relationship.

In the stages of grief of breakup, it is usual for someone to bargain with their ex in an attempt for reconciliation. Depending on the sincerity of both parties, it is possible to hug and make up at this stage.

We focus on “if only” or “what can I do to reverse this news?” or try to negotiate something with God if only we can be spared.

In the bargaining stage of grief, we also tend to blame ourselves for somehow bringing on this disease.  We will relive the past and wish we had never smoked, eaten junk food or that we should have practiced veganism.  

We try and find a reason for our misfortune.  Finally, we understand the reality of our medical condition and that if this is our path in life, so be it.  

4. Depression

Everyone faced with a terminal diagnosis will spend a while in this stage.  It can be a temporary case or a clinical depression that could last a lifetime.

This is the deepest stage of grief, and when we are here, it means we have given up on the magical thinking of the bargaining stage and are moving towards facing our reality.  

This type of depression is situational depression, and not to be confused with clinical depression or depression that is free-floating and without any identifiable cause.  

Depression is a perfectly normal and legitimate response to this situation.

We might ask ourselves what is the point of doing this or that since we will be leaving this earth soon.  Why bother taking care of our physical self? Why go on? We might even have suicidal thoughts, thinking ending everything now will spare our family great pain, as was the case with comedian Robin Williams and his fatal illness.  

Check out these signs of depression to gauge your level of depression:

5. Acceptance

The final stage of grief is acceptance.  It is in this stage that we begin to realize what is at stake and that we need to prepare for it.  

Acceptance, genuine acceptance, comes after the entire roller-coaster of emotions associated with loss through a relationship breakup. At this point, everyone should expect changes in personality.

For better or for worse, they learned a valuable lesson in love and relationships. How that lesson manifests, positively or negatively, depends on the person’s base morality and principles.

Acceptance does not mean we are fine with the situation.

It merely means we have integrated the news and are now going to get our affairs in order.  This is our new normal. Many of us will begin to reach out to our loved ones and yearn to spend quality time with them at this point.  

If something triggers the memory of their broken relationship, that’s all it becomes- a bitter-sweet memory.

At this point, the person is ready to fall in love again. Taking the lessons learned from their previous relationship to make the new one stronger.

Our relationships will strengthen, and we won’t “sweat the small stuff,” for we know what is now important.  People in this stage often feel their connections to others quite deeply, voicing that the only thing that is important in life is the love you give and the love you receive.

Symptoms of grief

Once you understand what is grief and the various stages of it, there are better chances the signs of grief will help you analyze if you are really slipping into a negative pattern or mourning a loss. 

The cycle of grief can manifest itself in various physical and emotional effects. Check them out below:

Emotional symptoms of grief

  • Not being able to show or experience  joy
  • Detachment from everything
  • A feeling of numbness
  • Bitterness with situations and people around
  • Preoccupied with the thought of a breakup
  • Irritability
  • Lack of trust in people
  • Dwelling into the worthlessness of life

Physical symptoms of grief

  • Fatigue
  • Sleeplessness or excessive sleepiness
  • Digestive problems
  • Sore muscles
  • Headache
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble following a normal routine

Treatment of grief

closeup on two young lovers holding hands at a table

When a person slips into the emotions of grief due to one reason or the other, they don’t see hope in anything around. A state of despair continues to loom large. In such a situation, it is not wrong to call for help. 

You may ask, “So, do I need professional help for coping with grief?”

Well, when the grief becomes complicated, it is important to take the help of a therapist for grief counseling who will be able to guide you better on the basis of your stages of loss, stages of grief, and symptoms of grief.

Your therapist will also look into your grief chart and give you medications and use grief counseling techniques and grief therapy on that basis.

You can also get in touch with active support groups that will discuss your issues and be around you throughout your recovery journey of grief and loss. 


The stages of grief and how long is the grieving process varies from person to person. Some people might overcome the levels of grief and anger

Grieving stages can look challenging to overcome, but once you give it time and trust the process, the people around you for the grief management and the good days are not far.

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