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Relationship Breakup: Understanding the Emotions and Developing a New Normal

Believe it or not, as a relationship coach and counselor, much of my work deals with assisting people during the breakup process. Being stuck in that space can cause a lot of distress, and hinder a person’s ability to move forward in a healthy way.

When we hear “relationship breakup”, the assumption is that it is a marital breakup, or an ending of any other romantic relationship. In reality, relationship breakup can be any of the following:

  • Ending of a marriage

  • Ending of a relationship with a family member

  • Ending of a relationship with a long-term partner

  • Ending of a close friendship

  • Ending of a relationship with colleagues

Regardless of the relationship type, the emotional turmoil can be very similar to what one would experience during grieving a loss:

  • Shock/denial

  • Anger/depression

  • Acceptance

As a relationship coach/counselor, I believe that there are emotional and cognitive stages that are very specific to breakups...there are 7 that I have observed.

First of all, it is common to want answers. The person becomes consumed and fixated on whatever he/she believes will provide answers. This all-consuming drive generally comes at the expense of rational thinking.

Next, a person experiences shock and denial. He/she cannot believe that the breakup is really happening.

Like in the traditional grieving process, a person then does everything possible to avoid accepting that the relationship has ended. There is still some clinging to hope, and placing the entire burden of repairing, maintaining, and sustaining a relationship onto oneself.

The relapse stage is when one may actually be able to convince the ex to try again (this may not be the first breakup with this partner). There will be temporary relief from the withdrawal. However, despite best efforts, the relationship cannot be sustained.

After realizing that the relationship cannot be reconciled, a person feels anger, towards self, the partner, or the situation in general. This temporary internal discomfort can help shift one’s perspective about the relationship, and it can compel a person to make proactive changes.

The initial acceptance stage, feels more like a state of surrender. Both parties are accepting that further attempts to work things out are futile. Boundaries are now being set and respected more.

Finally, as the level of acceptance deepens, there is a stage of redirected hope. A person can let go in a more proactive, self-protective way, and start on a new normal.

I see people in all phases of the breakup. When emotions are at their peak, short-term counseling is beneficial because it allows me to assess/evaluate from a clinical perspective. If one or both parties need further emotional support, I make a referral for counseling. Most of the time when people reach the anger, initial acceptance, and redirected hope stages, they benefit more from coaching. This encourages the achievement of goals. What are some examples of goals following a breakup?

  • Beginning hobbies again

  • Swap out unhealthy habits with healthier ones

  • Strengthen social circle

  • Develop a co-parenting plan (if kids are involved)

  • Try things outside of comfort zone

The client (or couple) already knows which goals they want to achieve, so as the coach, I merely encourage the use strengths and the focus on personal vision. A new normal is developed...a whole new outlook on life.

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