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June 27, 2022

The Three Phases of A Break Up

I don’t need to tell you that nothing about going through a breakup is pleasant or easy. There are degrees of severity, of course -- divorcing the mother/father of your children is likely harder than breaking up with someone you’ve been dating for a few months -- but no matter how you slice it, ending things with someone to whom you’ve grown attached is a painful, bizarre, and unnatural experience. 

How to know when it's time to move on.

What I can tell you is that we often make our breakups longer, messier, and more painful than they need to be. Hopefully you won’t have to go through another breakup, but if you do, use this information to make it a little easier on yourself and the other person. 

There are 3 phases to any breakup:

Phase 1: the Trigger 

Phase 2: the Reaction 

Phase 3: the Aftermath 

Phase 1, the Trigger, occurs when somebody pulls the trigger -- they sit you down and dump you. Or you sit each other down and decide mutually to end things. Perhaps this occurs suddenly or perhaps it was a long time coming. It sucks either way, and what makes it harder is that we don’t often have control over when or how this goes down (especially if we are the ones being broken up with). 

What we do have control over, however, is Phases 2 and 3.

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Phase 2, the Reaction, is the way in which you react to the breakup. This is often when a great deal of damage is done. 

Let’s say you get dumped by your partner, and the way you react is by refusing to accept the other person’s decision, begging to stay together, and acting like a crazy person. No bueno; this is a maladaptive response. 

Or let’s say you dump your partner and, now that you’re “free,” the way you react is to go on a spree of sleeping with random people. No bueno; this is also a maladaptive response. 

You can either yell, scream, go nuts, run away, take drugs, call your ex names, et cetera, or you can accept, cry, be sad, spend time with loved ones, go to therapy, and heal. You have full and complete control over whether you choose to react impulsively to the trigger or whether you choose to respond to it as calmly and clearly as possible. It is up to you, and your reaction/response in Phase 2 ultimately informs what goes down in Phase 3. 

Phase 3, the Aftermath, is the period of time following the breakup in which, bluntly speaking, you either gradually move forward with your life or just torture yourself for months/years on end. Like Phase 2, what occurs in Phase 3 is completely within your control -- and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Ever heard the phrase “time heals all wounds?” It is a lie. What you do during the Aftermath of a breakup is what heals (or deepens) all wounds.

Let me be clear that there is no urgency to have healed and moved on within X amount of time. It is not a race. However, we do have a choice of making it easier or harder on ourselves. If you spend the Aftermath breaking up and getting back together with your partner 15 times, that’s on you. If you spend the Aftermath looking at old photos of you and your ex every night, that’s on you. And so on. 

It is normal and natural to feel a range of negative emotions (sad, angry, even depressed) for some time following a breakup. But there comes a certain point at which the refusal to move on and get yourself into a better state is a decision. Your Aftermath can be an interminable period of suffering, anger, resentment, and poor decisions, or it can be a tough period of negative emotion that, day by day, one step at a time, you allow to get a little bit easier.  

Pay attention to how you react during Phase 2, and pay even closer attention to what you carry with you into the Aftermath. Above all, don’t continue having relationship problems with someone you’re no longer in a relationship with. Pain during a breakup is inevitable, but suffering is optional. 

-- Kevin from the Keys Team, Dating & Relationship Coach

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