Q&A: Grief After Breakup


Dear Brit and Catherine,

I just went through a breakup. I was a mess, the only sites that could really help were sites for people who are grieving. Even though they were grieving a death, what they said really helped me. I know you can’t compare breakups to someone dying, but I wonder if a breakup could still cause grief?

“Mary Ann” (not her real name)

Dear “Mary Ann”

Difficult breakups can, and often do, cause grief. You can grieve any kind of loss: the loss of a house, a job, a leg, a relationship, childhood, hopes for the future. There are no rules for grief. Grief is a complex emotion, not something we ought to do or not do in a particular circumstance.

Grief has four stages: denial, anger, sadness and acceptance. But the stages rarely occur in this order and rarely occur only once each during a grieving period. For example, you may accept the loss at first and then go onto deny it.

In a denial phase you refuse to believe that it’s really over. In relationship grief, you may think that the breakup is temporary and that your loved one will come back. You may even believe that you still have some sort of relationship.

In an anger phase, you become furious with the person for leaving you. You may hate the person and even feel disgust when thinking about them and what they did to you. This is the phase during which you may burn any memories of the loved one or think about little ways in which you can get back at them.

In the sadness phase, you really begin to miss them. Your longing for them can be so strong that your chest literally hurts. You will feel powerless and unable to soothe the pain.

In the acceptance phase, your loved one slides into the background of your thoughts. You are able to think about other things besides your ex. When you do think about your ex, you are think about them in a less intense way, and you can see how life can go on without them in it.

Grief doesn’t always end. You may find yourself going through the four stages of grief for the rest of your life. But luckily the acceptance phase tends to last longer and longer over time.

Best wishes,

Dr. Brit and Catherine

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