Have you ever wondered what happens when a relationship is reaching its end? What occurs before, during, and after a relationship break-up?
Most often relationship break-ups are seen as a single event in time — one partner decides to end the relationship or both partners mutually agree that it is best to go their separate ways. But this is a short-sighted view of relationship breakdowns — relationships begin to unravel over time, in stages. Professor and relationships expert Steve Duck breaks down relationship dissolution into five phases, each with its own emotional and behavioral signs.
- The Breakdown Phase: This is the first step towards relationship break-up and is characterized by you or your partner’s dissatisfaction, with the relationship.
At least one person perceives that something is wrong in the relationship, but they may not discuss this openly with their partner.
- The Intrapsychic Phase: You and/or your partner goes through a time of reflection of your feelings towards the other and your relationship. You struggle internally and begin to question the benefits of being in the relationship. You usually do not show this strife outwardly, but if you do, it’s usually shown in the form of increased judgment or hostility towards your partner. Communication with your partner decreases, while communication with other people –friends and family– increases. This phase is concerned with internal problem-solving and your partner is not meant to know about it.
- The Dyadic Phase: The dissatisfied person (you and/or your partner) confronts the other with their feelings. This stage can be long or short, but will usually include some discussion on how the relationship can be repaired (if the other is willing to). You may try new ways of dealing with their relationship issues.
The outcome of this stage determines if relationship breakdown will continue (i.e. move to the next phase), or if the relationship can reach a place where both of you are satisfied.
- The Social Phase: One or both of you decide that the relationship is finished, but aren’t sure you want to go through with breaking up. You weigh your options and wonder what life will be like without your relationship and partner. You work out an explanation for yourself and others for why the relationship broke down. You then turn to family and friends for affirmation, support, and advice.
You will probably seek someone who doesn’t know your partner or someone they suspect will take your side. In discussion, you will tend to blame the other partner or circumstances for the relationship ending; rarely will you focus on yourself.
- The Grave-Dressing Phase: This is a time of coping with the relationship being over. You need to put the relationship behind you and move on. You create a rationale that is acceptable to you for why the relationship dissolved. You reinterpret events of the past in a way which soothes your feelings of guilt and loss of self-worth and identity. You rethink their ideas of your ex-partner.
Above all, you have to rationalize your past feelings in a way which decreases the significance of your ex-partner and failed relationship. You need to protect your self-concept of yourself as a person who understands relationships and is capable of a new and more gratifying relationship.
If you don’t complete this phase you will continue to be plagued with feelings of doubt, guilt, and low self-worth.
How long each phase takes and the way a person goes through them depends on the individual’s personality, attachment to the relationship and partner, and prospects for a new relationship. But every break-up will go through these phases, in one way or