Whether it’s a partner, family member, friend, boss, or colleague, ending a relationship is always hard. But sometimes the period after a breakup is even harder than the breakup itself. We can get stuck in our unprocessed feelings, doubts and anxieties that quickly fill the void.

“Let’s call it unfinished business,” suggests psychologist Antonio Pascual-Leone. “Most of us believe that it only takes time to move on. But if you feel really broken and empty, this state will not go away the next morning, like an unpleasant hangover.

Antonio Pascual-Leone carefully studied this process and came to the conclusion that people who experience such feelings go through three stages. “It’s a rather chaotic and confusing process, with many taking two steps forward and one step back, or even getting stuck in the middle. Fortunately, each of these stages can be completed effectively and without a hitch, ”the psychologist notes.

Step one: sort out your feelings

Antonio Pascual-Leone shares the story of an entrepreneur who was a senior business partner and mentor to a colleague. They worked great together until a junior employee suddenly decided to leave. The psychologist notes that when the businesswoman told her story, she said that she now avoids professional conferences and other events: “It would be so embarrassing to run into her. I do not even know”.

The last phrase has become a key one for the psychologist. Why? “She demonstrates a global inner pain. The entrepreneur seems to be saying, “I’m so upset, I don’t know why everything is so bad.” We are used to thinking that such a period can be waited out like heavy rain outside the window. But as long as we avoid problems, little will change, ”explains the specialist. His solution: to look experiences in the face.

How to pass the first stage

Most often, the strongest feelings after a breakup are anger and sadness. Moreover, they can unite in a large dense lump. “You need to give yourself time to separate them from each other, find the right words and describe what exactly is terrible, awkward or difficult for you,” the psychologist advises.

To do this, ask yourself: “What is the worst thing about this breakup?” If you want to work through the bad feelings and move on, you need to focus on your emotions and figure out what hurts you the most.

Stage two: understand what you need

After a relationship ends, most of us are well aware of what it is that causes the most pain. But at the same time, we easily fall into a vicious circle of self-flagellation. Most often this happens because the breakup provokes long-standing deep and unpleasant feelings.

During this period, we may be visited by thoughts from the category: “Everything that happened is my fault. Perhaps I deserve to be mistreated” or “It’s true, I’m really incompetent (unattractive, uninteresting).” We begin to blame ourselves for the problems associated with the ended relationship.

How do you know that you are going through this stage? “You feel vulnerable and broken, and, oddly enough, these emotions seem familiar to you. It’s a familiar story, you’ve been through it before,” notes Antonio Pascual-Leone. And he adds that some people go through this period and the other two quite painlessly.

How to pass the second stage

Ask yourself, “What do I need most?” Do not answer superficially, for example:

  • “I need a loved one to rest together.”
  • “I want my boss to like my ideas.”
  • “I need someone from my family nearby so that we can worry about my father together.”
  • “I wish I had a friend who understands my sense of humor.”

Also, don’t tie your needs to the relationship that ended: “I need the sense of security he gave me” or “I want to be looked at the way she looked at me.”

Instead, analyze your deepest existential needs and determine what you absolutely need to develop and become better. For example:

  • “It’s important for me to feel needed.”
  • “I want to feel that I am loved.”
  • “I need to know that I have self-respect.”
  • “I want someone to know the real me.”

Very often, our needs directly conflict with the breakup: “It is important for me to feel needed, but my divorce made me feel that I can be easily replaced.” According to Antonio Pascual-Leone, it is from this contradiction that change begins. Admit it, at least to yourself.

Stage three: analyze the end of the relationship

The last step to take is to go back to the moment the relationship ended, understand what exactly you lost, and work through the feelings that come with it. This usually means working through repressed anger and sadness. And dealing with the latter is especially difficult.

In sad moments, we usually remember the good things: “We will never have a picnic in the park again” or “Now no family dinners on Wednesdays.” “You need to say goodbye to these things and give them little ‘headstones’,” says the psychologist. “One of the reasons sadness is so hard to work through is because of the losses we don’t talk about. These are the hopes and dreams that you shared with another person.”

For a couple who divorced after a short marriage, such a loss can be a common child, which they will never have now. For business partners, this is a big project that they will never launch. Antonio Pascual-Leone says: “When I did psychotherapy with one client who was in prison, he already knew that his partner had abandoned him. And he told me: “We will never go on vacation together, and yet we saved money for the trip and even kept travel brochures.”

How to pass the third stage

Ask yourself:

  • “What irritates and revolts me?”
  • “What do I miss?”
  • “What dreams and hopes do I need to say goodbye to?”

These are not the easiest questions. You will need inner strength and time to find the right answers to them. However, this is a key part of working through the gap. “The life cycle of healthy emotions resembles a graph of a curve. They arise, you feel them, then you express them, and only then does the process end,” concludes Antonio Pascual-Leone.