Applying the 5 Stages of Grief to the Loss Of A Relationship

June 12, 2018 Emily J. Sullivan

Apply the 5 stages of grief to the loss of a relationship, even an abusive one, to help you to heal. Learn how the 5 stages of grief can help you feel better.

Applying the five stages of grief to the loss of a relationship, yes, even an abusive relationship, can help you to understand what you're going through and to guide you through the process. Grieving the loss of a relationship is a complex, messy process, and grieving the loss of an abusive relationship may be especially confusing. When thinking about an abusive relationship ending, people may think, "Good riddance;" and while a good riddance may very well be in order, it is not that simple a summation (Three Things We Need to Understand About Grief). If you're grieving the loss of a relationship, here's how and why the stages of grief can help you through the process.

How Can Coping with the Loss of a Healthy Relationship Compare with 'Losing' an Abusive One?

Coping with the loss of a healthy relationship and coping with the loss an abusive relationship can be very similar in that, at the core, there is the pain of saying goodbye to someone you once loved. Managing the loss of an abusive boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife may be distinctly burdensome for some people because they may have to cope with that loss without the empathy of a support system that may have otherwise been there had the relationship been a "healthy" one. Acknowledging and appreciating your feelings during this process can be an important step toward self-care and healing. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, you just have to clear the path a bit before you can really see it shine.

The Five Stages Of Grief 

Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief first made waves when published in 1969, detailing the stages of grief patients would go through upon learning they were terminally ill. In the years since, there has been a measurable amount of misinterpretation and confusion regarding the stages of grief model. David Kessler and Kübler-Ross co-authored On Grief and Grieving where they adapted the stages for those experiencing grief over the loss of a loved one. Despite any criticisms the five-stage model has faced because of misinterpretation, learning about the stages has proven extremely insightful and helpful when grasped as intended.

The five stages of grief is not a linear model, but more of a model in which five separate emotional and psychological responses to the grief of loss are articulated by organizing them into varying “stages.” They do not happen in any particular order and are different for everyone. A person may experience the first stage, then the fourth, then the first again, then the second, then skip ahead to the fifth -- you get the picture. My point is, grief is unique and subjective and the five stages offer useful insight that can help those in pain articulate their individual process.  

While the adaptation focuses on the grief experienced when a loved one dies, the model can still be applied to understanding the emotional process of loss that comes in other forms, such as when we apply the five stages of grief model to losing a relationship. In select rehabs, they teach patients the five stages of grief to help them cope with the loss of their drug of choice as there is a great deal of attachment, pain, and reliance that comes into play with addicts and their chosen substance.   

Applying the five stages of grief to the loss of a relationship can help a person struggling through their bad breakup pain. After all, grieving the loss of someone who is alive but nonetheless, permanently taking an absence from your life, can be a traumatic and devastating experience.

Applying the 5 Stages of Grief to the Loss of a Relationship

“The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order. Our hope is that with these stages comes the knowledge of grief ‘s terrain, making us better equipped to cope with life and loss.” -David Kessler

  1. Denial is the first stage in grieving the loss of a relationship and has proven to be a coping mechanism, a protective psychological process for those who are not ready to grasp the reality and entirety of the loss. When in this stage, you may feel like you are numb or in a state of shock, you feel like you don’t understand what’s happening and your future may appear blank when you try to look ahead. This is totally normal and begins to subside as you start to get used to the idea that your relationship is over.
  2. Anger is a completely normal stage in grieving the loss of your relationship. Anger may feel easier to manage than the sadness so anger can be an early-on go-to when you’re not ready to experience the depths of your sadness and also a lingering after-thought when most of your emotions have run their course and you’ve fallen out of love. Anger after abusive relationships is especially relevant when reflecting on episodes of abuse and feeling anger toward your ex for treating you so poorly. There may also be anger toward yourself for staying as long as you did. Additionally, there can be anger for breaking trust, making you feel demeaned and demoralized, and anger for all of the complex emotions that go with that. Anger is normal, healthy, and necessary.
  3. Bargaining is the mental practice of asking yourself questions that often begin with, “What if?” or “If only.” You may find yourself thinking, if only you had ended things the first time you experienced his wrath, you wouldn’t be feeling so much pain today. What if we had gone to couples therapy and he’d have never lost that job? If only I didn’t antagonize him and instead practiced healthier communication. You see the pattern here? Bargaining is the mind’s way of working through guilt and lost hope, it has themes of wishing things didn’t have to end and themes of retrospection. I think bargaining can even be helpful in identifying behavior patterns you’ll try not to carry into your next relationship or red flags you’ll know not to ignore next time.
  4. Depression is intense sadness and feelings of hopelessness and it is an understandable response to the loss of a relationship. Depression relating to a breakup may feel like you’ll never find a love like that again or you’ll never be capable of loving again. You may feel convinced you’ll be alone forever or that there’s no happiness left in life for you. Depression after a devastating loss is normal, just try to identify that you are, in fact, going through an identifiable emotional response to a breakup and although you may feel hopeless, you are not.   
  5. Acceptance is the stage in which you start to readjust to your new reality, living your life without your past partner. Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean you’re over it and skipping through the streets, it just means you understand that the relationship is over and you begin to live your life again with that understanding. Acceptance even has a spectrum of its own, maybe beginning with "Okay I’m ready to feel motivated at work again and be social with my friends," and then progressing toward, "I’m making a new Tinder profile and getting a gym membership."

Grieving a bad relationship is normal, it’s a profoundly sad process for anyone to go through, being human isn’t always a walk in the park. Applying the five stages of grief to the loss of a relationship may help to ease your pain and articulate your experience and doing that, even taking the time to read this article, is a form of self-care and tool for healing. Keep up the good work and take care of yourself because you do have hope and you are worth it.   


Kessler, David. Five Stages of Grief,, Date Accessed June 2018

APA Reference
Sullivan, E. (2018, June 12). Applying the 5 Stages of Grief to the Loss Of A Relationship, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 14 from

Author: Emily J. Sullivan

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June, 13 2018 at 1:15 am

I don't think I would feel a lot of pain when it comes to loosing an abusive relationship. I would actually appreciate it and move on very quickly. I think it might be harder for women to move on than men when it comes to relationships. The stages are accurate and I think regret should be added somewhere there

July, 2 2018 at 6:05 pm

Thomas, thanks for your comment! A common misconception about abusive relationships is that they begin abusively. They usually begin pretty great and evolve into a much darker thing as time passes. People commonly hold onto the beginning romance and infatuation and have a hard time leaving the person they fell in love with behind.
Regret is definitely a common emotion people feel when moving on, you're right. I think regret may fit into the bargaining stage of wishing you'd done things differently or wishing you'd never stayed as long as you did, etc.
Thanks again for reading and reaching out to us at Healthy Place. -Emily

November, 24 2018 at 10:20 pm

I believe I am in an abusive relationship. I am constantly reminded that I will never find anyone that will be able to handle me and my problems. That I am destroying my family. That I have ruined her life. That I am bad in bed. That her ex never treated her as bad as I treat her. That she will never let me see my kids again. That because I struggle with PTSD depresion and anxiety from my military service and have been hospitalized twice voluntarily due to suicidal ideations that i will never have custody of my kids. that she will tell my other daughters that I am not one of their fathers which is true and it is my decision when I tell her and how I choose to tell her. That she would tell everyone that knows me how much of a piece of **** I am. I could go on for days. She even gets violent and hits, pokes, scratches, throws things and then when I flinch or dont fight back she calls me a *****. the one time that I did shove her she was in my face poking at me and then put her hand on my face and shoved my head and so I pushed her back to get her away from my and her hip hit the edge of the entertainment center and she told me a was the abusive one. everything is my fault i really could go on and on. I will say that I am not a saint and I have said things in response as a way to stand up for my self but then it gets turned around on me to make it seem as if I am the one that is abusive. so much so that even sitting here writing this i don't know if I am the abuser or the victim. I want to leave but I can't financially or emotionally. I love my kids and the thought of not seeing them scares the daylights out of me. I feel isolated from my family and shes always talking bad about them and convincing me that wither I am mean to them or they are not there for me and mean to me. My head is a mess so as far as it being easier for men than women I would say that it is false men just have more stigma when they come forward and there are not any resources for men being abused unlike for women there are hundreds of organizations that assist women with legal, and means to leave the relationship. I am hurting inside and even writing all of this I just feel empty and that there is no future for me and my life is not worth living.

November, 30 2018 at 11:57 pm

Hi Ben: I'm so sorry to hear about all that has been happening to you. I can't even imagine how you must feel right now. I know being a man must make you feel very isolated as well because you feel as if you can't talk to anyone about it, however, many organizations exist to assist anyone who is facing domestic violence, regardless of gender. Please visit our main mental health resources page and from there, you can scroll down in the article and click on various links such as hotlines or organizations:…. Thank you for leaving a comment. Please stay strong! -Kristen

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