The 10 Stages of Rediscovering Love
One of the hardest things in all of the world is falling out of love. Everyone experiences it in some form at some point in their life. Whether it’s losing affection for a family member or friend, whether it’s the heart wrenching moment you look at look at someone in your life and realise that you don’t think of them romantically anymore, or whether it’s coming to terms with someone leaving after a breakup, it hits us all hard. There’s a universality to it that’s comforting though, a sense that we’re all going through the same struggle that can make you feel less alone.
Stage 1: Denial
We all know this one too well. You don’t feel like that, you can’t, it’s not possible. There’s no way you can be feeling like that because you love them. You’re just having a bad week and you can’t take it, so you’re pushing those feelings out onto others. A bad month, a bad year. The slow realisation starts to creep in but we push it back with force, with sheer apathy. It’s not happening, so why even bother to think about it? After all, what’s the point in worrying over something like that when you know it’s not going to be happening to you?
So you choose not to. You do your best to make things work and carry out. You go on holiday together, make love, walk through sunlit streets and enjoy life. All the while it’s there, slowly but surely building but, like a kid, you think that if you don’t look at it, it will go away. And so it’s allowed to fester and grow, to become something far stronger and more powerful than it ever should have been. Until one day you can’t ignore it anymore.
Stage 2: Anger
The moment it finally can’t be hidden anymore, the moment you have to face up to it and deal? That’s the moment that hammers you, and has most people seeing red. After all, why you? Why the hell is this happening to you? You didn’t do anything wrong, you didn’t make any mistakes. You tried your best and now suddenly it’s there and you can’t deal. So you go into rage. Everyone else is to blame. Your partner screwed you, work is being unfair with all their demands, your friends never support you. You have to find a way out of this, none of it is your fault and it’s so unfair. You will smash things, you will yell in anger.
And it’s not this all consuming anger like you thought it would be. You’re not in a berserk rage 24/7, trying to destroy things and lashing out. It comes in little moments, in white hot moments of intensity and rage where all you want to do is cry out and lament the world for doing this to you. How could this ever happen to you? Why now, why the two of you? Why, why, why, why, why?
Stage 3a: Desperation
In so many ways the worst point. You will save it, it’s not too late to turn things around. You will make every effort to make things work. You will buy her flowers, you will be there for her, you will change. If it means doing things differently, making sacrifices, you will do it. Nothing is too much, hell you’ll live in a box outside her house if that’s what she needs, if that’s what will bring the spark back. You will do anything. You could die for her, so why do you feel this way? Why can’t you fix it? You will, you must.
It’s here that most people begin to break, as they realise the sheer absurdity of the situation and realise that their emotions have seized full control. For normally rational people, this is often a terrifying situation that leaves them wondering what on earth they’re going to do. After all, they really can’t free themselves from it and if they did then they’d be giving up, losing it all. They won’t do that, not ever. So they instead find themselves trying to make everything work, no matter the cost.
Stage 3b: Realisation
Desperation is almost inevitable, but sometimes it sparks something else. A little voice in your head lays it all out plainly to you, and you can see the issue. It doesn’t always happen. Most of the time it doesn’t, but sometimes there are just genuinely problems a couple needs to work on. Maybe you love her but you cannot take her lack of support any more. That is not a reason to give up, it’s a reason to make a change. Leaving is the easiest and most radical change, but it’s also the one that’s the most destructive. For some people, it’s all that works. But for others, this serves as the wake up call that they need.
That’s an entirely different line of thought, that often leads to falling back into love, or realising that you have been the entire time, that shining jewel in your life was just covered by years of neglect and grime. This is always a key stage too, because rushing through it causes so many good relationships to fall when they simply needed to change.
Stage 4: Despair
When the desperation fades, you’re left with one with one emotion. Utter despair. The complete absence of hope. After all, you cannot fix it. It is set in stone and you will have to follow that destiny. You know you will need to see them, to tell them you don’t love them anymore, or to pick up your things after they say the same to you. It’s a horrible moment and it plunges many us into weeks or months of darkness. There’s nothing else there, but the hurt and the pain and the misery. It can seem like there’s no way out. You’ve either been dumped by someone you loved immensely, or likely caused them incredible hurt. Either way, there is someone core to your life that will be leaving, and someone who is immensely pained.
Not all breakups are like this of course, but genuinely when one has a strong love for another, there will be an outpouring of real emotion. It’s so rare for two people to love one another, then one not to anymore, and for things to resolve themselves amicably in no time at all. In most cases, there will at least be a moment of intense despair.
Stage 5: Sorrow
You’ve just heard their song on the radio, found an old love letter or trinket. And suddenly there it is, this immense sadness. The moments and memories flash back in your head. You feel either guilty for breaking that past, for tarnishing memories, or hurt that they’ve been ripped away. In either case, there is an immense sorrow, like someone has died. And in many ways they have, the person that you two were together as a couple is gone. All those memories, all that charm all those moments will be lost in time.
It doesn’t always end in waterworks. In many cases, it’s these deep and cold pain that claws away at you. You don’t burst into tears, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t weigh heavily on your mind, doesn’t squat on your happiness and infest every new moment of potential with something lesser.
Stage 6: Guilt
This one is tricky. It’s hard to tell what you should and shouldn’t be feeling because everyone has some guilt in a relationship. Maybe if you had paid more attention to their feelings instead of being wrapped up in things, they wouldn’t have left. Maybe if you had actually put effort into dates and a tiny bit of romance every now and again, you wouldn’t have fallen out of love. We all make mistakes and it’s usually at this moment when those mistakes come back to haunt us, amplified and blown out of proportion.
It’s a fine balance too, between going easier on yourself and understanding that in many cases you will need to learn from what you did wrong. Be that much more romantic, caring, strong or decisive the next time. You can wallow in self pity or beat yourself up with self loathing, but this is the stage where moving forward involves learning your lessons and leaving that lingering sense of guilt to rest.
Stage 7: Happiness
Wahey! We’re into the fun stuff. Even if you got broken up with and you have spent the last 3 months in a relationship with a pair of lovely dairy farmers named Ben and Jerry, at some point you’re going to feel happy. Going to smile. Going to be enthused with just how wonderful life can be for those that really appreciate it and put the effort in. It’s wonderful too, to have that wave of joy crash back over you once more, to see the light in the world and the good in people. High on serotonin and dopamine, you’ll stumble around the world in awe.
You’ve missed feeling like this, and it’s the sign that even if the decision made wasn’t the right one, it’s not going to be the end of the world. You will smile again, you will laugh again, and life will go on. No one could tell you that earlier and you wouldn’t believe them but now you can feel it.
Stage 8: Repetition
This is a stage that some people skip entirely, but others stumble into blindly. After your moment of joy, suddenly things become cloudier again. It’s an awful feeling because you had hoped that high would last forever. For some people it’s straight back to denial, to thinking it didn’t happen and never talking about it. For others it’s the moment that want to give things a second chance with fresh eyes and a real determination to change. For some, it’s the return of all that sadness as you realise you’re no longer sharing this life with someone else and as you reach out to share the new joy with them as you always have, you realise that they’re gone.
It can just be a blip, or it can last years. It all depends on the person and the circumstances but it’s normally best to think of it as an upward spiral. Not going round in circles, but rather treading very familiar paths but coming to slightly different destinations each time.
Stage 9: Forgiveness
At some point, we have to forgive people that do not deserve it. Forgiveness is easy after all, if the person you are forgiving is contrite and respectful. Sometimes that person is you. It’s not always that easy though. They might not deserve it. They might still be a terrible person, they might have done something awful to you, you might have broken up with them in the worst way. There are many things that we perhaps shouldn’t even forgive but we don’t give forgiveness because it is deserved. If nothing else, we give it because it’s good for us. Letting go of hate, resentment and fear. Letting ourselves be free from it all. It’s often the perfect antidote.
Stage 10: Moving On
So now you have the world at your feet and you’re free to do it all over again, do it a little better this time, play it a little smarter, fall a little deeper, fall a little harder. It’s a beautiful and terrifying all about the same time, and the only way to make it to stage 11 is to keep on moving. That stage is different for all of us. For some it involves finding true love, for others it involves a shift in perspective where we no longer need validation from relationships to define who we are. The possibilities are endless, the story is yet unwritten and the pen is in your hand.