Guide to Breakups


Breakups can be a different experience for everyone. It might be hard to know what a friend needs when they are going through a breakup. Below is general information about the process and tips on break-ups—grief, loss, emotions, loneliness and getting support.

The Process of Grief

  • A break-up is experienced as a loss and like with all losses, there is a grieving period. Some commonly experienced losses in break-ups include:
  • Loss of partnership
  • Loss of visions/dreams about the future
  • Loss of Friendship
  • Physical connection
  • Loss of routine/habits

The Different Stages of Loss

As people move through the grieving process, someone might experience different stages or states of being and may move back in forth within these stages. The grieving process has its ups and downs, setbacks, dramatic leaps, etc. The following are stages that people move through:

  • Shock, denial, numbness and/or bargaining
  • Fear, anger and/or depression
  • Understanding, acceptance and/or moving on

How to Cope with Loss:

  • Remember that others have felt that same way too.
  • Breathing—deep breaths are regulating and calming.
  • Self-care—taking care of your body through healthy eating, exercise and sleep.
  • Maintain an active schedule—join a student group or make a goal to work out three times per week.
  • Stock up/Clean up--make your room organized and feel good to be in, buy household items that you need and stock up on healthy foods.
  • Keep additional changes or big decisions to a minimum—judgment may be clouded
  • Laugh—watch a funny movie, YouTube video, TV shows or talk to a friend that makes you laugh.
  • Write it out—journal and write down how you feel about a situation or person.
  • Scheduled activities or get support during predictably challenging times, such as holidays.
  • Develop a plan about how to answer questions about the break-up.
  • Don’t obsess over personal social media.
  • Develop a plan for managing urges to call.
  • Process and learn in your own way—gain your understanding and realizations in your own time.
  • Avoid negative coping strategies such as drinking, drugs, sex, and cigarettes.

Emotions: Understanding Them

Having lots of different emotions and having emotions pop up more frequently are common aspects of break-ups. Emotions are information—hey tell you when something does or does not feel right, when something needs to change, and sometimes point us to lessons to be learned. Though some emotions may not feel pleasant, pushing them away can lead to bottling up and slowing down the grieving process.

How to Cope with Difficult Emotions:

  • Accept the emotions that you are feeling, they are giving you information
  • Label them—for example; angry, jealous, frustrated, hurt
  • Become aware of patterns and triggers that lead to difficult emotions
  • Find ways to safely express them for example writing them out or talking to a friend
  • View them as a sign of strength/growth
  • Sometimes you can use emotions to fuel change
  • Remember that emotions are a normal part of the process

Loneliness: Putting It into Perspective

A common fear during breakups is loneliness. It is important to understand what kind of loneliness someone is afraid of and to put loneliness into perspective. Just because someone is without a romantic partner, does not mean they are alone. The following are different types of loneliness:

Different Types of Loneliness:

  • Existential: feeling small, insignificant
  • Social and community: feeling disconnected from friends/community
  • Unexpected (closeness v familiarity): being around people but not feeling connected
  • Experience: feeling like no one else can exactly understand what you’re going through
  • Romantic- missing things you get out of being with a romantic partner
  • Knowing what kind of loneliness you are feeling, can help you figure out how to reconnect and get your needs met.

Getting Support and the Different Types of Support

Different people might need different kinds of support when they are going through a breakup. Take a look at different kinds of support below and ask your friend what kind of support they need from you.

  • Instrumental support: information, advice, instruction
  • Listening support: being heard and understood without judgment
  • Emotional Support: comfort and empathy
  • Tangible support: a concrete gift or means to obtain a desired item or activity. For example, buying a friend a meal after a hard day or making them a mix tape of your favorite music.

Remember: Be open and let them know you are there to support them in any way they need it.


Adapted from CAPS workshop "Guide to Breakups" with Andrea Iglesias, Psy.D.