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Communication Skills

The Ultimate Guide: How to get over a break up?

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Veteran couples therapist Linda Carroll presents a groundbreaking model of the five natural stages of romantic relationships.  CJ and Carroll discuss the 5 stages of a relationship, which provide a back drop on why couples end up breaking up.  This guide covers everything surrounding a break up, how do you know if you should break up, how to break up,  what personal work you need to do before beginning a new relationship, and more.

What are the 5 Stages of Relationships/Love?

  • The Merge – This is the honeymoon stage where we can only see oneness with our partner and ignore our differences. Interestingly enough, we tend to gravitate and merge with a person who can help us heal old wounds.
  • Doubt and Denial – This is the stage when reality kicks in and we wake up from our dream world. We start missing our old life and our partners start to lose their God or Goddess like status.
  • Disillusionment – Part of us yearns to maintain the connection while another part wants to break free (individuation). It’s the period where we only feel our own suffering and grave disappointment.
  • Decision – The differences you have with your partner seems irresolvable and you want to end it. Linda Carroll emphasizes that the key point in this stage is to realize that you have reached a threshold rather than an impasse.
  • Wholehearted loving – At this stage, we have a healthy sense of self and accept our partner’s differences.  We are differentiated and independent of our partner and we have no agenda.  At this juncture, you can care and give to your partner without trying to fix, change, or prove your worthiness.

VIDEO: CJ offers a recap of the 5 Stages and chats with author Linda Carroll about her latest work “Love Cycles”

Stage 1: The Merge

We all yearn for those golden days during the first few months of a relationship. It signifies the moment we merged with another and began to feel a sense of wholeness. While the romance is spellbinding, it doesn’t last forever.

Linda Carroll explains how love is like an addiction and why romantic love is so hard to last forever here (

Learn more on why it’s so easy to feel enamored with our first love during the merge and why running back to your first love is not advised here: (

Stage 2: Doubt/Denial – Why do couples fight? How can couples avoid arguments?

Linda Carroll talks about what happens during the Doubt and Denial stage here: (

6 Steps to Prevent a break up: What are the reasons for divorce?

In 2005 the National Fatherhood Initiative surveyed divorced men and women and found that more than half (56%) reported that their relationship suffered from “too much conflict”.

Source: WITH THIS RING. (2005). A NATIONAL SURVEY ON MARRIAGE IN AMERICA. Retrieved February 3, 2015, from

In her book “Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love”, couples therapist Linda Carroll describes the six skills needed to resolve conflict in a relationship:

  • Skill 1: Understanding your part in the trouble. A relationship is a two-way street. If you aren’t relating to each other well, then each party is equally responsible.
  • Skill 2: Listening without Barriers. There are many reasons we have barriers to listening, some of which have to do with our childhood. One of my favorite resources on this topic is Dr. John Gottman’s “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, which explains the most corrosive negative behaviors that couples display:
    • Criticism:stating one’s complaints as a defect in one’s partner’s personality, i.e., giving the partner negative trait attributions. Example: “You always talk about yourself. You are so selfish.”

    • Contempt:statements that come from a relative position of superiority. Contempt is the greatest predictor of divorce and must be eliminated. Example: “You’re an idiot.”

    • Defensiveness:self-protection in the form of righteous indignation or innocent victim-hood. Defensiveness wards off a perceived attack. Example: “It’s not my fault that we’re always late; it’s your fault.”

    • Stonewalling:emotional withdrawal from interaction. Example: The listener does not give the speaker the usual nonverbal signals that the listener is “tracking” the speaker. Research FAQs – The Gottman Institute (The Gottman Institute),

  • Skill 3: Accepting your Differences and Learning to Collaborate
  • Skill 4: Making a New Move – Our instincts aids in our response to trouble and danger through flight, fight, or freeze. Making a new move involves moving from fear to self-examination and reflection.
  • Skill 5: Nourishing a Relationship – This skill is all about building good will and adding “bank deposits” to your partner’s love bank.
  • Skill 6: Keeping your own Tank Filled – It’s hard to give a deposit to the bank if you are broke. Make sure to fill your coffers too.

Psychotherapist Jonathan Robinson demonstrates how to handle difficult conversations in this four part series starting with Part 1 here.

Stage 3: Disillusionment – What are the 7 normal reasons people start falling out of love and feeling disillusioned?

Learn why we begin to zone in on the displeasing attributes about our partner here: (

According to couple’s therapist Linda Carroll, there are seven reasons why we start feeling disillusioned in our relationships:

  • The Blahs: Our daily rituals start to bore and imprison us. We try to escape the painful monotony by running toward stimuli that will move us closer to pleasure. The path of least resistance is to blame our partner for the way we feel. Instead of taking accountability for our own displeasures, we project our unhappiness on our partner.
  • The Blues: Instead of facing our unhappiness with the relationship, we numb out the pain or get depressed.
  • Betrayal: Lies, broken promises, infidelity, financial deception, invasion of privacy.
  • Lumpy-Carpet Syndrome: This happens when we pretend to agree with our partner even though we have a difference in opinion. The term Lumpy Carpet refers to the act of sweeping too many things under the carpet.
  • Loss of Connection: Linda Carroll sums this up perfectly:

“The secret to keeping our relationship strong under duress is to manage our love account just as we manage our bank account—by keeping the deposits higher than the withdrawals. Listen, support, touch, apologize, appreciate and surprise. We need to practice these behaviors often enough to amass the goodwill to cover those times when the relationship is overdrawn” Carroll, Love Cycles, p72.

  • Loss of Connection: Linda Carroll explains this state:

 “Just about everything our partner say or does can be interpreted as evidence that he doesn’t know us, doesn’t care about us, and isn’t right for us.” Carroll, Love Cycles, p74.

  • Bad Moods. We tend to take our grumpy mood out on the one closest to us like our partner. This negative disposition causes us to treat others poorly because we flake out and don’t honor our word. This can sometimes resort to screaming matches or getting verbally abusive.

Stage 4: Decision – When should you leave a relationship? Take a break?  Should I get a divorce?

At this stage, we reach a threshold where we realize that we can no longer take the pain of being with the wrong person. Carroll explains what happens at this stage here: (

This stage is often the hardest because we are separating from that source of love that we are initially so addicted to.  Based on an FMRI and advanced brain mapping study done at Rutgers University, Anthropologist Helen Fisher discovered that going through a breakup activates the same regions of the brain as when an addict is going through withdrawal.

How to Break up? What are the options?

Linda Carroll proffers these options for when you reach a juncture in your relationship here: (

According to Carroll, these four options were typically chosen by couples she had worked with in the past: 1) to separate, 2) to stay and do nothing, 3) to lead parallel lives 4) to let go of the old marriage and rebuild a new partnership.

When to leave a relationship? How to know when a relationship is over?

Eventually, you will reach a point when the relationship will feel unbearable. Carroll cautions that it may take a while to know for sure if the relationship is over but try not to make a hasty decision because you feel the urge to run away from the pain of feeling anger and sadness.

If your partner has a drug or alcohol  addiction and refuses to change, leaving the relationship may be more harmful than helpful.  This is one situation that warrants reconsideration.

Carroll describes here ( how self-reflection and having a deep sense of knowing in your body will signal you on the right time to leave

Learn more on how you can recognize when it’s time to leave here ( and here.

CJ shares her experiences and knowing when it was time to go here (

Resource: Here’s a series of worksheets I found on the Internet to consider (

Couple counseling – Is it worth it?

It is key to not make the decision when you are running away from the pain of feeling separate.

Carroll explains what happens during couples counseling here.

How to get over a break up?

It’s important to understand your role in the relationship because if you don’t, you may find yourself suffering the same fate or worse in your next relationship.

Linda Carroll explains a few questions you can ask yourself at the end of a break up here: (

Linda talks about the importance of being conscious of the characteristics and/or factors that propelled you to want to be in the relationship in the first place. Knowing this is so you don’t retrace your footsteps again. Learn more here (

In order to heal yourself, Linda Carroll shares a story about how you will repeat the same mistake until you work on your issues here: (

It’s often helpful to be aware of the family dynamics that helped create the dynamic in the relationship you are now ending here: (

There is always some role each person plays in a relationship full of conflict, get clear on how your way of relating to your partner is half of the equation. Find out more here: (

Am I ready for a new relationship? Is it too soon?

It’s easy to just jump into the next relationship to ameliorate the pain of being alone. Before leaping back into the game, Carroll explains the importance on how to choose the next partner. She suggests we think carefully if we are getting involved with someone who has the capacity to be in a long-term relationship here: (

How to avoid a rebound relationship? Why is it dangerous to run from your current relationship to your old college sweet heart?

Linda Carroll shares her own cautionary tale of lingering old flames and how its the fond memories of first love you hang on to; in reality, they aren’t real candidates for a long-term relationship here: (

Letting go of a relationship: How to get over a relationship?

There is no way of escaping the pain of ending a relationship. It’s important to grieve our real losses after a break up. Generally speaking, with a serious break-up we feel like we have lost a part of our lives and we risk bringing our broken selves into the next relationship. It’s pretty common for folks to do what Linda calls a spiritual by-pass, where we try to run away from the pain by thinking happy thoughts. Linda explains the risk of avoiding our real emotions and how that will cause us to never bring our full healthy selves into the next relationship. The trick is recognizing when your grieving is truly done and how not to define yourself by that grief.  (

How to break up with someone with kindness? How to end a relationship?

Listen to Linda’s experience as a couple’s therapist on how to break up with kindness here. (

It’s important that you give the person you’re breaking up the room to experience whatever they are feeling, whether it is anger, hatred, sadness, or wanting to get back together. You can help by just listening, not judging, or trying to defend yourself.  Just be present to the person’s pain. During a break-up, know that both parties are grieving. Dissatisfied partners sometimes cheat as a way of escaping and definitively ending a relationship.  If you are thinking of this option, recognize and be responsible for the considerable harm you cause to the other person.

What are the best ways to get over your EX? What are some logistics that you may want to consider when breaking up?

Many books suggest cutting all contact and removing anything that reminds you of that person i.e. removing personal pictures or un-friending them on social media.

Stage 5: Wholehearted loving – How to fix a broken relationship? How to make a relationship last?

Whether you decide to stay together or leave your partner, the next step towards love is to build a healthy foundation through self-cultivation.

How do we get to the place of wholehearted loving? Linda describes this stage here: ( and the skills you need to feel wholehearted loving for your partner such as, communication skills and spiritual forgiveness, acceptance, kindness, compassion, etc.

Check out a radio interview with Arrielle Ford on why couples fight and how to move from being annoyed to enjoyed with your partner using the Japanese idea of wabi sabi (


About Couples Counselor Linda Carroll

Linda Carroll was born in 1944 in San Francisco and adopted into an Italian Catholic family. Very early, she discovered poetry as a form of prayer and a window into an expanded life. In 1961, when Linda graduated from high school, San Francisco was already buzzing with counterculture music, arts, and style, and Linda found herself selling beads and going to peace marches.

After finishing her bachelors degree in Oregon in the seventies, she moved to New Zealand, where she raised children on an 86-acre sheep farm. She returned to Oregon in the eighties and received a masters in counseling, and began practicing as a therapist.

In the nineties, she and her veterinarian husband, Tim Barraud, began to teach a couples course based on the Imago work of Harville Hendrix, the PAIRS training of Dr. Laurie Gordon, and their own insights, study and practices. They continue to offer retreats and seminars all over the world; Linda’s third book, Love Cycles, newly published, is based on this work.

As an adult, Linda found her birth mother, the novelist Paula Fox, and began to understand her deep-seated love of poetry anew. In 2006, her memoir, Her Mother’s Daughter, was published by Doubleday. In 2008, Remember Who You Are was published by Conari Press.

Linda’s third book, Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love is now available. Sign up for her mailing list to learn the latest news for this terrific book. And follow her on Facebook.

Linda has five children and ten grandchildren. She lives in Corvallis, Oregon, with her husband and three Jack Russells* and continues her lifelong path of spiritual seeking.