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6 Stages of a Breakup for the Dumper: When Does the Break Up Hit Him?

February 9, 2024

Dating in high school is full of emotions, but things can also seem pretty clear-cut. Unless someone cheated, there was an unspoken rule that the dumper was always to blame for the end of the relationship and the dumpee got all of the sympathy.

As we get older, we realize that things aren’t always that simple. Both the dumper and the dumpee are affected by the end of a relationship and both will have to deal with the complicated feelings that come with that.

Let's look at the similarities and differences between the experiences of the dumper and the dumpee and how you can rebuild your self-esteem and confidence whichever side you found yourself on.

Key Takeaways

  • The end of a relationship can be painful for both the dumpee and the dumper
  • The dumper has more time to prepare but carries more guilt. The dumpee can feel more rejected and confused
  • It is possible to undo a breakup, but it’s rarely a good idea

Understanding Dumper vs Dumpee Psychology

As I mentioned, both the person who instigated a breakup and the one who was dumped go through different stages of grieving their relationship. They will usually both spend some time trying to work out how to put things right, feeling lonely, rejected, and angry, and missing their ex.

They will also often both have some of the positive aspects of a breakup. For example, they might both find themselves getting back into hobbies they had given up or discovering the freedom of not having to explain themselves to anyone.

Although these experiences are very similar, the pattern, timing, and focus of them can be different.

The experiences of the dumper

The dumper will be having a host of feelings about the end of their relationship, but they might not feel completely justified in having or sharing many of those feelings. After all, they were the ones who decided to end the relationship. They might be confused about feeling sad and lonely.

The dumper might also be frustrated with themselves, especially if they have an avoidant attachment style. People with an avoidant attachment style are more likely to end a relationship because it started to get too serious, but they can also become annoyed when they realize that this has become a pattern for them.[1]

Realizing that they have an avoidant attachment style might also lead a dumper to doubt their decision and wonder whether they walked away from the relationship too easily.

The dumper will often have to deal with feelings of guilt because they hurt their partner. Even if they know that ending the relationship was the right decision, they might wish that they had found a kinder way to do it or managed to hurt their ex less.

The dumper has usually had longer to prepare for the end of the relationship than the dumpee. Unless they ended the relationship during an argument or on the spur of the moment, they will have thought about their decision and tried to plan how to have the conversation. This means that it’s less of a shock for them.

The dumper will also often find themselves having to explain and justify their decision to other people in their lives, especially if they have shared friends with their ex or were close to their ex’s family. The ex will also usually want to have at least some idea of why the relationship is ending. This need to justify themselves can be difficult for the dumper.

The dumpee

The dumpee might be taken by surprise by the end of the relationship. They will often feel rejected, hurt, and even humiliated. They also feel powerless because they’re not able to change their partner’s mind. They feel as though their relationship has been unilaterally taken away from them.

The dumpee might also blame themselves, especially if their ex tells them things that they did wrong in the relationship. If they have an anxious attachment style, they might also see a pattern of being rejected and abandoned by the people they love, which is hard to deal with.

Someone with an anxious attachment style is more likely to be the dumpee than the dumper because people with this attachment style find it difficult to end a relationship even when it’s not good for them or meeting their needs.[2]

Where the dumper is dealing with feelings of guilt, the dumpee will usually find self-blame and rejection are their most powerful emotions.

If the dumpee is taken by surprise by the end of the relationship, they might look for ways that they can change themselves or fix some of the problems to get their relationship back. This can be an opportunity for personal growth, but it can also lead them to make unnecessary or inappropriate changes.

Both

Both people might find it difficult to deal with how the people they care about talk about their ex. Lots of people feel the need to badmouth a loved one’s recent ex, but this can be painful for the dumper and the dumpee, especially if the breakup was due to incompatibilities rather than bad behavior.

Both sides can also struggle to change their minds, even when it’s clear that they made the wrong decision. This makes the dumper refuse to go back to a relationship and keeps the dumpee angry and hurt for longer than they need to be.

Sometimes, the dumper will feel the same rejection that the dumpee felt, but a few months later. This is because the dumpee sees their ex move on and drift away from them straight away while the dumper only sees their ex move on a bit later when the dumpee is done grieving.

Stages of a Breakup for the Dumper

Couple not talking to each other

1. Considering ending the relationship 

It’s pretty rare for someone to end a relationship without having spent at least some time thinking about it first. Usually, they will spend some time considering the relationship and trying to understand what is wrong before they get ready to make the decision to leave their partner.

The consideration stage might involve pulling away emotionally to see how it feels or noticing problems in the relationship that they hadn’t seen before. They might think about this entirely by themselves, share their thoughts with a trusted friend, or even try to bring up some of those problems with their partner.

Talking the problems through with their partner will usually give them the best chance to keep the relationship going and improve the situation, but it’s not guaranteed. This is especially true if they find themselves in the Anxious-Avoidant Trap.

For some dumpers, there is also a stage before they consider ending the relationship. This is known as the pre-contemplation stage.[3] This is the stage where they’re not ready to even think about leaving their partner. They might ignore evidence that something’s wrong and strongly defend their partner if anyone criticizes them.

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Being in the pre-contemplation stage doesn’t mean that the relationship is healthy. It means that the (soon-to-be) dumper isn’t ready to begin thinking of their future alone. This is very common in victims of domestic violence and abuse.[4]

2. Making the decision and having the conversation

The next stage for the dumper is to make the decision to leave their partner and then have the conversation to actually end it.

Making the decision can take a long time with some prospective dumpers changing their minds repeatedly over a matter of weeks. Others will be firmer in their decision and find it easier to make their mind up.

Even once they’ve decided to end things, lots of dumpers struggle to work out the best way to actually tell their partner. They know that they’re going to hurt them and they might put off the conversation for as long as possible.

Often, a dumper will make excuses to themselves, such as “I need to wait until after their birthday” or “They have a big project at work. I shouldn’t upset them until that’s done.” This can be a sign that they’re not sure of their decision but more often it’s just a way to avoid the unpleasant conversation.

Some dumpers will tell others about their plan to end the relationship as a way of forcing themselves to have the conversation. Others will treat their partner badly to try to push the other person into breaking up with them. Others will just check out emotionally and try to let the relationship fizzle out naturally.

The most respectful and emotionally responsible strategy is to have an open and honest conversation with the other person to end the relationship properly.

3. Feeling free (and possibly sad)

After ending a relationship, most dumpers will feel a degree of freedom and some positive emotions. This is partly due to the fact that they’re no longer in a relationship that isn’t right for them, but it’s also partly because they don’t have the awful breakup conversation looming over them.

It’s helpful for a dumper to try to separate out their feelings of relief that the breakup has been dealt with from their feelings about the relationship as a whole. This can also help them to avoid some of the guilt and conflicted feelings later on.

It’s normal to feel some sadness after dumping someone. It doesn’t mean that the dumper has made the wrong decision. It’s possible for them to feel sad that things ended whilst also knowing that they did the best thing for themselves (and possibly also for their ex).

4. Doubt and uncertainty

The next stage of a breakup that many (though not all) dumpers go through is feeling doubt and questioning whether they made the right decision. They might ask themselves whether they were premature in ending the relationship or whether they should have worked harder to make things better.

This is a normal part of the grief cycle for many dumpers but it doesn’t always mean that they were wrong to end things. Sometimes it’s because the people around them are doubting their decision or they’re missing something specific about the relationship.

In abusive or codependent relationships, it’s common for the person walking away to worry about how they’ll cope alone. They’re so used to their dysfunctional relationship that they might go back to their ex at the stage of the breakup.[5]

5. The reality of the situation hits them

Often, the dumper doesn’t really feel the full reality of the breakup straight away. They might feel that they could always tell their ex that they’ve changed their mind and get back together. They also feel as though their ex still cares about them and is thinking of them.

They might only start to really understand that their relationship is properly over when they see their ex move on and start dating someone new. Sometimes, the dumper won’t actually have processed the grief of their relationship being over until this stage of the breakup.

6. They might want to change their mind

In some cases, those feelings of doubt and regret lead the dumper to want to change their mind and get back with their ex, especially once they really understand that their breakup is real. They might try to spend more time with their ex and remind them of the good parts of the relationship.

Not every dumper goes through this stage of a breakup. In fact, most don’t. If this is a common feature of your relationships and breakups, ask yourself whether you might have a habit of being in dramatic or tumultuous relationships.[6]

How to Recover After Initiating a Breakup

1. Be really clear about what you’re feeling

The first step to feeling better after initiating a breakup is to really pay attention to what you’re feeling. You might be tempted to push your feelings away or ignore them, but it’s important to allow yourself to feel your emotions properly.[7]

Try to understand what lies behind some of your emotions, especially feelings of guilt or being disappointed in yourself. Remind yourself that your needs are just as important as your ex’s.

Journalling can be a really useful tool to help you understand and process your own feelings.[8]

2. Accept that you’ve potentially really hurt your ex

It’s really tempting to tell yourself that you’ve done your ex a favor, but don’t try to pretend that they won’t have been badly hurt by your breakup. Be honest with yourself about what happened.

One way to approach this is through mindfulness. Mindfulness is about trying to recognize what is going on for you, for example what you’re thinking and feeling, and accepting it compassionately and without judgment.

In this case, try to accept that your ex is likely to have been hurt, but that it doesn’t mean that you’ve done anything wrong.

3. Ask for a conversation if you want to try again

If you do decide that you made a mistake, it’s important to have a respectful conversation about what happened and ask your ex if they would be willing to try again. Be aware that they might not even be willing to talk about it, let alone agree.

If you do decide to get back together, it’s essential that you don’t try to ignore the problems that led you to break up in the first place. You will both need to talk through the problems that damaged your relationship before and find ways to avoid them in the future.

4. Remember why you made your decision in the first place

If you don’t want to get back with your ex, make sure that you keep reminding yourself of why the relationship wasn’t right for you. You will have had good reasons to make this decision, so keep a list handy for when you reach one of the difficult stages of a breakup for a dumper.

5. Focus on looking after yourself

Being the dumper doesn’t mean that you’re the bad guy. It’s nice to try to make things easier for your ex, but your first responsibility has to be looking after yourself and making sure that you’re ok.

If you need to go no-contact for a while to look after yourself, that’s ok. If you want to cry on your best friend’s shoulder, do it. If you need to spend the evening eating ice cream on the sofa, then that’s what you should do.

6. Date again when you’re ready

As the dumper, you might think that you should be ready to jump straight back into dating, but that’s often not the case. Take your time and only look for a new relationship (or hookup) when you want to.

There’s nothing wrong with taking some time to be alone and to feel comfortable with yourself before getting back into another relationship. In fact, having some time to reflect can help you to avoid making the same mistakes in your next relationship.

FAQs

Does the dumper get over the relationship faster?

The person who instigates a breakup has more time to prepare. This can mean that they are ready to move on sooner than the dumpee. Other times, the dumper doesn’t really feel the reality of the breakup until the dumpee has moved on and is dating someone new.

Do dumpers come back if they still love you?

Sometimes people do realize that they still love the person they dumped and try to rekindle the relationship. This can be healthy if it’s a one-off or as a response to a difficult situation, but don’t let yourself get drawn into a tumultuous relationship.

Is it harder to be the dumper or the dumpee?

Honestly, having to dump your partner and being dumped are both pretty awful, especially if you’re a compassionate person and care about the other person. The dumper has more feelings of guilt and responsibility while the dumpee has more self-doubt and helplessness.

Conclusion

Every relationship is different, and so is each breakup. The dumper and the dumpee are both having to adjust to the end of the relationship in their own way. Make sure that you take care of yourself during all of the emotional stages of your breakup.

Was this article helpful? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and make sure that you pass this article on to any friends who might be struggling with the dumper’s grief cycle.

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8 Sources:
  1. Bretherton, I. (1985). Attachment Theory: Retrospect and Prospect. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50(1/2), 3. https://doi.org/10.2307/3333824
  2. ‌Foster, J. D., Kernis, M. H., & Goldman, B. M. (2007). Linking adult attachment to self-esteem stability. Self and Identity, 6(1), 64–73. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298860600832139
  3. ‌Zimmerman, G. L., Olsen, C. G., & Bosworth, M. F. (2000). A “Stages of Change” Approach to Helping Patients Change Behavior. American Family Physician, 61(5), 1409–1416.
  4. ‌Liang, B., Goodman, L., Tummala-Narra, P., & Weintraub, S. (2005). A Theoretical Framework for Understanding Help-Seeking Processes Among Survivors of Intimate Partner Violence. American Journal of Community Psychology, 36(1-2), 71–84. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-005-6233-6
  5. ‌Bermea, A. M., Khaw, L., Hardesty, J. L., Rosenbloom, L., & Salerno, C. (2017). Mental and Active Preparation: Examining Variations in Women’s Processes of Preparing to Leave Abusive Relationships. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 35(3-4), 988–1011. https://doi.org/10.1177/0886260517692332
  6. Halpern-Meekin, S., Manning, W. D., Giordano, P. C., & Longmore, M. A. (2013). Relationship Churning, Physical Violence, and Verbal Abuse in Young Adult Relationships. Journal of Marriage and Family, 75(1), 2–12. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.01029.x
  7. ‌Wenzlaff, R. M., & Wegner, D. M. (2000). Thought Suppression. Annual Review of Psychology, 51(1), 59–91. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.51.1.59
  8. Pennebaker, J. W. (1997). Writing About Emotional Experiences as a Therapeutic Process. Psychological Science, 8(3), 162–166. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.1997.tb00403.x
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