Dumper’s regret (or remorse) isn’t like flipping a switch. Just as the process of moving on is marked by highs and lows, so to is the intensity and frequency of remorse. It ebbs and flows in waves. In the timeless words of my favorite author:
Like the hurried lover, it comes and goes.Terry Pratchett
This makes understanding what an ex is thinking more than a little confusing because there’s a chance that what they feel is changing on a daily basis.
Luckily for us, this uncertainty will be reflected in their behavior and communication, which means we can at least make an educated guess.
This article is my educated guess. A step-by-step, chronological look at the typical stages of dumper’s remorse and how this process mutates and manifests over time (and how you can tell what is going on).
Let’s start at the beginning.
Stage 0: Before The Breakup
No breakup truly starts the moment separation occurs. Detachment begins weeks if not months in advance. It may seem like an overnight decision, but it never is.
As the dumper prepares themselves mentally for separation they will tend to give off clues, many of which are subtle and lost in the everyday wear and tear of the relationship.
I’m sure that now, looking back, you are beginning to see these clues for what they were. I’m also sure that at the time you didn’t understand those warnings, or knew but chose instead to sweep them under the rug. It’ll pass! Except this time, it didn’t.
Here are a few examples.
Signs A Breakup Is Coming
- Your partner stops engaging with you. This can be deceiving because it also means they might not care about fighting for the relationship and fixing things, so it can lead to a period of unnatural calm. This is the essence of why many ex’s claim the breakup came out of the blue! Because we often confuse a partner who retreats, with a sign all is well (because there’s less friction).
- Your partner stops respecting you. This isn’t so much a verbal sign (they act petty, cold, or mean) but instead a subtle withdrawal of responsibility. They are preparing themselves for going solo by taking their lives and duties back.
- Your partner spends less time with you. This is a sign of their internal reprioritization of you are a partner and the relationship itself.
- Your partner stops communicating. By far the most common and telling sign. Communication is the fabric upon which the relationship rests. Relationships live and die by their ability to communicate effectively. If your ex stops telling you things, if they stop channeling their feelings and confiding in you, it means they have switched channels.
The Timeline Begins Months In Advance
Before we look at what happens after a breakup, let’s take an honest look back and realize that the breakup began much earlier than we initially thought.
We’re talking weeks and months earlier.
This process can lead to our ex acting strangely (internal conflicts stemming from guilt and resentment can give rise to some pretty odd behavior), but we can’t quite put our finger on what’s going on, so we let it roll.
And just when we start to pick up on these subtle behavior cues that ruin is approaching, it happens. We’re given our pink slip and ordered to fend for ourselves.
Stage 1: Immediately After The Breakup (1 Day To 2 Weeks)
The act of breaking up will initially act as a release valve for pent up stress and resentment for the dumper. Yes, the breakup event itself is dramatic and taxing, but the immediate emotional aftermath is often uplifting.
This temporary “joy” is partly due to breaking free from a suffocating situation, but also because the dumper has confronted their fears and appears to have prevailed.
The Joy Of Conquering Fear
As a dumpee, seeing this relief manifest in our ex-partners can be confusing and painful. But bear in mind that:
- This decision was a long time in the making, so the dumper has had time to come to terms with it.
- The joy is partly due to confronting their fears rather than being overjoyed in parting ways.
- The dumper doesn’t yet know what life apart entails, and has yet to process the reality of separation. Simulating a breakup mentally is never completely accurate.
This isn’t to say that the breakup will always be perceived as a mistake by the dumper, sometimes that euphoria will endure. But in most cases, the heavy-hitting realities of breaking up haven’t set in yet.
But they will soon.
Stage 2: The Wake Up (2 To 4 Weeks)
A dumper can ride their adrenaline for a couple of weeks. But soon the novelty of this “new adventure” begins to fade as the coffins in their cemetery of memories break open.
For those of you looking for reconciliation, this is typically the stage that will see the emergence of mixed messages and crumbs of contact.
These messages are the result of the dumper beginning to process the breakup, having doubts, and keeping a foot in the door (preventing you from moving on) while they sort through their internal mess.
Warning: Don’t confuse mixed messages with an attempt at reconciling. They are “mixed” on for a very good reason, and that is because the dumper isn’t willing to commit to a definite answer.
There is a difference between having trouble moving on and reconciling. And that difference will become even more pronounced in the next stage of the dumper’s regret timeline. But for now, bear in mind that their uncertainty will be reflected in their actions.
The Dumpee Breakdown
This also happens to be the stage where the dumpee’s emotional reserves run out, and things can get desperate.
It’s been long enough for the dumpee to realize this isn’t just a hiccup, but that breaking up permanently is a very real possibility. This pain will coincide with the dumper’s hot and cold behavior, leading to resentment, anger, and detachment once the dumpee’s attempts to find validation and security are met by more indecision and mixed messages.
The Land Of False Promises
The 2-4 week mark is what I like to call the land of false promises. It is the stage where both dumper and dumpee crave security, but there is none to be found.
In an effort to regain control, both the dumper and dumpee (more so the dumpee) will make promises they can’t keep.
- The dumper might hint at reconciling (we should meet up at an unspecified later date for coffee).
- The dumpee will disclose their long-term battle plan to right all relationship mistakes.
- The dumpee will take responsibility for everything going wrong.
- The dumper might initially blame everything on the dumpee.
It is the time of unrealistic absolutism. An impulsive, emotional, first attempt at negotiating the future romantic landscape. This is that moment that, years later, we all look back at and cringe. Yes, I’m looking at you!
Stage 3: Make Or Break (1 To 3 Months)
In most cases, this is the most critical stage of dumper’s remorse with regards to chances of reconciliation. Dumpers will have tasted life without their ex, and dumpees will have begun to emotionally settle.
This will mean one of two things. You either find a way to repair the relationship or you watch your chances sail over the horizon.
But even if there is a chance to patch things up, there’s no guarantee this happens due to the damage incurred by your communication channels in stage 2.
The State Of Communication
The mixed messages and crumbs that denote stage 2 of a breakup can devastate your communication because the only “solution” to this chaos is to sever contact altogether.
If you intend to reconcile it is imperative you restore at least one channel of communication.
The best way to do this is to work your way from the ground up. Start with indirect methods of communication such as Email and work your way up (if successful). This will allow you to say what you want to say without injecting confusing emotion or body language into the message.
Signs Of Dumper’s Regret
The acute stage of dumper’s regret is over, and by the month mark it is coalescing into something tangible, something that can be worked on and shaped.
By this stage the dumper should have a firmer idea of what the dumpee means to them.
Should the prevailing feeling be regret over breaking up, you can expect the dumper to:
- Start to take responsibility for their role in the death of the relationship.
- Demonstrate a renewed willingness to talk about the past (they may resist nostalgic talk vigorously in stage 1-2).
- Escalate contact from the impersonal (Email) to the personal (call or in-person).
- Initiate contact and seek action from the dumpee.
Conversely, stage 3 is also where a dumper who isn’t interested in reconciling will begin to stop seeking validation and comfort from the dumpee.
The mixed messages will reduce in intensity as a new set of reference points give structure to a fresh comfort zone they can lean on.
This is the passive element in healing from a breakup, the part that stems from our subconscious mind’s drive towards clinging to routine. By this stage, a few short months after the breakup, and regardless of our intentions or regret, a new routine will be forming.
Stage 4: The Long Shot (3 Months+)
Stage four is almost identical to stage 3 but is less intense. As time goes on, the intensity of the feelings and desires reduce. It is a gradual process that can go on indefinitely, sometimes even decades.
Feelings don’t disappear overnight, but the triggers and intensity of these feelings do diminish as “life” slowly grows over them like a parasitic vine.
Are My Chances At Reconciling Over?
It is an objective fact that couples reconcile after months and years of complete radio silence. Could this be you? It could. But is it likely? Not statistically.
A study by Kevin Thompson on reconciliation found that just 15% of people won their ex back, 14% got back together only to immediately break up again, and a staggering 70% failed to get back together at all.
This is our baseline. Adding months of separation to that statistical tally doesn’t improve our odds. Moving on means moving on (literally) and months of life means doing that whether we want to or not!
No. Your chances are not over. But the more time passes, the more unlikely it becomes.