Like most other women, I still remember my first serious breakup like it just happened yesterday. After dating for nearly a year, my boyfriend at the time broke things off with almost no explanation.
While it took me months to recover, he seemed to bounce back and find someone new reasonably quickly.
At the time, I didn’t understand how this could be possible. Why wasn’t he hurting like I was? How could he just end our relationship so abruptly and instantly move on?
Then, nearly six months later, he called me out of the blue and asked if we could get dinner. Reluctantly, I accepted.
Looking back, though, I’m so glad I answered his call and accepted that invitation to dinner because it was in that event that I learned that men deal with breakups very differently than women do.
In the years since then, I’ve learned a lot about how men process hurtful experiences and handle their emotions.
This insight has proved invaluable not only in subsequent romantic relationships but even in helping out friends in the aftermath of their relationship woes.
By understanding the stages a guy goes through after a breakup and knowing why they seem cold then later contact their exes, you too can learn how to handle nearly any situation you land in during the aftermath of a breakup.
What are the "stages of breakup" for guys?
Most of us are familiar with the typical stages of grief that women experience after a major breakup. However, the stages men experience during a breakup look significantly different.
Stage 1: The Inflated Ego Phase
According to University of Notre Dame professor Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D., a man’s sense of entitlement and fragile ego often gets the better of them after a breakup.
Because of this, most men adopt a “her loss” stance at the beginning of the breakup and work hard to keep up appearances that “everything is fine.” Eventually, though, the enlarged ego starts to deflate.
Stage 2: Numbing The Pain With Socializing
Men hate feeling vulnerable. In fact, our society teaches men to stuff their feelings deep inside from a very young age. Because of this, men take longer to process their emotions after a breakup and spend lots of time avoiding their feelings.
In other words, there’s a very specific reason why so many men head to the bar with their friends for weeks after a breakup. After all, getting a bit of a buzz can help dull those crippling feelings of pain and loneliness, and talking about sports helps guys avoid more serious topics.
Stage 3: Realization
Researchers at the University of Texas discovered that men can only begin to fully process a difficult breakup once they realize that they are truly alone. It’s in this realization stage that a man accepts his emotional weakness and finally lets the emptiness settle around him.
While many men will still try to maintain a poker face during this phase, they will start to grapple the heartache they’ve avoided for so long. This is the first step towards moving on, and it’s a major one for most men to tackle.
Stage 4: Anger & Sadness
After he finally realizes that the relationship is over, a man can start processing all of the complicated emotions and infinite questions that plague most women from the get-go.
Some guys will purposely do things during this phase to bring on the tears (like stalking their ex), whereas others will simply wallow in their emotions and lash out at everyone who tries to help. Regardless, this is the messiest stage of the breakup process for a guy.
Stage 5: Testing The Waters
While grieving the end of a relationship, most people will tell the grieving guy or girl, "Don't worry, there are plenty of fish in the sea."
So, after they process their pain, most guys will go fishing.
While some guys will find a new special someone in this phase, many just land a rebound girl.
Those initial relationships right after the breakup typically fizzle out because he’s not yet ready to really trust someone and open up again.
Stage 6: Redirecting Hope
Once a guy tests the waters a bit, he often finds that he’s not quite ready to dive into a new relationship head first just yet. In fact, he needs time to fully work through his trust issues so that he can move forward and learn to love again.
This phase can take the longest for a man to work through, but it’s the most critical for his future relationship success. If you or someone you know is working through this phase of reestablishing hope, the key is patience.
Stage 7: Acceptance & Moving On
Finally, after spending tons of time ignoring his feelings and even more time getting caught up in them, most guys will eventually reach a point of acceptance and move on from their previous relationship.
While the amount of time it takes to move through these seven stages varies from man to man, a small-scale research study found that it can take a guy up to two years to fully process his emotions and move on after a breakup. So don’t expect this to be a quick and painless process, guys!
Why do guys go cold?
Due to their hormone levels and ways their brains process information, men can appear calm, collected, and even unemotional during negative events like a breakup.
In fact, therapist and life coach Jennifer Musselman says, “If a man does not physically and verbally express the same emotional urgency, a female partner might assume he doesn’t care about the upsetting event.
But in fact, he is more readily assessing the situation at hand before determining his feelings about it and considering his response.”
Also, numerous studies show that men require alone time to process stressful events or complicated emotions.
While women love to talk out their feelings, men need space to even figure out what they’re feeling first — especially during a breakup.
Why do breakups hit guys later?
As I previously mentioned, it takes most men nearly to get over a serious relationship. With that being said, most men don’t feel heartbroken right away once a relationship ends. There are numerous reasons why this happens.
For starters, most women feel the full force of the breakup up front and quickly begin the process of working through their emotions.
Men, on the other hand, avoid their feelings like the plague and spend lots of time distracting themselves and ignoring the emotions of the breakup.
Dr. Ronald Levant refers to this emotional avoidance as normative male alexithymia. Essentially, traditional masculine roles in society cause many guys to feel like their masculinity directly conflicts with the emotions they feel.
This causes men to shut down and ignore their feelings instead of openly expressing them right away.
Furthermore, scientists have proven that men simply process information differently than women. Where women tend to think in terms of people and emotions, men often take in the big picture and look at things in the form of systems or webs.
Because of this, most men take time to put the pieces of an event together, which means that the full emotions of the event don’t hit them until their brains finish connecting the dots. This process of “putting things together” can take men months to work through.
Finally, men don’t sit around with their guy friends and talk about their feelings or the pain of breakups like women do.
This leaves men to figure out their feelings alone, which can take longer and not provide men as much insight.
Why do guys contact their ex girlfriends?
While many experts recommend that partners follow a “No Contact Rule” after a breakup, men frequently break this rule. But why? Well, that simple question is actually complicated to answer.
“The likeliest possibility is that they are reflecting about the relationship and are missing you. Most of the time this would be for romantic or sexual reasons, but sometimes they might just want to be friends again", says psychologist Samantha Rodman.
Rodman explains that some men reach out because they feel guilty about how things ended or want to smooth things over because you share mutual friends or work together.
However, therapist Anna Poss offers a different perspective:
“If they felt the split was abrupt, confusing or left them with unresolved feelings, an ex might reach out to gain clarity. Resuming communication could also be a way of testing the waters [to see if you’ve moved on].”
Or, who knows, your ex could be bored and simply want attention from an old flame. He could also be drunk, horny and hoping for a hookup, or secretly feel sentimental but worry how you’d respond to his feelings.
If you feel comfortable communicating, it’s more than OK to respond and see if you can out why he’s reaching out. If you’re still grieving yourself, though, it may be best to simply ignore him or say that you’re not ready to resume communication.
Do guys feel hurt afterwards?
While your ex’s cold, disconnected stance after a breakup may leave you thinking that he doesn’t care or hurt at all, experts all agree that the opposite is true.
In fact, relationship expert Chris Seiter says that there are five very clear signs that guys show when they’re hurting after a breakup. Seiter explains these signs in-depth and offers advice on how to handle some of these emotional displays in this video.
Just like the encounters with my first serious ex in the months after our breakup, I know that many other women find themselves in complicated situations with men even after the romantic relationship with them ends.
However, by understanding how men deal with breakups and why they do some of the things they do after the relationship ends, you can not only feel armed and informed, but you can ultimately decide exactly what you’re ready for.
In the case of the ex-boyfriend I mentioned at the beginning of this article, we still communicate from time to time, but mostly we just follow each other on social media and let our lives unfold independently. Honestly, though? I’m more than OK with that.
Just remember that how you work through the heartache you feel after a breakup is your decision, and your feelings are always valid.
While your ex may seem cold and distant, chances are he’s just trying to process his heartache the only way he knows how.
Decide what you need in the weeks and months after your relationship ends, and stick to those boundaries regardless of how your ex-boyfriend seems to react.
Healing is an independent journey, and in time you’ll both move on from the pain in your own unique ways.