Breaking up is hard to do. Why else would there be thousands of songs, poems, books, and movies written about it? When you love someone and that relationship comes to an end—regardless of whether or not you were the dumper or the dumpee—it hurts like hell. Scientific studies have even shown that your brain registers the emotional pain of heartbreak the same way as physical pain, which explains why after a breakup it can literally feel like your heart has been ripped out of your chest. Seriously, you’re not being dramatic. But when the tears subside and you’re faced with the aftermath of a lost relationship, you might wonder, “How long does it take to get over a breakup?”
No one is immune to breakups, so, truthfully, we’ve all been there. The profound sense of loss caused by romantic rejection is no fun, and at some point, you’re probably wondering when it will all feel “normal” again. We talked to experts about how long you can expect to feel this way. Just know this: It will get better.
How long does it take to get over a breakup?
Sadly, there is no hard-and-fast rule for how long it takes to get over someone. And anyway, it may not be healthy to hold yourself to a specific recovery date. Cherlyn Chong, a breakup recovery and trauma specialist, says you can forget the popularized notions that getting over a breakup takes half the time of your total relationship or one week for every month you were together. In her experience, “the time it takes someone to get over a breakup is based on the depth of one's beliefs about the rejection.”
Mollie Volinsky, LCSW, a New York-based therapist, agrees. She tells us, “I find that breakups are similar to the grieving process. There is no right or wrong way to do it, and there is no formula based on time or type of relationship.” For example, you may have been living with your partner for 10 years but felt so disconnected during the last few years that once the breakup is official, you don't feel as impacted. In some cases, you may even feel relieved. Others may have been in a relationship for four months but felt such intimacy and closeness that the breakup feels like a major loss. In Volinsky’s expert opinion, both of these responses are valid. "It's a very individualistic process," she says.
Why do some people take longer to get over a breakup?
Interestingly enough, if you, a friend, or a loved one seems to be taking a particularly long time getting over a breakup, it may have more to say about how you see yourself than the actual breakup.
“I've found one thing that has always been consistent,” says Chong, “and that is that the real pain keeping people stuck on a breakup isn't really about the breakup itself, or even about the ex, but what it means about the heartbroken individual themselves.” She says that people who come away from the relationship feeling like they won't find anyone else as good or that they weren't wanted because there is something wrong them will remain stuck on that person for a long time.
“That's what we call a victim mindset,” she says. She tells us that people who experience “a prolonged, deep sense of hopelessness or leave the relationship feeling unworthy of love,” probably are accessing feelings of inadequacy that they already had deeply ingrained in them, perhaps from childhood or even early adulthood. "What happens then is that the breakup simply reinforces this painful feeling," she tells us.
According to Chong, if someone believes that they are unworthy before they met their ex-partners, the rejection then becomes extremely personal. "It feels like nothing they can ever do will work to find real love, so they hang onto the illusion of their former relationships," she says. Not to mention that sometimes false hope that their ex will come back will prolong the process even further.
Volinsky adds that, on a personal level, the loss of a valued person in your life and fear of being alone are enough to contribute to the difficulty of moving on. In some cases (like highly codependent relationships, for example) she says that a breakup could feel like a loss of or a confusion around your identity. One 2017 study found that heartbreak activates the same mechanisms in the brain that get activated when addicts are withdrawing from substances, so if you depend heavily on your partner, these withdrawal symptoms could show themselves more obviously. This is another factor that makes it more difficult to move forward.
But Chong does say that it all depends on how you choose to view the painful experience. "If you use this experience to grow, with full belief that it is possible for you to find love again with the lessons learned, you will then have a growth mindset, which will allow you to get over the breakup faster," she says.
How can you begin to move on after a breakup?
1. Commit yourself to it.
The first step, which many people overlook, according to Chong, is to simply make a decision that you are going to get better. “It's so simple, but it is incredibly empowering,” she says. “Too many people flounder about with no direction.” Instead, she advises that you commit your energy to getting yourself to a place where you can see the breakup as a learning experience. Then, you decide how you will get there. As Chong says, “Don't rely on time to heal all wounds. It is a false notion. It is action, not time, that heals all wounds.”
2. Take care of yourself first.
Do not worry about your ex! We repeat: Do not worry about your ex! Instead, Volinsky suggests looking inward and practicing some much-needed self-care. "If taking care of yourself means drinking wine and watching Netflix, then do that. If it means meditating and going for a jog, then do that too. Go with what works for you at that particular moment and take extra care of you."
3. Remember that our brains innately know how to process distress.
We know that sometimes going through a bad breakup can feel like an uphill battle, but Volinsky says it's important to remember that we are far more resilient than we think. "Trust that the painful thoughts, emotions, and even body sensations are part of that process, and let yourself truly experience that discomfort," she says. In moments when your brain or body hurts, remind yourself that it won’t last forever and that feeling those feelings now will help you to better heal from the breakup in the long term.
4. Know that you don't have to experience this alone.
This one is self-explanatory. Call on a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional for extra support. Therapists have proven that using this coping mechanism can help mitigate the feelings of loneliness you may be left with after a breakup. It can be scary to open up and be vulnerable about what happened, but it can be extremely cathartic just to talk about it, too.
5. When you’re ready, take steps to process what the breakup means to you.
Once you've taken some time to process the hurt, Chong suggests doing a deep dive inward to find out what this new chapter means for you. If, at your core, you feel like you will never find a connection again, set an intention to seek out authentic connection with friends in your singlehood. If you feel like your ex inspired you to be more productive and you don't know how to go about that on your own, commit to completing one small project. "Set some specific goals, and allow yourself to feel proud of yourself," says Chong. Working through these emotions isn't always easy—so be kind to yourself while you go through this process.
6. Give yourself grace.
“An important piece to acknowledge is that getting over a breakup isn't linear,” says Volinsky. “It's not as if with each day after the breakup you're feeling better and better until one day you are completely over it. Some days you may feel fine, while others you may feel down." This is both normal and okay.
"It can be a hard, painful process, but keep going," Chong says. "Keep taking action, but don't be too hard on yourself if you get a setback. The most important thing is that you are doing something, and that means that you are making yourself a priority now instead of the ex."