Breakups: They’re the worst.
Though, while break-ups are often debilitating, mentally taxing, and a frequent catalyst of depression, loneliness, and a loss of sense of self – all of which can manifest physically — they don’t have to take over your life forever.
Somewhere between your third I-can’t-get-off-the-couch Sunday and re-reading all the texts you swore you wouldn’t re-read, you start to wonder when the heartache will end. How long does it take to move on? We asked two therapists to weigh in on how long it takes to get over a breakup – and what you can do to expedite your own checkout from heartbreak hotel. Here is their wisdom and 7 things you can do to get over a break-up faster.
1. Give yourself three months to begin to heal.
Studies suggest that people start to feel better around three months post-breakup. One study, which evaluated 155 undergraduates who’d been through breakups in the last six months, found that 71 percent start to feel significantly better around the 11-week mark, or around three months. Divorces, understandably, often take the longest: one study on marital splits found that divorcees need around 17 months and 26 days to catch their breath and move on.
However, the timeline is different for everyone and it may, in fact, be less healthy to hold yourself to a specific recovery date. “I would actually caution a client from getting too attached to the notion that there is some sort of equation or ‘right’ amount of time to get over a break up,” says Dr. Sarah Bren, a psychologist in Manhattan. There’s no one single miracle date you can add to your calendar, and look forward to waking up refreshed with full closure.
2. Avoid holding yourself to a deadline
Pop culture is rich with a gamut of unfounded equations for moving on after a breakup. Take, for example, the oft-cited Sex and the City theory that it takes half as long as the relationship lasted to get over an ex. The truth is, getting over a breakup is a far more nuanced undertaking than some generalized calculation. Your own timeline will depend on your unique situation and personality, so avoid holding yourself to a deadline.
“Healing from a breakup is like moving through grief after any loss,” points out Mary Breen, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Manhattan. “It is an ugly, messy process with no definitive time frame for how long it will take.”
3. Recognize that personal history affects your “recovery time”
“In reality, the end of a relationship is going to mean very different things to different people – and how long it will hurt could be impacted by earlier experiences like trauma or losses of other significant people in their life,” says Dr. Bren.
That means anything from your upbringing to your prior dating life to your attachment style can come gushing out right about now. Your journey is yours alone, so do your best not to compare yourself with others who may have healed quicker or more slowly because of who they are.
4. Let yourself let go
“Accepting that we can feel sad and also feel happiness is an important component to getting through a breakup, because it reduces our chances of getting stuck in our sadness and becoming hopeless,” says Dr. Bren. Sadness is okay, because if we allow it to be, we are also allowing it to pass. This is a huge component of mindfulness — letting thoughts and feelings pass without judgement.
According to Dr. Bren, letting go of the expectations to which we tend to hold ourselves following a breakup – and giving ourselves permission to feel pain and sadness devoid of judgment and without rushing the healing process – can actually help us to feel better sooner.
Science confirms the benefits of releasing judgement. One study used a prompt called “love reappraisal,” which encouraged participants to absorb statements of acceptance like “It’s ok to love someone I’m no longer with.” The result? Though it didn’t help participants move on immediately, they did experience a weaker emotional response to items like photos of their exes. In comparison, thinking about things they don’t like about their exes, such as an annoying habit, helped them move on but also brought their moods down and was distressing in the short-run.
Dr. Bren encourages gentle self-discipline with the sorrow. “While we are giving ourselves permission to feel our pain with no pressure of an expiration date, it is a good idea to find ways not to wallow in the pain or get stuck feeling that as our only feeling,” Dr. Bren says. “Some ideas for coping during this time of sadness is to connect with others who can offer supportive distraction – go to a funny movie, or go out for a nice meal with good conversation.”
5. Embrace self-care as a coping mechanism
Both Breen and Dr. Bren agree that self-care is especially important following a breakup. While you might be tempted to wallow in a puddle of Ben & Jerry’s, now is actually the time to snap into the opposite action. Make sure you’re eating well, getting the right level of physical exercise, and getting consistently adequate sleep to keep your emotional energy levels high.
Also helpful? Getting in touch with your inner balance. “Mindfulness or meditation exercises are very helpful for building up the mental muscles to refocus our attention onto positive things, even when we are also feeling sad,” says Dr. Bren.
Breen adds, “By taking a few actionable steps with regular doses of self-compassion, the waves of pain from your ‘whole’ body-ache will become fewer and farther apart.”
Struggling to get up and at ’em? Ask friends to hold you accountable, or try methods of recharging your lack of motivation.
6. Realize that this is the reason it hurts so much
“Heartbreak is a psychological experience for the mind and body,” says Breen. “It actually hurts, because we now know that emotional and physical pain come from the same place in our brain. We also know that falling in love, and emotional and physical intimacy release a whole host of positive, feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and epinephrine into our bodies.”
And when a relationship comes to an end? “The amount of those powerful neurotransmitters drastically drops, causing our brain to respond the same way it would in a withdrawal from drug addiction.” Psst — that’s a big ouch.
7. Try talking it out to get out of the depths
Talking to a therapist can be tremendously valuable during a breakup, especially for those who struggle to accept the sadness without attaching to it or for those who feel alone in the process. Many therapists specialize in working with clients who are going through major life transitions, like break-ups. They understand how difficult it can be to reintegrate into a changed daily routine — and they can teach you skills in finding a new way of living that’s authentic to you, individually.
“Oftentimes when people are going through a painful breakup, it can feel isolating and difficult to talk about such strong emotions with friends and family for fear of burning out our support systems or having to navigate a lot of ‘fix-it’ advice,” says Dr. Bren. “A therapist provides a neutral and safe space to talk in depth about the breakup without risk of judgment or pressure to ‘fix it.’”
While there’s unfortunately no magic math or one right way to get over a breakup, embracing self-care and surrounding yourself with the right supports can help. Release unrealistic expectations of yourself, shed as many tears as you need, and suspend all judgment on the amount of times you re-watch Call Me By Your Name. You will get to a better place soon!