To steaming heck with your sh*tty ex. You’re better than them, and you can do better than them. You know full well that they never deserved you. But you can’t seem to let go of the good times. So how long will it be before you can get over them? Does science actually have an answer? And how can you speed up the process?
How long are the average post-breakup blues?
Post-breakup sadness can last a while. Breakups are significant life events that, in one study, increased self-reported depression scores in people who’ve recently experienced one. It’s more than reasonable for the uber-sadness to stick around for a spell.
Researchers have tried to work out the average time between relationship cut-off and care-free frolicking. Unfortunately, the only definitive answer love nerds have come up with is “everyone heals at their own pace.”
Science is so unsure that it’s resorted to quasi-philosophical gumpf like “there are many factors to consider,” “there’s no answer, but there are actions you can take to find contentment again,” and “every person and relationship is different.“ Cheers, science. Very helpful.
If you were expecting hard numbers you’re out of luck. For scientifically-backed fortune cookie advice on how to help your broken heart heal quicker, however, you’ve come to the right place.
Mourning the end of a relationship takes time. If some toxic asshole has broken your heart and you’re sick of missing them, here’s the 411 on how long it’ll take (and how you can speed it up).
There’s no set time frame for mourning former beaus. Some move on the second they’ve walked out the door, others can be clinically depressed for years following a breakup.
There are no rules about how long you should grieve a relationship.
Whether you’re sad about your ex for 5 months or 5 minutes, it’s completely normal.
Anybody saying you’ve spent too long (or not long enough) can go run backward naked through a field of cacti.
Only you know when you’re ready to move on, and anybody else’s opinion is irrelevant (unless they’re genuinely concerned about your mental well-being). If you’re done being sad about your ex and their stupid face, but need a little help finding inner peace, you might find the info below super helpful.
Nope. It’s literally so varied the science boffins can’t even make a graph about it.
Common schoolyard/office watercooler wisdom is that it takes half the time you were in the relationship. But if you want proof that this is bullish*t, take a look at cruise ships full of newly-divorced silver foxes and foxettes making bang time without a thought for their once-spouse of 50 years.
Further proof takes the shape of every teenager that spends 4 months crying over a 2-week relationship that culminated in an awkward fumble in the back of a movie theatre.
Plenty of science folk have tried to work out an average. The reason we don’t have one is that none were successful, not because they haven’t tried.
The (and we use this term loosely) “science” trying to measure breakup timescales
One commonly referenced “study” is actually an online poll conducted by a research company (so it’s not even science). It suggested a 3.5-month average, with divorce breakups closer to 1.5 years. But this shouldn’t be taken to heart because:
- It comes from a marketing company, not scientists.
- The implication that marriage automatically means a relationship is more emotionally significant is bollocks.
In terms of actual science, 2007 was a big year for measuring breakups, even though it was a while ago. One study of college students found an 11-week average based on the demographics of the participants. College is a romantic and emotional microcosm though. It would be scientifically irresponsible/logically ridiculous to suggests this represents the general populace.
Researchers tried to figure out in another 2007 study if breakups were as distressing as people expected, or if they fall into the “actually, that wasn’t so bad” category. Findings suggest breakup pain isn’t as bad as we expect pre-split, and we get over bad partners quicker than we predict.
Obviously, this is only one study. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the opposite being true on occasion. You’ve probably experienced a breakup that hit you harder and for longer than expected.
So what’s the tl;dr? There’s no real scientific answer for how long it takes to get over a breakup. You do you.
Part of the reason there’s not much breakup science knocking about is that there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence. Scientists like solving the mysteries of life. Proving what everybody already knows is boring for them.
However, the lack of lab facts doesn’t leave us in the dark. Relationship and breakup counseling is a thriving industry, and there are tons of books about it. The advice and guidance of these books and therapists/counselors do seem to work for some people.
We don’t have much proof in the way of lab coats and Bunsen burners science, but that doesn’t mean humans are clueless when it comes to breakup blues. Folks have been f*cking and ch*cking since the days of caves and mammoths. By 2021, we know a heckin’ bunch about what makes hearts break harder.
Level of commitment
It’ll come as a shock to nobody that long-term, committed relationships are harder to get over. Not all relationships are created equal, after all.
Ending a casual fling prompts internal existential questions like “Oh, darn, who am I going to go to the Dave Matthews Band concert with on the weekend now?” It may sting, especially if you’re the dumpee rather than the dumper, but casual breakups don’t tend to have major ramifications through your life.
The end of a committed relationship can ruin everything. Breaking up is a very different experience when you’re leaving the person you live with, for example. Walking away from years-long partnerships can mean losing friends, living arrangements, or contact with their family (who by this point may also feel like your family).
Letting go of a relationship into which you’ve invested literal years of your life is hard. The prospect of starting again can be overwhelming for some folks. Having your future life plans torn to shreds can really make a dent in your mental health.
So yeah, for a bunch of obvious reasons, level of commitment directly impacts moving on.
Do you know what also makes getting over a break-up hard? Cheating. Being cheated on doesn’t make you feel good (shock). The bitter taste left by unfaithful partners can take a long time to fade.
Trust is an important relationship foundation. Creating trust means being emotionally vulnerable around your S.O. and showing them an intimate side to your personality few get to see. Your partner also gets to see you nekkid if they play their cards right. That’s a big deal for many people.
Loads of peeps don’t like showing their naughty bits. For every friend you have that can’t keep their shirt on after a beer, you have another who needs to talk to themselves in the mirror for half an hour before getting changed in front of their spouse.
Emotional and/or physical intimacy is a huge trust fall for some people. A betrayal of that effort by their partner can be devastating. Even if you’re not one of those peeps, having your trust broken hurts. It can leave you feeling ashamed, confused, or stupid for opening up that much to another person. Infidelity fully sucks.
It’s not just cheatees that feel pain — the cheater gets a rough deal in terms of breakups, too (although one brought on by their own actions). Throwing away years of happy partnership by following an impulse with a stranger leaves many folks feeling not-too-great about themselves. Just… keep it in your pants next time.
tl;dr: It can be harder to get over Cheat-o-flavored splits because you’re having to heal pride and shattered trust on top of everything else.
Every new relationship is a risk of future heartbreak. We get into them anyway ‘coz the healthy ones make us feel all warm and happy inside.
Unhealthy relationships, as you know if you’ve ever been in one, do the opposite. They make you feel crappy. It’s natural to feel relieved instead of upset when a less-than-functional relationship dies. Hell, if a relationship goes far enough south, ending it can be a one-way ticket to Cloud 9.
On the flip side, if you weren’t at each other’s throats 24/7 or using screaming to communicate, it can be harder to bounce back. As a general rule, the end of happy relationships puts you in a low mood longer than unhappy ones.
Dumpee or dumper?
Whether you were chucked or did the chucking plays a big role.
Breaking up with somebody isn’t a pleasant experience (unless you’re a sociopath) and can leave you hurting, but the emotional ball is in your court. Initiating a break-up gives you time to mentally prepare for post-partner life. You have a chance to reach emotional peace with the situation, weigh up your options, and set the time/place of the “it’s over” conversation.
Usually, the dumpee didn’t make the decision to end the relationship. Unless they suspect something is up, the end is an unexpected sledgehammer blow. Confusion and rejection compound the pain they may already feel after their partner leaves.
Dumpees may take longer to pick themselves up again (although not always). This doesn’t mean dumpers always call time on shared life and stroll away whistling a merry tune. Deciding to end a relationship is often an unwanted, last-resort decision.
However, most folks would agree having a breakup inflicted on you is more painful than inflicting one on someone else.
Bad news time: there’s not much you can do to recover from a breakup faster. Some things might help, but none of them are guaranteed to work.
The best approach is to avoid beating yourself up and allow your heart time to heal. You’re already sad, so making yourself sad about being sad will just make you sad². Nobody wants to be sad².
Activities that are good for working through depression help. Taking steps to combat the physical symptoms of break-up pain helps you feel more in control. And a better mood makes finding positivity easier.
Here’s some ways to do it:
- Take a Goldilocks approach to sleep. Breakups can have you sleeping too much or not enough. Doing what you can to get a restful night’s sleep has all sorts of mood-lifting benefits which will probably help make your break-up blues less bluesy.
- Eat in moderation — but forgive lapses. “The boy made the girl sad so she’s eating ice cream lol” is a common movie and TV trope. Breakups can mess with your eating in a not-funny way though. Losing your ex can leave you with some under- or overeating habits that make your bad mood worse. It’s proven that food and feelings are linked, so chowing down on some good-vibe superfoods could make the suckiness less sucky. If you do find yourself reaching for the Haagen-Dasz though, no judgies.
- Burn calories for dopamine. Your instinct might be to curl up on the couch and watch “Gilmore Girls” until your butt fuses to the cushion and you become a couch/human hybrid. But hibernating might not be the best course of action. One study suggests that exercise can help for depression and anxiety symptoms in adolescents. Getting some motion in your moping could help shorten it.
- Make platonic people time. Jumping into a romantic relationship to get over a different relationship generally isn’t healthy (casual rebound sex notwithstanding). Just because you’ve lost your romantic partner doesn’t mean you’re alone though. Platonic intimacy has a host of feel-good benefits. They might not fill the hole your ex left, but spending time with close friends can make your ex’s absence feel less all-encompassing.
How to kick-start moving on
There’s a common theme to the above:
Good, well-intentioned self-care can get the healing started and make it faster (maybe… again, everybody is different).
Cultivating a healthy outlook on the breakup is important. This isn’t easy, but having a proper understanding of your emotional response is the first step toward changing it.
Mindfulness meditation and CBT techniques are great for this. Your aim is to develop a balanced perspective of the situation. Teach yourself to accept big feelings are natural and that it’s OK that you’re in a less-than-stellar place.
From there you can start to find positive distractions and heal.
Answer these questions:
- Can you remember the good times you shared with your ex without feeling pain?
- Can you do shared activities or go back to date locations without wanting to curl up in a ball?
- Do you feel like a complete person, rather than one half of an incomplete duo?
- Can you look at a photo of your ex without getting emotional?
- Is the need to scratch the itch in your NSFW areas greater than your aversion to dating?
If you answered yes to most of the above then congratulations, there’s a strong chance you’re over your ex. You may not be permanently over them (breakup pain isn’t constant — it can peak and trough), but you’re at least on the path to happier days.
There’s no definite answer on how long it takes to get over someone. Or how much a break-up hurts.
There’s a bunch of factors that make getting over someone easier/harder — but then again everybody is different, so you may find the opposite to whatever the popular consensus is to be true.
There’s nothing you can do to definitely make getting over someone easier or faster. But there are some things you can do to feel less miserable in general that may help.