Here’s How to Get Over a Breakup—and How Long It Might Take
They say time heals all things—but how much time? A psychotherapist says there's one important key for how to get over a breakup most efficiently.
It takes half the total time of your relationship to get over your ex—at least, that’s the pop culture refrain. But outside the plotlines of Sex and the City or How I Met Your Mother, getting over a breakup is hardly so cut-and-dry—in fact, relationship scholars say the question comes up all the time, largely because our desire to put a timeline on heartache is wired into our DNA.
When you experience a breakup, you know it’s going to hurt…but if you notice that a huge part of the pain is thanks to simply wondering how long it will take you to recover, Berkeley University’s Greater Good Science Center suggests that’s totally normal. Humans crave information about the future, in the same way we crave food and other basic needs—and our brains register vague uncertainties as a threat. So while you’re navigating how to get over a breakup, you’re also dealing with a primal stress response over not knowing how long it will take.
Here’s some information that might be a relief: While there isn’t a tidy itinerary to life after a breakup, psychotherapists suggest understanding the post-breakup process can help you gain some control over moving on.
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How long does it take to get over a breakup?
Humans struggle with uncertainty—and scientists especially want answers—so researchers have tried again and again to find the answer to this age-old question. Unfortunately, their efforts remain inconclusive.
One 2021 market research poll concluded that some people say they feel better after about three months (though if you got divorced, it could be closer to a year and a half before you feel ready to move on). Other research found newly single people’s distress declined after just 10 weeks…but that data was from 2007, when social media was not as predominant a way to keep track of a recent ex’s new life as it is today.
Meanwhile, a 2021 study at the University of Texas at Austin found psychological suffering often persists for at least six months after a breakup. “Most people move on,” says Lisa Lawless, PhD, a clinical psychotherapist and CEO of Holistic Wisdom, Inc. “Generally, it can take months, and for others, it may even take years. Of course, there are some people who never get over losing a partner.”
The long short of it: there’s not a fixed timeline for healing from a breakup, and how long it will take you to recover will depend on a lot of variables—even from one relationship to the next.
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How can you get over a breakup faster?
While you can’t predict an end-date to your heartache, understanding the factors that impact the breakup recovery process can help you move through yours.
The most influential factor is how strongly you are emotionally attached to your ex, Dr. Lawless says. Especially if a breakup takes you by surprise, that emotional connection may still be strong—and it will take more time and effort to let go and move on. “How long you have been together will also influence how long it may be until you can make new routines and create a life without your partner,” she explains.
Closure is important, too. For example, if you don’t understand why your relationship ended, it can be harder to move forward.
The same principle goes for events that are out of your control, says Cynthia Shaw, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Authentically Living Psychological Services. “Endings that occur due to life circumstances such as different geographic locations, differences in values—like wanting to have a family, or change in paths—like if you just grow apart—can also be particularly difficult to move through,” Dr. Shaw says.
Your resilience in the face of stress and adversity in general can determine how soon you can move on—but that’s where your friends and family come in, as well. “Your support systems play an essential role in how well you can manage stress, and having a strong support system through friends and family can make a big difference in how one copes with the loss of a relationship,” Dr. Lawless says.
But there’s one key that’s perhaps the most vital factor behind healing from losing a partner: Your willingness to accept the breakup.
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Why can’t I get over my ex?
Acceptance is necessary to truly move on from a relationship, but it can be a windy road to get there. A breakup is a loss, signaling the end of a big part of your life. “Often, when we experience loss, we also experience grief,” Dr. Shaw says. This grieving process can create new obstacles in and of itself.
Traditionally, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. For example, someone may deny the experience by thinking, This happens all the time, we always have little fights and then make up. Or you may find yourself trying to bargain, offering promises and compromises to your ex-partner in an effort to work things out.
However, says Dr. Shaw, “It is important to note that these grief experiences are not chronological, linear, or finite; there is often an ebbing and flowing of such stages,” she says. “There is no wrong way to grieve.” Certain stages may hit more intensely or not at all, or you may have other experiences, like fatigue, anxiety, or disbelief.
The #1 rule for how to get over a breakup: be gentle on yourself
Struggling through this grieving process is completely normal, but attention to self-love and self-care can help, according to Dr. Shaw, who says that often, she sees people who have trouble moving on from a relationship also struggle with their self-esteem. “If we have a low regard for ourselves, we may be more inclined to rely on a partner to make us feel whole, confident, and worthy,” she explains. This can instill a belief that you need your partner, clinging to a sense of attachment, not necessarily love.
It’s healthy to take the time to grieve a loss because it’s important to experience your emotions in order to move through, and past, them. Just keep in mind, Dr. Lawless says, that focusing on nurturing yourself and your future, while keeping your support systems close, can help you unwind this attachment and move toward that end goal of acceptance. And, if you’re struggling to move on, “it may be helpful to seek out the support of a therapist who can help provide support and direction to heal wounds from the past.”
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Lisa Lawless, PhD, a clinical psychotherapist and CEO of Holistic Wisdom, Inc.
Cynthia Shaw, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and owner of Authentically Living Psychological Services
Berkeley University's Greater Good Science Center: "Seven Ways to Cope with Uncertainty"
OnePoll: "Study reveals how long it takes to get over an ex"
The Journal of Positive Psychology: "Addition through subtraction: Growth following the dissolution of a low quality relationship"
PNAS: "Language left behind on social media exposes the emotional and cognitive costs of a romantic breakup"