Coping with a Breakup? Here’s How to Heal
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Whether you’re reeling from the end of a tumultuous long-term relationship, trying to forget someone who cheated on you, or simply nursing an unrequited crush, we’re here to validate your feelings: Getting over someone you love isn’t easy. If it were, millions of songs, self-help books, paintings, and poems wouldn’t exist.
While the pain of a breakup is universal, fortunately, you won’t feel sad forever. But exactly how long does it take to get over someone? And is it really possible to speed up the process, so your grieving heart can feel less heavy ASAP?
Spoiler alert: There isn’t a set amount of time. The “21-day rule”—a theory that you'll generally begin to feel better after about three weeks apart—doesn’t work for everyone, says Maria Sullivan, VP and dating expert at Dating.com.
We know, we know—that’s not a very satisfying answer when you’re grieving the departure of someone you truly adored. So we asked Sullivan and some other relationship experts to dig a little deeper to help you navigate your way to the light at the end of the tunnel…and no, we’re not talking about the light in your freezer door.
Here, their expert tips to help you get over someone—for good.
1. Ditch your breakup timeline
Are you telling yourself that you need to update your dating profile by next week, or go out to try to meet a new partner IRL? Are you angry that even after a month, you still feel queasy every time you pass your (former) favorite date spot? Go easy on yourself. “Sadly, there is no mathematical equation to calculate a finite timeframe to recover from heartbreak,” says Amiira Ruotola, coauthor of It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken. If it takes you weeks or months to truly heal, so be it. There’s no rush when it comes to inner peace.
2. Don’t be so hard on yourself
Cori Dixon-Fyle, founder and psychotherapist at Thriving Path, agrees that you shouldn’t put pressure on yourself to “feel better” about someone by a certain time. “It can cause shame,” she says. “In order to move forward, you have to give yourself permission to grieve.” Instead, she encourages her patients to feel empowered by allowing themselves the space and vulnerability to feel their feelings. Chatting with a trusted loved one and sessions with a therapist can help you work out your feelings, no matter how difficult it might seem to discuss them.
3. Remember: There are no rules about how you should feel
If you’re stuck on someone who cheated on you or you’re blue because someone you, err, never technically dated isn’t reciprocating your feelings, you may wonder why you’re so upset. Just as there’s no set timeline for grieving the end of a relationship, there aren’t any rules about what you should and shouldn’t feel, either.
“Take time to embrace your feelings,” says Sullivan. “It’s okay to be sad, mad, frustrated, or even to still long for the person. Let yourself feel your emotions. If you do, it will be easier to move on and heal.” Journaling can be a great way to get out your feelings and put them in a safe place without fear or judgment.
4. Take time to grieve the loss
Did you plan a future together? Did you break up after a betrayal or because you learned too late that your relationship was one-sided? “The length of time it takes to get over someone depends on how integrated your partner was in your life and what caused the friction,” says Dixon-Fyle. “Depending on the depth of your relationship, it can feel like you’re losing not only your ex but part of your identity as well.” As with any loss, grieving can be overwhelming—you may flip-flop between sad, angry, and anxious, and it’s all okay.
5. Find art that helps you feel
Fire up your favorite angry music, or lean into your big feelings by way of Adele. Reading new books, listening to music, watching movies and TV shows—especially if they deal with heartbreak—will not only help you pass time but might actually help you handle a breakup and heal.
6. Don’t expect to feel better overnight
If you’re still searching for something more tangible, try this: “If you were together for at least one year, give it at least one year,” says Dixon-Fyle. She says that most people need to go through all the triggering events that may occur in the first year post-breakup— birthdays, anniversaries, holidays. “Allow yourself to mourn,” she says. Luckily, there are ways to ease the pain and help the process. These big life events are when you’ll really want to lean on your support system as you navigate those first milestones without your partner.
7. Try to stop romanticizing the relationship
“The hardest part of getting over a relationship is often not the loss of the actual person, but the loss of the fantasy of what you thought could happen,” says Juliana Morris, marriage and relationship therapist. While it’s natural after a breakup to get wrapped up in the dream, Ruotola warns, “Don’t get stuck in the obsessive loop of why and what if.” In fact, the first thing she tells anyone who needs help getting over an ex is to avoid the urge to rewrite your history together: “If you were so great together, you’d probably still be together!” she argues. Acknowledging the sticky bits of a past relationship can help you connect with the person you’d like to be for yourself and for your next relationship, whenever that may arise.
8. Despite the pain, respect what you had
As much as you may want to bad-mouth your ex, doing so will not help you get over them. It’s not like you have to pretend it was all rainbows and unicorns, but according to Morris, when you release yourself from the pain and resentment, you can move into happiness yourself. She prefers to consider a breakup as a “complete” relationship, and not as a “failed” one. “If you were vulnerable enough to feel love and give love, then it was not a failure,” she says. “The relationship served you as much as you needed it to, and now it’s time to move on.” Anytime you feel the urge to bad-mouth them to someone you know (or on social media—eek!), instead write out those feelings, perhaps in a letter you’ll never actually send them.
9. Acknowledge that life can be even better than before
Now that you are free from the relationship and the person, take the time to reexamine your life. “A breakup is an incredible opportunity for reinvention,” says Ruotolo, who suggests “focusing on reshaping your life to be the person you want to be.” Perhaps there were things about your relationship that felt limiting—maybe you loved to go out and be social but your partner preferred to stay in. Go do those things! Even if you’re alone, even if it feels scary. You can make new and exciting experiences on your own, and you never know who you might meet along the way.
10. Don’t move on to another relationship too fast
Take up a new hobby or a class you’ve always wanted to try, or spend time reconnecting with friends while you explore the benefits of being single. Morris agrees: Once you admit to yourself that there were parts of the relationship that were not working for you, it will help you move on, she says. To keep your mindset positive, Morris suggests creating a list of things from your past together that will feel good for you to let go. It might feel easier (and more exciting!) to jump into the arms of a new person quickly, but in the end, some solo time will help you regroup and recalibrate, making future relationships all the sweeter in time.
11. If possible, stay away—virtually and in real life
“The simplest but hardest rule to follow is to have the least contact with your ex as possible,” says relationship expert Kelli Miller. Of course this isn’t always feasible if your friend groups are intertwined or if you’re co-parenting. In those cases, distance yourself from them any way that feels feasible. If it is possible, she recommends blocking them from all forms of social media and to tell your friends not to relay any information. “Don’t social media stalk,” adds Morris—that includes unfollowing any friends who may have ties to your ex. In fact, she suggests taking a break from social media altogether. Doom scrolling never solved any problems, but it can certainly drum up icky feelings when you see people in your network seemingly living their best lives while you’re just trying to keep your head above water.
And certainly delete their number if you don’t need to communicate with them for any reason. You’ll feel better not seeing constant reminders of them in your devices.
12. Avoid any major life changes
It might be tempting to cut yourself some breakup bangs, start a new life in a new city, or get a new tattoo, but Charly Lester, dating expert and CMO of Lumen, a dating app for people over 50, explained to Oprah Daily that with your post-breakup emotions running high, it’s best to avoid doing anything rash you might regret later on. So put the box dye down for a few weeks, friend.
13. But don’t hide
You may feel lonely without your former best friend by your side, but that’s all the more reason not to be alone. “Surround yourself with people who make you feel amazing, and who remind you of how fabulous you are,” says Morris. Even if you don’t feel like venturing out, call on your friends who make you smile. “Just hearing other people talk about their day can really help take your mind off things,” she says.
And be honest about what you need. Text a friend and say, "Hey, tell me something mundane about your life.” They’ll surely be happy to oblige, and it’ll be a welcome distraction for you.
If you’re feeling adventurous, taking a solo trip—even if it’s just a night or two away in the same state—can be the change of scenery you need to shake off the dust a bit.
“When you’re in a relationship, it’s easy to get stuck hanging out in the same places, doing the same things,” California-based therapist and life coach Tess Brigham told Oprah Daily. “Push yourself to explore parts of the city you’ve never been in, or take a weekend trip by yourself to somewhere you’ve been meaning to visit but haven’t had the time.”
14. And yes, you will get over them eventually
Does your mom still talk about her college boyfriend? Probably. Is she still in love with him? Not likely. The truth is, every close relationship makes an impact on our lives. “Our relationships help us develop and mature,” says Suzann Pileggi Pawelski, coauthor of Happy Together, which she wrote with her husband, James Pawelski, PhD. “In a sense, our former partners are always a part of us.” Pileggi Pawelski explains that we learn from each relationship and are able to take positives with us that help us grow as people. So while you may feel heartbroken in the present, remember, when you’re ready, you’ll come out of this breakup an even stronger, better, happier you.
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