How Long Does It Really Take To Get Over Your Ex?

Photographed by Leia Morrison
"It takes half the total time you went out with someone to get over them," stated Sex and The City's Charlotte York. This relationship wisdom – while a gross oversimplification of heartbreak – has offered many of us an easy way to understand the bumpy road of breakups. Why? Because replacing the unknowingness and emotional turmoil that often accompanies a breakup with a mathematical equation for the healing process is, to put it simply, easier to handle.  
But let's face it, moving on post-breakup doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all solution. If we can’t apply a formula to the healing process, how do we go about navigating a relationship-free world?

What does 'getting over' someone look like?

The first thing to understand, according to clinical psychologist Dr Linda Blair, is what 'getting over' someone even looks like. While some people might think they have dealt with a breakup, there are two steps involved in the process of truly moving forward. "The first one you can't do anything about and that is time," Dr Blair tells R29. "You simply have to wait until you don’t have strong emotions when you think about them or encounter something that reminds you of your ex. When you can look at them dispassionately, then you're through the time element."
So how long can you expect that first stage to take? Well, according to experts it depends on a myriad of factors, including whether this is your first serious relationship, how long you've been dating, whether you live together, if you share social circles and how many habits you’ve formed as a couple. "It all depends on the intensity of the relationship and the breakup," Dr Blair notes. "It's like grief and traditionally, most losses take a year to work through."

Why it's important to embrace the self-reflection period

Once the thought of your ex doesn’t make you want to throw things at the wall, it's time to move on to the second step: the self-reflection period. For this, Dr Blair emphasises the importance of having a strong support network to help you on your journey. "You have to sit down with someone you trust and ask 'what did I learn from this?' and 'what was my part in what went wrong?' Because if you don't, you're just going to repeat the same mistakes and get in the same place again," she explains.
This advice might be a great template for healing thoroughly but for some people, working through the breakup stages can feel more difficult. "There are certain personality characteristics that might make a difference," Dr Blair explains. "If you tend to be quite impulsive and extroverted, or you don't tend to look much deeper, then you might be more likely to be too quick to move on before fully healing. In comparison, introverts have an advantage in that they're comfortable in their own company, so they are more likely to find that self-reflection time."
Personality type isn't the only reason that some may find the process more difficult than others. If you are having a harder time reconciling the relationship loss, feelings of embarrassment and shame are often one of the major barriers to engaging fully with your emotions. "I think some people maybe feel they failed, and nobody likes to fail, but you haven't failed," Dr Blair insists. "You learn whenever something goes wrong. Although it's horrible, when you go wrong you become wiser, and a more rounded person."

It's vital you give yourself time and space

When strong emotions like embarrassment and shame are present, they prevent any real emotional work from being done, leading many to feel 'stuck' in their healing journey. It might feel like you're the one person who is incapable of getting through a breakup but according to relationship counsellor and Counselling Directory member Jennifer Warwick, never moving on is a near impossibility. "It might feel incredibly difficult to move on and to feel happy again but it will happen if you give yourself time and space," she explains. 
For some, getting to this stage may require professional talking therapy. While healing from all relationships will happen eventually, Jennifer emphasises the importance of recognising when a relationship breakdown is getting in the way of getting on with your life. This can include extended periods of missing out on ADL (activities of daily living) like going to work and seeing friends. Although not always necessary, in these circumstances Jennifer recommends exploring the possibility of speaking to someone professionally. "Relationship counsellors can help you work through how you're feeling about the relationship ending and help you find ways to manage and process the ending," she explains.
For others, it may be that starting your healing journey alone makes the most sense. Both Jennifer and Dr Blair suggest that writing things down is a great first step. "Journal everything you're feeling about the relationship in whatever order it comes in, and then reread it and try and put it into a sensible order," Dr Blair recommends. "Life only makes sense on reflection and when we put events and feelings in order, we feel calm, because the cortex in our brain can relax when it finds meaning. So first lay it out, get it out and you can throw it away afterwards. It's not for anybody else's consumption."
In the end, how long should it take to 'get over' someone? The real answer is: it depends. "It's going to take some time and you need to be kind to yourself because giving your mind a break is essential," Jennifer explains. For the moments where engaging with the healing process feels overwhelming, Jennifer reminds us about the importance of taking a breath to recharge. "Going outside helps to remind yourself that the world is still turning and that you will get through this." Charlotte York may have found comfort in her mathematical formula for moving on from a breakup but in reality, we all follow our own healing process, however long it may take.
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