Breakup Apps Helped Me Get Over My Ex

Photographed by Anna Jay
"During the first week, I never thought I would get over it. That passed. I feel more or less like myself now. I still need time to reflect, I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to see people." 
"I’m almost there. I just need to stop thinking about him. I want to forgive him but, right now? I’m trying to take care of myself." 
Two years ago, while going through an epic breakup, I wrote this frantic journal entry into an app specifically designed to help people heal from heartbreak. After weeks of crying into tubs of ice cream, expensive retail therapy and awful rebounds, I turned to technology in the hope that my shattered heart could be put back together.
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The journal entry brings up a lot of forgotten pain but for a period of my life, the app felt like the greatest source of comfort and support. 
A few breakup apps are available to download on your phone right now. Break-Up Boss, Mend, No Contact Rule and RX Breakup all promise guidance for those grieving a broken relationship. I came across Mend one tear-filled evening, after typing 'breakup' into the App Store and praying for something to fix me. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was signing myself up for but it had positive reviews, so I went for it.
From £12.49 a month, users gain access to the resources needed to move on from a breakup in a healthy way. 'Audio trainings' are like mini podcasts unique to different breakup situations, taking individuals through every step of their journey, while journal prompts encourage them to process feelings by writing them down. Additional functions include the 'progress tracker' acting as a visual representation of the breakup progress, a counter from the day of the breakup and last contact with the ex, as well as an activities log to encourage acts of self-care such as taking baths, exercising and having naps. 
According to Mend, users start feeling better about their breakup "58% faster" than they would without the app. I’m not sure if it sped up my healing process but it certainly gave me the space to grieve my breakup regularly and feel less shame about needing continuous support. 
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As any human being with the internet knows, the temptation to google 'how to get my ex back' or 'why did my relationship fail' after a breakup is all too real. What can a breakup app offer that's different? 
"I created Mend because it's what I needed when I was going through a difficult breakup," Elle Huerta, CEO and founder of Mend tells Refinery29. 
"I was googling breakup advice late at night and all I could find were terrible articles and 'win your ex back' scams. I was going to therapy but I struggled in between sessions. So I built what I wished had existed at the time – an app that's like a best friend during your breakup...except it's a best friend who happens to be an expert." 

I created Mend because I was going through a difficult breakup. I was googling breakup advice late at night and all I could find were terrible articles and 'win your ex back' scams.

Elle Huerta, CEO, Mend
Like Elle, I nearly fell for the 'get back together' scams when trawling through every single online resource on emotionally unavailable men with commitment issues. Luckily, I came across her breakup app before handing over any money to a relationship coach guaranteeing my ex’s return within 30 days. 
All of a sudden my ex’s morning texts were replaced with a virtual 'friend' checking in on me. I’d listen to the guided audio trainings on the way to work and receive cute notifications to remind me I was doing my best – a far cry from the scheming 'win your ex back' alternatives.
Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and cofounder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic and My Online Therapy notes that "these apps have the potential to be helpful when used alongside other forms of support" and cautions that they won’t work for everyone. 
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"Using these kinds of breakup apps can provide a more objective measure of how you’re getting on by helping you track progress and stay connected to your goals," she explains. "In this sense, they can provide a grounding focus, and counterbalance our natural tendency to get carried away by our emotions." 
However, Dr Elena adds: "In order to work for a wide range of people, they make a lot of assumptions, which means important subtleties will inevitably get missed."
She adds that "there may be some breakups where breaking up is the right – and healthy – thing to do, but there will also be other times when breaking up isn’t necessarily the right decision for that couple. Every relationship is different and making generalisations doesn’t leave much room to observe the ins and outs of the relationship e.g. how patterns play out. These are important insights you’d get from a professional – or even a supportive friend."
Alison, 33, believes using the app helped her heal faster. "It helped me to address my fears, heartache, disappointments and also helped me set realistic expectations for myself," she says. 

It can be difficult asking for the help of a professional – even though that's often what is needed most. Friends and family are likely to have an opinion or agenda which can make opening up difficult, especially when you're feeling vulnerable.

Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist
Twenty-one-year-old Nikita turned to the free app Rx Breakup when going through a split that "blindsided" her. "The questions prompted me to critically look at my past relationship – the good, the bad, everything," she says. "It made me think about what red flags I ignored, how I could have been better to myself, and what I wanted for myself in the future." 
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Ashley, 27, also loved that Rx Breakup wasn't full of the 'your ex sucks' stuff. She explains: "Right off the bat, it made me write out the people that were my best resources, those that I could reach out to and talk to to remind me I wasn't alone, it helped me pick out things I could do to keep my mind engaged and to not self-isolate." 
But not everyone finds breakup apps inclusive and some criticise them for being too heteronormative. "The daily coaching is carefully worded to include both genders," reads one review of Mend on the App Store, "it is starting to irritate me that the articles are all directed at people with a male ex, completely erasing men getting over women or women getting over women. As a gay woman I would prefer it if language could be neutral so that I feel included in the scope of the text."
Some people even say that breakup apps capitalise on trauma. Another review reads: "The entire thing seems they’re just out to collect your data and exploit vulnerable people rather than actually helping you out." 
I ask Elle what she has to say to those who think mental health and wellbeing apps are capitalising on people's grief. She answers: "I built Mend because I personally experienced a frustrating gap in the marketplace, and I didn't see anyone else building what I wished had existed. I think that's the case for many startups. Many founders in the mental health and wellness space have experienced mental health issues or painful moments, which led them to become passionate about helping others in a particular way."
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Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the breakup app phenomenon are the global communities which are forming through their social media. "In 2019, we had users in over 200 countries and territories. It's a good reminder that heartbreak is universal," says Elle. Mend’s paying members get access to a Slack group with discussion channels aimed at specific topics like #divorce, #heartbreak and #singleanddating, as well as the official Mend Facebook page, The Menders Club, currently nearing 5,000 members. 
People post all kinds of things in these groups, ranging from memes and Pinterest-style inspirational quotes to lengthy emotional outpourings seeking very specific breakup advice. Sometimes they’ll strike up friendships and even meet up with other members IRL. These online platforms take away the shame people often feel going through a breakup; in these safe spaces, there’s no pressure to 'just get over it'. 

For many, there is a financial barrier in accessing private therapy. Although breakup apps don't seek to replace professional therapy, they can offer some of the support for a fraction of a therapist's hourly rate.

The experience of using a breakup app made me wonder why they needed to be created in the first place. Why aren’t we better equipped to help people heal from heartbreak?
Jen, 28, thinks it’s a societal issue. She says: "We don’t talk about difficult emotions enough. And when it comes to heartbreak, there’s often pressure from friends and family to just 'move on', when in reality it’s not that simple. We’re expected to carry on like nothing’s wrong; we don’t get given the time, space or compassion that we do when we experience other types of losses, and heartbreak is a loss – a big one."
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Dr Elena believes it’s also because an app offers a private way of accessing help and can circumvent the feelings of shame sometimes associated with the idea of 'needing help' after a difficult breakup.
"It can be difficult asking for the help of a professional – even though that’s often what is needed most," she explains. "And friends and family are likely to have an opinion or agenda which can make opening up difficult, especially when you’re feeling vulnerable," she says. "An app can provide a pathway into that journey or offer some short-term relief."
For many, there’s also a financial barrier in accessing private therapy when struggling with heartbreak. Although breakup apps don’t seek to replace professional therapy, they can offer some of the support for a fraction of a therapist’s hourly rate. The sheer fact that this technology exists and has created communities of paying members is proof that demand for it is growing.

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