The Psychology Of Closure: How Long It Really Takes To Get Over An Ex
If you're wondering how much time it'll take you to get over your ex, there's a widely accepted way to figure it out: divide the duration of your relationship by two. By that point, your friends and favorite women's magazines will tell you, you will be OK -- whatever that means.
Well, what if you're not? Are you supposed to feel guilty or pathetic for feeling how you feel? That would certainly make you feel worse, right?
It might seem obvious that there are dozens of other factors that contribute to how long you'll be suffering, but most people in the aftermath of a breakup will tell you how frustrating it is if they surpass that invisible prescribed guideline.
Why am I still so upset? they wonder, almost punishing themselves. Why does the sound of his name still make my pulse quicken? Why would I still take him back in a second? They feel pitiful and hopeless, like "pining" will be their new default state of being, like this grieving will never end.
Researchers at the University of Berkeley found that your brain in love is the same as your brain when it's been wired for reward -- the reward, that is, being an interaction with your ex.
The fact that the reward isn't coming doesn't stop your brain from wanting it, from trying to get it. It seems like it's not "love" that's the drug; it's your ex. And you're experiencing some painful withdrawal.
Is the relationship-divided-by-two mark anywhere near accurate, or are you doomed to suffer indefinitely?
On her website, Elly Prior, a BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy) accredited couple's counselor, cites seven main factors that will influence how hard it'll be to get over your failed relationship:
- The length of the relationship or marriage - How recently you split up - How "intense" or even "obsessive" the relationship was - How important it was to you - How it ended - Whether there was any domestic violence - Whether or not the relationship was an affair
How quickly you'll be able to recover depends on even more factors: Is this your first breakup? How well do you behave toward each other? Are there other stresses in your life?
How supportive are your coworkers, friends and family? Do you have property or possessions to divide? How well do you communicate with each other? Do you suffer from depression?
What's more, in the age of the Internet, reminders of your ex's existence haunt you everywhere, even if you guys are no longer friends on social media.
There's that album of your trip to her summer house you forgot existed until someone "Liked" a photo from it.
There's that pesky chat sidebar where, for some reason, his best friend is still listed (Attention Mark Zuckerberg: Please create an algorithm to fix unwanted names on the chat sidebar).
There's the friend who, as part of #TBT, comments on an old group picture with the two of you in it, giving you a notification and forcing you to look at your ex's face.
Clearly, there's way more to "getting over it" than a simple mathematical formula. We don't live in a vacuum.
If your breakup is new and it feels like your dead heart is pumping bits of ashes throughout your body and poisoning your veins with despair, know that this extreme lowness physically cannot last forever. Extreme emotions, bad or good, do not linger. It's the nature of being human.
Think about it: How stressful it would be if those apprehensive butterflies and extreme can't-stop-thinking-about-you attraction you felt towards your ex at first lasted throughout your whole relationship? If this were the case, human beings as a species wouldn't be able to actually survive.
We'd literally just be spending our days f*cking and lying in bed with our partner, staring into each other's eyes, doing nothing except reveling in our unwavering mutual obsession with each other and engaging in whatever other ridiculous things we do at the beginning of a relationship when our infatuation is at its highest and most anxiety-inducing. I'm simultaneously exhausted and restless just thinking about this.
So, eventually, the deep sadness you feel as a result of this breakup will become subdued, almost unnoticeable -- until it starts popping up unexpectedly.
Be prepared for these unexpected moments, since you never know when exactly they'll come. Maybe you watched a movie and there was a brief mention of his favorite sports team. Maybe a character in a book you're reading shares his sister's name. Maybe you're wearing his favorite color today and you realize it halfway during lunch.
And boom: The sad arrives.
Have that go-to friend to vent to who won't make you feel bad for "still" being upset. Keep your favorite snack stored in the back of your closet, ready to be eaten at a moment's notice. Store your favorite wine in the fridge. Accumulate a playlist of funny YouTube videos to be watched when you need a gut-wrenching laugh. Buy a really beautiful journal. Never get to the bottom of your bank account because you never know if you have to splurge on a cute outfit in a moment's notice.
Over time, these unanticipated sad moments will pop up less and less frequently. One day -- however many days, weeks, months or years later -- you'll wake up and realize you haven't had one in a while. But if another comes, don't beat yourself up about it. Cry if you have to. F*cking let it out.
You are a person who has feelings, who cared deeply, who experienced the closest thing mortals have to magic, and there is nothing more OK than acknowledging that and mourning it.
I know you want a timeframe for how long it'll be until you're done pining, but the truth is that nobody -- no psychologist, advice columnist, therapist, couples counselor or 20-something writer on the Internet -- can give that to you. It's not that simple.
Throughout the course of the post-break-up journey, you will pine in varying degrees. Sometimes, not at all. Sometimes, the not-at-alls will be interspersed with brief yeses, or with long-winded ones.
But there's constructive ways to pine that could actually be beneficial for your mental wellbeing. David Braucher, L.C.S.W., Ph.D., writes in Psychology Today that in our reluctance to get over our ex, we hold on to our capacity to love.
In order to make this a positive learning experience, though, we have to disconnect the internal image of our ex from his or her presence (be it actual or virtual):
Learning to distinguish between the internal image of an ex and the actual person can lead to appreciation of our own loving feelings. While we may feel consistently injured and angry when in the presence of an ex, in our internal world we may be able to access love and compassion for that same person. Experiencing our loving self through this internal image can be a powerful motivator during times of struggle.
In other words, instead of thinking about the physical manifestation of your ex, it's helpful to think about the positive feelings associated with your ex. Focus on what you liked about how you loved him or her.
You are lucky to have experienced what you did, to have felt what you felt. Some people still don't know if they ever will, or if they even can.
With Dr. Braucher's thought process, you'll find that your ex was important in allowing you to experience yourself as a selfless, loving individual.
You'll find yourself valuing your intangible ability to love more than your tangible loss, and that is what will give you strength to finally move on.