Sunday morning breakfasts together, sending each other memes all day, "good night" texts... When a relationship ends, there's a lot to miss. But it's not always easy to tell whether you miss your ex or just miss your relationship. Understanding the answer is a crucial step in how you go about healing.
“Initially after a breakup, it’s next to impossible to separate [missing the ex from missing the relationship],” says clinical psychologist Dr. Joshua Klapow. But with time — roughly three to eight weeks, Klapow estimates — you slowly begin to differentiate between the two feelings. Ask yourself: What specifically do you miss? Is it the person themselves or all the things you shared with them? Think about the images and memories you keep replaying in your head. Do you notice your partner’s scent among the mix? Maybe it's the cologne you smelled on every sweatshirt you stole from them. Or maybe you still hear the particular sound of their laughter that followed your jokes. If it’s things like their personality quirks or their extra long hugs — things that have to do with them and them alone — then it’s most likely that you're missing your ex specifically, not just the relationship.
But that isn’t the most common case. It's more likely that the little, everyday things you now have to do alone remind you of the perks of your former relationship. Trina Leckie, breakup and relationship coach, says that if you mostly daydream about things like having someone to text all day, marathoning your favorite shows together, and sharing late-night meals with a partner, then you're most likely longing for the experience of being in a relationship.
Another good indicator of what you miss is the way you feel around your friends who are in relationships. If you experience jealousy, envy, or loneliness, you’re most likely mourning the relationship, as opposed to the ex. “If your distress is focused on not doing the things you did together, not having the certainty of a mate, not having someone to talk to, but at the same time you can envision yourself with all those things [on your own or with a different partner] and not your ex, you know that you are missing the relationship more than the person themselves," Klapow adds.
There are different emotions associated with getting over a relationship versus getting over a person. “Getting over a relationship means getting out of a routine, from someone to talk to, to someone else in your presence, to the social status of being in a relationship," Klapow says. He adds that you may experience feelings of anxiety, angst, uncertainty, and insecurity while getting over a relationship. When you’re trying to forget a specific ex, however, feelings of loss, grief, remorse, guilt, love and longing will take over.
If you believe you're missing your ex, there are a few steps you can take to begin the healing process. Leckie notes that it's pretty common to view your ex through rose-colored glasses, as if they're "perfect" or on a pedestal. But that can make moving on pretty tough. To start changing your mindset, try to focus on why the breakup happened in the first place. She even suggests writing it out so you can have a tangible document to refer to when you catch yourself idealizing your former partner. It’s very normal to want them back, but she says, “If you are romanticizing the relationship and staying in denial, it will only keep you stuck and hurting for much longer than you have to.”
In addition, experts suggest not engaging with your ex after the breakup. So, go unfollow and even block them on every social media platform if you have to. Klapow puts it this way: “If they had passed away, you would miss them, talk to them in your head, but you would not see them, or try to see them.” Treat your breakup the same way.
On the other hand, if you realize you miss the relationship overall, and not specifically your ex, experts agree that the first thing you need to do is establish a new routine. “The more you can force yourself to be on a predictable schedule, the easier it is to get over the relationship,” Klapow insists. Fill your day, even if it is with the activities you wouldn’t have thought to do before. It could be a number of things, starting from deciding to listen to the news every morning to signing up for a new class, going to the gym more frequently or spending more time with your friends. “It’s not that you have to be busy every minute, but you need predictability," Klapow says. "So, scheduling out your days will help you shift from a relationship lifestyle to a non-relationship lifestyle."
Just as with literally everything else, healing won't occur overnight. Even the "overnight" zit spot-treatments take longer than that to work. So, don't expect to go for a 20-minute run and wake up a new person. But it’s important you don’t let that discourage you. Make sure you stay patient, positive, and persistent. Time will heal all wounds.
Dr. Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist
Trina Leckie, breakup and relationship coach