Sometimes, even when you’re completely in love with someone, you know deep down that the relationship isn’t quite right. You might try to convince yourself otherwise, or avoid facing the truth so you can stay together for longer. At some point, when you can’t delay the inevitable, the relationship reaches its natural end — yet the breakup can still hit you like a ton of bricks. Getting over an ex who was wrong for you is tough, even if the breakup had to happen. Looking back, you may find yourself wondering if there was anything you could have done differently. You don’t really want your ex back, but also, you do kind of miss them. Why is it so complicated?
Love is a powerful emotion that tricks the brain into bonding chemically with another person, whether or not that person is a perfectly compatible match. “Early love has a similar effect on the brain as cocaine, and longer term love hits the opioid receptors of the brain,” biologist and science of love expert Dawn Maslar previously told Elite Daily. “Therefore, when we lose that love, it can feel like a drug withdrawal.” Rationally, you may know that you’re better off without this person, but that doesn’t stop the immense feelings of loss that come up when you lose them. Luckily, with the right tools for healing, you can get over this and stop missing a relationship that wasn’t a good fit.
Breakup coach Natalia Juarez explains that there’s often a disconnect between the head (your practical guide) and the heart (your emotional center) after a breakup. “Your head may know that your ex is all kinds of wrong for you, but your heart may still feel connected to your ex,” she says. You were super close to this person, both through physical intimacy and emotional vulnerability. Those feelings of attachment don’t go away overnight, even if you wish they would. “It takes time for your heart to accept, heal, and let go before truly moving on,” Juarez says.
Your internal attachment system is actually designed to keep you safe from harm, which is why you may feel tempted to rush back to someone familiar (your ex) during a crisis. “When a relationship ends, our primal brain goes into overdrive trying to reestablish connection — even if a relationship is wrong for us,” Juarez tells Elite Daily. “You actually have to train your heart to connect with the reality of your situation.”
To coach yourself into a more rational mindset, Juarez recommends creating a dual “anchors” list: one list of all the positive things about the relationship, and another list of all the things that didn’t work. Try to be as specific and concrete as possible. “When you read over your list, you’ll physically and emotionally feel the effects [the relationship] had on you,” she says. “They will bring the reality of this relationship to life, and all the parts that didn’t work, helping your heart catch up with your mind.” Maybe your ex was really bad about making plans with you, and this behavior made you feel unimportant to them. The memory of this feeling will keep you from romanticizing the relationship in your head.
To begin to let go, it’s important to recognize and accept that you will feel pain and sadness for awhile. “It’s natural to still miss your ex,” Juarez says. “It’s a part of the process of healing, letting go and moving on, and it doesn’t mean you should be with them.” Time can give you some much-needed perspective to see what your life is like without this person. Chances are, you’ll start to think about them less and less as the months go on. You may even realize you’re happier without the burden of a relationship that didn’t work.
Don’t be too hard on yourself to move on as fast as you think you “should.” Just because a relationship was wrong for you doesn’t mean you’ll be able to shake it off immediately. “Generally speaking, the first four to six weeks are usually the hardest,” Juarez says. She calls this the “heartbreak detox phase,” during which you experience symptoms of withdrawal from being disconnected from your former partner. This phase may be longer or shorter for different people, depending on the emotional intensity of the relationship. But it is temporary and will not rule your life forever. “Simply knowing that this sort of emotional state is a phase, and that it does pass, helps a lot of people tolerate the painful feelings and thoughts that hijack their minds and hearts,” Juarez says.
By reminding yourself of the good and bad parts of that relationship, and showing yourself grace in the process, you can finally start to move on. “Recovering from a breakup is a lot more complex than people realize,” Juarez explains. It requires a solid grieving period, a recalibrating or your life and routine, and a lot of honesty with yourself. But sometimes there can be joy in it, too. As you discover what it’s like to live without this person, you might start feeling more in tune with yourself than ever before. Ultimately, that makes this whole mess worth it, even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. You'll get there before you know it.