Is It Normal If It Takes Years To Get Over A Breakup? A Relationship Expert Explains
When I got dumped by my first love, I cried in a snowbank with no shoes on until my friend's mom picked me up. Wrapped up in a blanket, I listened to her tell stories of heartbreak as I cried for hours. I was in unbearable pain — boundless and unyielding. Now, so many bad haircuts and a few pretty bad first dates later, I can see it took a long time until I was really over that breakup. Like, most of college long. Is it normal if it takes years to get over a breakup? Am I a drama queen? Am I the non-binary Ms. Havisham? Wait, don't answer that.
For those of us who don't end up with our first loves, breakups can make up a pretty big part of dating. In a constant effort to unpack the healthiest ways to handle getting over exes and building new relationships, I reached out to Dr. Gary Brown, a dating a relationship therapist in Los Angeles, about how long getting over a breakup can take, and healthy ways to heal.
"There really is no hard and fast rule about the actual time needed to recover from a breakup," Dr. Brown tells Elite Daily. "Much of what determines this is the length of the relationship, if you're planning a future together, how deeply involved you were, and most importantly, just how attached you were to your ex. The more attached you were, the longer it will understandably take to recover enough."
Whether it's your first love or your 100th love, learning to let your ex go and beginning to live without them can be hard. After being in a partnership, it take can a very long time to stop intuitively ordering two coffees or fall asleep by yourself every night.
"There are some breakups that you may never completely get over, especially if this was someone you were deeply involved with and planning a future together, and/or if this was your first love," Dr. Brown says. The first time you experience falling in love is nothing short of magical. Feeling the support and companionship of another person in a romantic way can be exciting and thrilling and overwhelming.
But is it okay if we're finding our broken hears are taking years to mend? "If it is taking you years to get over a breakup, you should really consider why," Brown says. "Is it possible that you were so attached to someone that your ability to function at school, work, or in other social settings is so impacted that you can't function? There's a difference between completely getting over someone, and simply recovering enough from a breakup so that you can move on."
Though it may take years to fully be Kate from Lizzie McGuire "over it," you may begin to feel able to go on dates, or otherwise move on in the months after a breakup. Taking time to sit with your pain and understand why the breakup is so upsetting can help in the healing process. Asking yourself, do I miss them or do I miss being in a relationship? What can I be doing for myself right now?
If time is passing and you're still not healing, it's important to talk about what you're experiencing with people you trust. If after opening up that line of communication with friends and family, you're still in a lot pain, it may be helpful to consider speaking with a mental health professional. "If it's taking more than six months, and you've talked to trusted friends and family and you still find yourself not able to function well, it may be a good time to talk to a professional relationship therapist to help you speed up your recovery," Dr. Brown shares.
Talking to friends and family about your breakup or healing process can be a great way to vent and feel validated. If you're finding you need more support, or maybe just another perspective, going to therapy can be a great way to confront your emotional state head on, and start to feel good, have fun, and perhaps even go on a few dates again.
The first few days after a breakup may be the most sensitive and painful, but they also can set the precedent for getting over the pain in the long-term. "First rule of breakups, is to not see them for at least 90 days — minimum," Dr. Brown says. "This seems to be a length of time that puts enough emotional and physical distance between you and your ex, that allows for your recovery to take hold. This is going to be hard, but not as hard as it's going to be if you continue to cling to a relationship that is clearly over. Try to resist the temptation to have breakup sex. It may be incredibly bitter sweet, but may also prolong your pain."
Although right after the break, it may feel impossible not to see them or hold them, it can be important to take a hard stance against seeing your ex for a while. In directly cutting off contact, you can start the next chapter of your life — you, single and thriving.
Are there therapist-approved ways to jumpstart the healing? "Unfollow your ex on all social media," Dr. Brown suggests. "Spend time with your friends. Write a journal about your breakup. Embrace your self care. Do things that you used to enjoy but maybe stopped doing while you were in the relationship. Think about new things you might want to do that you never did because you were in that relationship."
Did you ex get pissed when you ate in their bed? Did they pressure you to wear flats so you wouldn't be taller than them? Ladies — time, for takeout in the bedroom and platforms to dinner, is now.
Whether you've recently broken up or months into the healing, there's no one way to get over your ex. While it's true that in the coming months you'll hopefully be able to feel like yourself again, the lasting pain of a breakup can stay for a long time. Don't be afraid to ask for help, to scream or cry, and to express all you're feelings. Maybe consider journaling or going on a social media cleanse. Reach out to friends and family who help you feel supported. When it comes to dating and breaking up, there is no "normal" — there's just what feels right for you.