5 Reasons It Takes So Long to Get Over Some Exes

Can't get over a breakup? You may be guilty of these common behaviors.

Posted Jun 21, 2018

Brainsil/Shutterstock
Source: Brainsil/Shutterstock

Those of us who have gone through bad breakups already know just how excruciatingly long and painful the healing process can be. Even when we follow science-backed advice or expert tips to a T, the hurt continues to last, often lingering longer than we thought possible.

Unfortunately, there is no perfect formula to determine exactly how long it takes you to get over a breakup — even though some studies claim to have found it. For example, findings from one 2015 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology reveal that most people can move on after 11 weeks (or three months), whereas the results from a more recent 2017 study suggest it takes, on average, 18 months for the broken-hearted to bounce back. Then there is Broadly writer Maria Yagoda’s self-prescribed equation to calculate the time it takes to get over an ex: x/2 + j + l - 2 + k/2 + r = y. [Find out what the variables mean here.]

I’m sure some people get over the pain in three months, while others might take a year and a half. But in my own experience, the length of time to recover from heartbreak can last anywhere from a few months to a few years. And more often than not, the duration of the relationship itself has little to do with it. Rather, the time it takes to heal depends most on the effort (or lack of effort) put into moving past the relationship.

Below are five common behaviors that may be sabotaging your healing process and some ways to stop them.

1. Catastrophizing.

As the name suggests, catastrophizing is framing a painful situation as a catastrophe or a worst-case scenario, and as a result, actually exacerbating your pain and emotional distress. It comprises elements of rumination, helplessness, and pessimism, and is often linked to those who suffer from chronic pain. Studies show that ill patients who exhibit more catastrophizing behavior tend to report more pain and depression and are less likely to respond positively to treatment. During a breakup spiral, you can easily exaggerate the situation. For example, you may convince yourself that you’ll never get over the pain, or that your ex is “the one" — either way, you are robbing yourself of the ability to heal sooner and making yourself more miserable in the process.

     The solution: Don’t only imagine the worst possible outcome; consider realistic possibilities as well.

2. Ruminating.

As someone who is often in her head, endlessly obsessing over minutiae, I am intimately aware of the dangers of ruminating. It’s far too easy to be consumed with self-blaming thoughts, like "if only I had done this differently, or said this instead." The result of incessant ruminating, explains bestselling author and behaviorist Robin H-C, is that it “takes on a life of its own, imprinting the memory and becoming part of your identity. The issue then becomes your perspective about what happened, not what happened.” By constantly thinking about your breakup in hypotheticals, or obsessing about what should have happened instead of what actually happened, you will never be able to learn from or grow beyond this relationship.

     The solution: Minimize the “if onlys” about the breakup.

3. Refusing to accept that it’s over.

In order to truly move on, you must want to let go, says relationship advisor and author Kevin Darné. The reality, however, is that many of us hope for a chance at reconciliation. “We’ve been programmed by romance novels and Hollywood movies to view breakups as stepping stones toward happily ever after,” says Darné. “Just about everyone loves a story where a couple, in the end, gets back together after having gone through some painful emotional turmoil.” But as long as you expect to get back together with your ex, you will continue to torture yourself and close yourself off to new experiences.

     The solution: Unplug from your ex completely — this means totally disconnecting from their social media and other forms of communication.

4. Losing your sense of self.

It’s not hard to imagine how couples, particularly those whose lives have been inextricably intertwined for years on end, may experience something akin to an identity crisis in the aftermath of a breakup. Who are they without their other half? This thought process may be explained by the belief that a person’s self-concept expands at the outset of a relationship and diminishes at its end. In fact, after a breakup, explains psychology professor and relationship scientist Gary Lewandowski, “People have fewer responses to provide to the question ‘Who am I?' and they generally feel more unsure about who they are as a person.”

     The solution: Engage in new activities to restore your sense of self.

5. Hearing only what you want to hear.

Leaning on friends is an instrumental part of the healing process for most people after a painful breakup. A trusted friend can be a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, and a patient listener — especially in the beginning. But sooner or later, a friend may say things you don’t want to hear, like calling you out on your own mistakes, and may even challenge your thinking. Obviously, no one enjoys being told they’re wrong, but not being able to receive honest feedback can hurt you in the long run. What’s more, “you may be extending the pain of your breakup, and ... be more likely to make the same relationship mistakes in the future," says Sara Stanizai, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist.

     The solution: Be open to feedback, even if it’s difficult to receive. Recognize that your friends want to help you.

Are you guilty of any of these behaviors? What have you done that has either expedited or prolonged a recovery from a breakup? Tell me in the comments below.