A Therapist Tells You How Long It Will Take To Get Over Your Ex

The light at the end of a breakup tunnel may be closer than you think.

By Jourdan Travers, LCSW | November 4, 2022

Many people come to therapy wondering how long it will take to get over the heartache of a failed relationship — and how they might be able to speed up the process. They say things like:

  • "I know it's over but I still can't imagine my life without them."
  • "How can I look for something new when I'm not even close to being over my ex?"
  • "I don't think I'll ever be able to move on."

It's okay to have these feelings. Breakups are distressing events that can throw us into an emotional tailspin. They cause us to do things we would never do under different circumstances. They cause us to second-guess beliefs about ourselves that were once rock solid.

This is not abnormal; we're only human. What would be abnormal is if a breakup didn't have these deep emotional repercussions.

Keep in mind that we all have a tendency to assume that how we are feeling in the present is how we will continue feeling for a long time into the future, perhaps forever. One manifestation of this can be found in what psychologists call the 'end-of-history illusion' — where people believe that they have experienced a lot of personal growth up to the present moment but will not substantially grow or mature in the future. This is not true. We are constantly growing, changing, evolving, and maturing, even when we can't feel it.

So, how long can we expect the heartache, unsettlement, fear, lassitude, regret, and other negative emotions from a breakup to last? Here are three clues from scientific research.

#1. Give it a year, two at most

Research conducted on divorced couples in Britain suggests that most of the emotional healing happens within the first year of the split.

"Divorce is a leap in the dark," state the authors of the research, led by Johnathan Gardner. "Our results show that divorcing couples reap psychological gains from the dissolution of their marriages. Men and women benefit equally."

To arrive at this conclusion, the researchers tracked individuals' levels of mental stress and life satisfaction for two years preceding a divorce as well as two years following a divorce. They found that the biggest gains were realized in the year following the divorce. Improvements were also found in year two, but they were less pronounced than the previous year's gains.

#2. Don't expect a replacement relationship to speed up the healing process

The study also suggests that replacement relationships are a better idea in theory than in practice.

The authors state, "Whether a person remarries quickly does not seem to influence that individual's well-being two years after the divorce. Nevertheless, those who go on to remarry do have slightly easier transitions around the year of divorce."

#3. Don't discount the stress you were under in the time leading up to the breakup

While breaking up is hard, it is often a psychological necessity. For example, the researchers found that stress levels in the years leading up to a divorce were almost as high as the time of the divorce itself, and that stress levels in the year following a divorce were lower than in the year preceding a divorce. Other research published in Psychology and Aging suggests that exiting a bad relationship can save you years of your life.

"Divorce works," say the authors. "The longitudinal evidence suggests that marital dissolution eventually produces a rise in psychological wellbeing."

So, while breakups are traumatic experiences, know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and remember that how you are feeling now is not an accurate indication of how you are always going to feel.