Heartbreak typically represents a serious source of emotional, even physical, pain. You loved and you lost, so it’s only natural you’d experience lingering grief.
As you work to collect the shards of your heart and patch yourself back together after a bad breakup, you might wonder, “How long will this misery last?”
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer. It might take a few weeks to get over a break up or a full year or two.
People recover from grief at different paces, for one. You also might need more time to recover from certain relationships, particularly those that lasted longer or felt more meaningful to you. You may always carry some memory of your loss. That’s normal, too.
But you will heal, in time.
Here’s a closer look at what might affect this amount of time, and some tips for recovering and moving on.
Perhaps you’ve heard the theory, popularized by various media sources, that breakup recovery requires half the amount of time you spent in the relationship.
Having a solid end point to look forward to might help you feel a little better, but recovery doesn’t always follow a clear timeline.
People sometimes find themselves still grappling with pain and grief more than a year after ending a relationship that was over within months.
Others might heal and move on in a matter of weeks, even when the relationship itself lasted a year or longer.
When looking at the timeline of breakups, lots of sites refer to a “study” that’s actually a poll conducted by a market research company on behalf of Yelp.
The results of the poll suggest it takes an average of about 3.5 months to heal, while recovering after divorce might take closer to 1.5 years, if not longer.
While the poll mentioned above doesn’t really qualify as an actual study, that doesn’t mean researchers haven’t considered this age-old question.
In one 2007 study, researches surveyed college students who’d gone through a breakup within the past 6 months. The breakup had happened, on average, in the 11 weeks before the study.
The authors reported that a significant number of participants reported increased positive emotions — including empowerment, confidence, and happiness — following the breakup.
Since the breakups happened an average of 11 weeks before the study, these findings seem to imply many people recover after about 11 weeks. This time frame only offers an average, though.
Remember, the study looked at people who had gone through breakups within a 6-month period, so it could take 6 months to see this improvement, if not longer.
Another 2007 study aimed to compare the level of distress people thought they might experience after a breakup with the actual distress they experienced.
Of the 69 total participants, 26 experienced a breakup within the first 6 months of the study. These participants reported on their distress by filling out a questionnaire every 2 weeks. Their distress declined steadily over several weeks, just as they had predicted, and by the 10-week mark, they felt better.
What the participants got wrong, however, was how much distress they actually experienced. The results suggest they weren’t as upset as they thought they’d be.
While these findings don’t conclusively offer a specific timeline for recovery, they do suggest two things:
- You might start feeling better fairly quickly.
- You could feel a lot better after about 10 weeks.
Keep in mind that both of these studies were quite small, making it hard to draw any major conclusions from them.
If experts haven’t landed on a clear timeline for breakup recovery, it’s pretty safe to assume there is no fixed time frame for healing.
The truth is, breakup recovery varies so widely because so many different factors can affect the process. Your own experiences might even emphasize this.
If you’ve gone through a few breakups, take a moment to look back on how your recovery from each played out. You probably didn’t heal at exactly the same pace each time.
A few potential factors that might affect recovery include:
Generally speaking, the more invested you were, the
Perhaps you like your partner’s company and enjoy spending time together but don’t really see a future. Eventually, you mutually decide to look for something more serious elsewhere.
At first you miss seeing them and feel some loneliness and regret. But once a few weeks have passed, you’re ready to get back out there.
When you believe your relationship has lasting potential, however, you might feel significantly more distraught when it ends.
Say you thought you and your partner were completely in love. Perhaps you just moved in together or started talking about kids.
Then suddenly something happened to turn your relationship upside down. When a breakup comes as an unwelcome surprise, confusion and hurt can make it even tougher to overcome the rejection.
When you live together, dividing your shared life back into two separate lives can add even more pain, especially when you also have to cope with unwanted changes in finances, living arrangements, or shared friendships.
When a relationship ends because a partner cheated, recovery might follow something of a rockier path.
Along with processing the breakup and learning to cope with the loss of your partner, you also have to come to terms with the fact that they shattered your trust.
The trauma of betrayal can have a lingering effect on your mental health and make it harder to move on and fully trust future partners.
Healthy relationships often have a positive effect on your well-being. Lower-quality or unhealthy relationships, however, might not offer the same benefits.
Maybe you didn’t fight but just weren’t that interested in each other. You stayed together since it felt comfortable and having a partner seemed more convenient than going it alone.
In either scenario, ending a less than satisfying relationship probably won’t leave you upset for long. You might even find that the breakup makes you feel better.
Whether you dumped or were dumped
Making the choice to end a relationship that no longer feels fulfilling will probably offer some measure of relief.
It may seem like a given that the person doing the rejecting will feel less distressed. This is often, but not always, the case. Even when you realize the relationship isn’t working out, you may not necessarily want to break up.
Maybe you still love your partner and wish you could maintain the relationship. Recognizing that you made the right decision could certainly help you bounce back more quickly, but you’ll likely still grieve your loss.
To contrast, rejection can sting quite a bit, even if you didn’t feel terribly invested. Getting dumped can affect your sense of self-worth and leave you feeling vulnerable long after the breakup.
There’s no other way to say it: The post-breakup period can feel pretty awful.
Maybe you can’t seem to get your mind off your ex, and every distraction you try reminds you of them even more.
It’s entirely understandable you’d want to speed up the recovery process. Most people don’t enjoy wallowing in heartbreak, and breakup grief can be a heavy burden to carry.
There’s not much you can do to hurry your healing, but cultivating patience and letting time work its magic will help. Your pain might feel intense now, but it won’t last forever.
While you may not be able to heal your broken heart any faster, you can still take care of yourself in the meantime.
These tips can help boost your resilience and improve your outlook as you begin the recovery process.
Remember, it’s OK to grieve
Accepting the loss of your relationship, and all the painful feelings that come with it, is an important step toward recovering from heartbreak.
It might seem easier to push those feelings down and pretend you feel fine, hoping you’ll convince yourself. Yet suppressing your feelings won’t help you work through them. Only by acknowledging that distress can you begin to let it go.
Sitting with your sadness, betrayal, anger, and despair might hurt at first, but mindfulness meditation and similar approaches can help you get more comfortable recognizing and accepting these emotions.
Spend time with friends
Social support can make a big difference as you recover from a breakup.
Friends and loved ones can:
- offer emotional support by listening as you talk through what happened
- help distract you
- provide company when you don’t want to be alone
Simply spending time with family and friends can remind you of the love you still have in your life. This love may not be quite the same as romantic love, but it’s equally important.
Focus on self-care
In the days immediately following the breakup, you may not particularly feel like going to bed and waking up at regular times, showering, leaving the house, or cooking.
It’s totally fine to give yourself some time to let things slide. All the same, sticking to your regular routine can add structure and normalcy to your days. It could make it a little easier to cope with your grief.
Taking care of your physical needs also gives you the energy you need to heal. Encourage yourself to eat well, get some exercise, and make time for quality sleep. It really can make a difference in your mood.
Keep a balanced perspective
As you begin to process the breakup, try to look at the relationship — and its demise — objectively. Putting all the blame for the breakup on yourself, or heaping it on your ex, probably won’t do much for your recovery.
In fact, research suggests taking a negative view of your ex could help you get over them more quickly. But doing so also seems to increase the amount of distress you feel.
Instead of denying or invalidating your feelings, remind yourself it’s OK if you still love your ex. Give yourself space to fully experience those emotions. A journal offers a great place to express your thoughts about the breakup and lingering feelings.
Then try moving on to a positive distraction.
While there’s no surefire way to determine when you’ve finally recovered from the breakup, you’ll probably notice a few of the following signs:
- You can think back to the good times you had together without pain.
- You no longer avoid shared activities or favorite restaurants.
- You feel whole and complete as your own person.
- It doesn’t hurt to think about them.
- You feel ready to try dating again and open up to someone new.
Experts can’t answer how long it really takes to get over a breakup, but rest assured, your recovery will take just as long as it needs to take.
From the depths of distress, it’s often tough to see any light above, but you might see improvement sooner than you expect.
If you continue to struggle with distress, a therapist can offer guidance and support with the healing process.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.