Heartbreak typically represents a serious source of emotional, even physical, pain. You loved and lost, so it’s only natural to experience lingering grief.
As you work to patch yourself back together after a bad breakup, you might wonder, “How long will this last?”
Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer.
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.
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 endpoint to look forward to might help you feel 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 weeks, even when the relationship lasted a year or longer.
When looking at the timeline of breakups, many sites refer to a “study” that’s actually a consumer poll a market research company conducted on behalf of Yelp.
The poll’s results 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 above poll doesn’t qualify as an actual study, that doesn’t mean researchers haven’t considered this age-old question.
In one 2007 study, researchers surveyed college students who’d gone through a breakup within the past 6 months. On average, the breakups happened in the 11 weeks before the study.
After the breakup, many participants reported increased positive emotions — including empowerment, confidence, and happiness.
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 6 months, 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 participants, 26 experienced a breakup within the first 6 months of the study. These participants reported 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.
While these findings don’t conclusively offer a specific timeline for recovery, they suggest two things: You might start feeling better fairly quickly and feel better after about 10 weeks.
Remember 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 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 the same pace each time.
A few potential factors that might affect recovery include:
Generally speaking, the greater the personal investment in a relationship, the
Perhaps you like your partner’s company and enjoy spending time together but don’t 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 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 of infidelity, recovery might follow a rockier path.
Along with processing the breakup, you also have to come to terms with a breach of 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 there wasn’t sufficient personal interest in each other. Sometimes you can feel comfortable and stay with a partner out of convenience rather than being 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.
Who ends the relationship?
Making a 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 who ends the relationship 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 help you bounce back more quickly, but you’ll likely still grieve your loss.
By contrast, rejection can sting. Your partner ending a relationship can affect your sense of self-worth and leave you feeling vulnerable long after.
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.
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 recovery.
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.
Focus on self-care
In the days following the breakup, you may not feel like going to bed and waking up regularly, 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 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 process the breakup, objectively look at the relationship and its demise. 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.
Establishing physical and emotional distance from your partner can create space to process events.
It may be difficult to completely avoid the other person, especially if you live close to one another and share similar social circles or interests. However, establishing clear boundaries around contact can help to create helpful distance.
In a world of instant communication, avoiding each other on social media may also be beneficial. Some people may only require this until they are over a breakup, while others may find it more helpful to distance themselves permanently.
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 experience 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.