One of the questions most commonly asked by people facing, going through or recovering from the end of a relationship is “How long to get over a break up?”
It’s perfectly understandable that many want to know the answer to this question. Breakups can be extremely painful and whenever we are in pain it is natural to be focused above all on when we can expect the pain to end.
Some have put forth a rule of thumb that says that recovering from a relationship takes half the amount of time that the relationship itself lasted. So, for example, if the relationship lasted two years, it would take one year to fully recover from its breakup. Or if the relationship lasted a year, it would take six months.
While it may be comforting to believe in such a specific heuristic, the truth is that, as with so many questions involving complex processes such as relationships, there is simply no easy formula to accurately determine this answer. To repeat what you will notice is a theme on this blog, breakups are not all the same. And the pain of different breakups can actually stem from multiple, and sometimes very different, processes. As we’ve discussed, breakup pain can represent healthy heartbreak, depression or relationship addiction withdrawal, as well as various other conditions.
And even if we knew exactly which condition the pain represented, in order to even begin to estimate how long to get over a break up, it would still be necessary to know several things about the particular person and relationship involved. Just some of these would include:
- Age – A young teenager may experience a breakup as far more intense and lasting than an adult.
- Experience – A person’s first breakup may be more painful and linger longer than later ones.
- Background – A person with a relatively healthy and supportive family background, all other factors being equal, may have a more solid foundation for overcoming a breakup more quickly.
- Character – Certain personalities adapt to change better than others and might be expected to cope more easily with a breakup.
- Other Underlying Conditions – An otherwise healthy person may heal from a breakup faster than a person who already struggles with other physical or emotional challenges or disorders.
- Nature of the Relationship – The more intense and intimate the relationship, the longer we might expect recovery to take.
There are many other factors that could affect how long to get over a break up, as well.
And yet, even knowing all of these factors, it would still be very difficult to estimate the length of recovery. While teens may stereotypically respond more intensely to breakups, any particular teen may get over a breakup faster than any particular adult. While we often think of first breakups as most painful, it is also feasible that someone, having undergone multiple breakups, might be hit even harder by later ones as they begin to despair of ever finding a lasting relationship. While a supportive family background may offer strength to more rapidly overcome a breakup, it’s also possible that a particular person with a more dysfunctional background could be more familiar with handling painful separations and thus recover from a breakup more quickly.
So, as you can see, while it is perfectly reasonable that a person would want to know how long their breakup pain may last, it is usually not very worthwhile to actually expect a specific answer. There are simply too many factors and too many variations among people and relationships to find one.
There is some potentially good news, however. The intense pain in the early days of a breakup may bring with it the sense that it will never end because – as explained so beautifully in How to Break Your Addiction to a Person – it commonly has its roots in very early childhood abandonments. Yet, quite often, this initial feeling is misleading and the pain does ultimately subside much faster than it at first feels like it will. And even if, for whatever reason, you do experience a more drawn out recovery period, you can use it as an opportunity to finally get the support you need to face issues that have been holding you back your entire life.
So, in other words, your breakup pain may not last as long as you initially feel it will, and, even if it does, if you commit yourself to the recovery process, it can catalyze a beneficial turning point in your life that you may otherwise never have realized.
It can be very difficult, if not impossible, to predict which of these paths any person’s breakup recovery will take. And, in truth, we are better off not spending too much of our time trying to make such predictions. The paradox is that it is often when we stop worrying about how long the breakup pain will last that we truly begin the path toward healing.
The old cliche says that a watched pot never boils. And waiting for the end of breakup pain is similar. The more we focus on the outcome, trying to figure out a precise time schedule, the longer the process seems to take experientially. It is when we focus elsewhere – reading insightful books about recovery, engaging with supportive people and groups, constructively working through our feelings and periodically using non-destructive diversions to keep our mind occupied – that we start to lose track of time and notice progress sooner than we expected.
The lesson is one that is true in many process-based situations. A baseball player will not do very well if he spends his time at the plate worrying about how many hits he has. That time is better spent lost in the process of hitting. A musician will probably not give her best performance if she is focused more on how long the song will last than on the emotion of the song. Focusing on the process allows the results to naturally emerge.
Going through a breakup is also a process. And though it is alright once in a while to stop and ask “How long to get over a break up?” you will be better served if you instead focus on simply doing the best you can at performing the process. Throughout this site we discuss and will continue to discuss how to go through the process of coping with breakups and getting over a broken heart. If you can spend most of your time doing the recovery and seeking the support you need to get through it one day at a time, rather than trying to predict the length of the recovery, the odds are that you will get through it both more quickly and more effectively than you otherwise would.