No one ever said getting over an ex was easy—there are whole genres of music practically devoted to the heartbreak and pain that follows the breakup of a romantic relationship.
“My ex-boyfriend and I broke up and I had a hard time moving on,” said *Christina, who lives in New Jersey.
“It was surprising to me because we were on a roller coaster for a long time and I knew ending it was the right thing to do but I really had a tough time afterwards. I was lonely and felt bad about myself. I found out that he was dating someone else really soon, and I found myself jealous, hoping he’d break up with her and come back to me. Even though I knew he was bad for me.”
Christina’s story isn’t unique—breakups hurt and getting over your ex often takes a lot of time and even effort. Here’s how to get over your ex, according to relationship experts.
Why is getting over an ex so hard?
“We become attached to significant people in our lives,” says Lana Banegas, LMFT, a marriage and family therapist practicing at The Marriage Point in Marietta, Georgia. “We sort of ‘embed’ in our significant others and allow them to ‘embed’ in our internal world. This attachment is why it is so difficult to move on after a romantic relationship ends.”
Plus, for people who’ve been in a relationship, the relationship itself becomes part of their self-identity. Not only does breaking up mean they’ve lost that important person in their life, but they’ve surrendered their identity as half of that couple.
There are a few things that can make getting over an ex even harder:
We keep running into them. “What makes breakups especially difficult is when an ex is brought into your social network or family, and truly builds relationships with them,” said Chris Donaghue, PhD, LCSW, CST, ACS, a sex and relationship therapist in Los Angeles. “You don’t get to tell those people in your life that they have to end their relationship with your ex just because you did. Their relationships are not under your control. This means knowing and sometimes encountering your ex still in many diverse ways.”
We’re reminded of them. Even if we’re not running into our exes all the time or following them on social media, sometimes we can’t seem to get them out of our minds. “Our brain is highly associative, so expect to have memories triggered by experiences, movies, songs, and other things that remind you of your ex,” said Donaghue.
We blame ourselves. “People often beat themselves up for the relationship failing,” said Banegas. “This produces feelings of inadequacy or guilt and keeps the relationship replaying in their minds, keeping them stuck in the past and prevents them from moving on.”
There’s no closure. “Some people don’t express their feelings about the relationship ending to their ex, or gain an understanding of why it ended,” said Banegas. “This prevents people from closing the book on the relationship and has them guessing and doubting themselves, producing anxiety and self-esteem issues. Feeling our feelings and processing them helps us to integrate the experience into our life story and move our story forward.”
How to get over your ex
How long does it take to get over an ex? Contrary to what your 10th grade best friend told you, there’s no math equation that’ll predict exactly how long it will take to get over your ex.
“How long you were with them, how emotionally connected you were and what role they played in your life will all impact how long it takes to feel more grounded after the break up,” said Donaghue. “Many triggers of memories and feelings will exist for some time after, maybe even forever.”
But there are some things you can do to help the process along and maybe make healing a little easier.
Find closure. “It is important to gain as much closure as possible—this may be done by having a conversation with your ex to express your feelings about the relationship ending, allowing them to express theirs, and to gain an understanding of why the relationship ended,” said Banegas.
Vent. “If a conversation with an ex is not possible, it could help to journal about your feelings or talk to a trusted friend or therapist about your feelings and the relationship,” said Banegas. “The key is externalizing rather than internalizing the experience.”
Give yourself permission to grieve the loss. “The best way to get over an ex is to allow yourself to feel and process the emotions associated with the loss—these may include sadness, disappointment, and even grief,” said Banegas.
Unfollow and avoid. Completely avoid your ex, if you can, including on social media. “Work to not keep connected physically or psychologically, as still seeing them in person or on social media, and endlessly discussing them will keep you connected,” said Donaghue. Keeping ties can leave either you or your ex hoping to rekindle the relationship, which can delay or prevent closure. Running an online people search on them may also reveal other social media profiles of theirs that you may want to block.
Stay busy and healthy. Can’t stop thinking about your ex no matter what you do? Make plans with friends, take up a hobby and keep your mind occupied with healthy, productive activities. But don’t overdo it—some people make the mistake of diving into self-destructive habits like too much drinking or working long, stressful hours. Donaghue recommends paying particular attention to self-care: eat healthy foods, exercise and get enough sleep. This is an important time for attending to your own needs.
Start dating again. Many worry that jumping into a new relationship “too soon” could be detrimental, but in one study, researchers found that people who began “rebound relationships” were more self-confident and had more “resolution” over their previous relationship. They tended to be more healthy psychologically if they started the new relationship sooner. Of course, only you know if you’re ready to date again—if you don’t feel you are, then take the time you need.
“I spent a lot of time with my friends after my breakup,” said Christina. “I didn’t start dating right away, but I did develop a crush on my friend’s husband’s friend. I think just knowing I could feel that way about someone else really helped me get into a mental state where I knew things would eventually get better.”
When you’re over your ex, you’ll probably just know it, mostly because you can think of the person without deep, negative feelings.
“You know you are over an ex when you no longer get triggered by the mention of their name and when you’re able to make meaning out of the relationship in its entirety,” said Banegas.
This may make you feel ready to begin a new relationship. Some people can even be friends with their exes once they’re truly over them.
“It’s a beautiful thing to still hold love for an ex,” said Donaghue. “Being friends with an ex, after the needed amount of time to grieve or mourn the romantic ending, is a good sign for many. It shows that you have good relational skills, don’t burn things down when they are ending, and that you truly value relationality.”
Whether or not you become friends, the most important thing is that you’ve learned about yourself in the process.
“The positive impact of [getting over an ex] is gaining more understanding about yourself and about how you can grow and engage in future successful and healthy relationships,” said Banegas.
“For me, it took a long time to realize I was finally over [my ex],” said Christina. “But someone mentioned him, and I didn’t feel that sinking feeling I used to. It really was better in the long run that we broke up. I realized that I wanted a much healthier relationship and now have so much hope that I’ll find it.”