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How to Get Over Someone, According to Psychologists and Relationship Experts

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Wondering how to get over someone is a universal experience—so then why does it feel so isolating? On a scale of 1 to torturous, getting your heart broken is a solid “absolutely awful.” Most of us have been there at some point, left questioning how to move on or how to best end a relationship. While there’s no surefire way to avoid a broken heart (unless you’re an unfeeling robot, of course), there is a way through it—even if, at the moment, you truly believe you’ll never be happy again. 

Understanding how your mind works—and how to work it better—can be helpful after breaking up. “It’s important to understand that we humans come hardwired with the ability to experience pleasure from our intimate connections and pain form heartbreak,” says Nan Wise, PhD, a sex therapist, neuroscientist, relationship expert, and the author of Why Good Sex Matters: Understanding the Neuroscience of Pleasure for a Smarter, Happier, and More Purpose-Filled Life. “The oldest part of our brain, which we share with all mammals and many other animals, has a circuit of brain regions—the panic/grief/sadness system—that gets activated when we experience the loss of an important relationship.” 

According to Dr. Wise, this means your body can very much feel the physical and emotional aftereffects of a breakup because our brains instinctually view relationships, and the resources they provide, as essential for survival. “When activated, this panic/grief/sadness system creates painful withdrawal-like symptoms: an ache in the heart, overwhelming sadness and despair, ruminations, regrets, and diminished enthusiasm for life,” explains Dr. Wise. “It is important to remember that heartbreak and subsequent grief are not pathological, but a normal part of being an emotional creature. It is just the dark side to our life-affirming ability to form loving, intimate connections.”

Here, Dr. Wise and other experts share advice for how to get over someone. 

Why am I struggling to get over someone?

Ending a relationship can be hard on all parties involved, but sometimes it can feel like you're the only one in pain while your ex has seemingly moved on with no issue. (See: Taylor Swift's “Mr. Perfectly Fine.”) So who hurts more after a breakup, really? “It depends on the individual, but the one that hurts the most is the one that was most invested,” says DeAlto.

If you were the more invested party, just know that it's normal to have feelings of sadness or loss around the breakup. “We struggle to get over someone because we focus on the good times, how they made us feel, and how much we cared for them,” says Rachel DeAlto, chief dating expert for Match. “Even when it wasn't always good, our hindsight is often rose colored and we hold on to what could have been.”

How can I stop thinking about my ex? Can you turn emotions off?

Unfortunately, DeAlto says, turning off your emotions is not possible. “It's what makes us human,” she says. “Our emotions need to be felt and processed to move through them.” Here's what you can do instead.

1. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.

When somebody breaks up with you, you’re going to feel a flood of emotions, says Rebecca Hendrix, LMFT, a psychotherapist in New York City. “It’s a trauma. It’s a shock to your system.” And as with any type of emotional shock, “you want to be really gentle with yourself and you want to allow yourself to feel your feelings,” she says. After all, your feelings are there for a reason—they can help you move through difficult experiences, but only if you release them.

In the days following the breakup, allow yourself to cry and acknowledge that a breakup is like any other type of loss. With loss come five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. “You’re going to go through those in your own way, in your own time,” says Hendrix. And during the process, validate your feelings by saying things like “Why wouldn’t I feel like way?” and “Of course I’m experiencing this emotion.”

2. But don’t become your feelings.

Though it’s important to express your feelings, it’s also important to stop short of becoming them, says Hendrix. So if you feel sad, let yourself wallow for a certain amount of time—say, an hour. Cry, scream, yell, journal, listen to sad love songs, spend time with loved ones, do whatever you need to do to let your emotions flow freely, she says. But when those 60 minutes are up, stop and move on to something else. 

What are the stages of letting go?

Once you go through those five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—you can begin the process of letting go. “The stages of letting go include grieving, acceptance, and healing,” says DeAlto. “Give yourself the time you need to grieve the loss, accept the reality of the situation, and then take the time and energy you need to heal.”

1. Give yourself time and space to grieve.

For Brenden Durell, an intimacy expert who also serves as a relationship mentor and coach on Too Hot to Handle, the grieving stage is not one you can just skip over. “I was once engaged and had to go through the whole grieving process,” he says. “There has to be a grieving period. You can fill the voids all you want with drinks and partying or even with something healthy like working out, but you're still avoiding the actual emotions that are in there. When my former fiancé and I didn't work out, I got into the best shape of my life but it was all through motivation of abandonment. I wasn't willing to feel the abandonment wound, so I put it into working out, but those emotions were still there underneath. I didn't give myself permission to grieve.”

2. Go through these stages for all relationships, no matter how long they lasted.

If you've been ghosted—a dating phenomenon many of us know all too well—before a new relationship has even taken off, it's OK to still need time to process your feelings about it just as much as you would for a long-term relationship.

“Grieve it, feel sad,” says Durell. “If you're able to cry, cry about it. I'm a big fan of advocating for emotional expression. You don't want anything to build up inside—so if you're in that space of melancholy, let it all out. It's healthy. We want you to release that. But know that your self-worth isn't tied up in the person who ghosted you—it's in how you pick yourself up and move forward in love.”

How can I accept that someone doesn’t want to be with me?

“Acceptance happens when you recognize that we can never control the desires or actions of another,” says DeAlto. “Even when it doesn't make sense, and even when it hurts.” Below are some expert tips on how to deal with unrequited love and reach those acceptance and healing stages.

1. Cut off communication with your ex.

First thing's first if you want to learn how to to get over someone you love: Stop sending those late-night texts to your ex and mute or unfollow their social media profiles. “It is essential to go no contact and become very aware of our thoughts,” says DeAlto. “Do not allow your brain to wander or wallow. Redirect thoughts and actions.”

There’s a scientific reason heartbreak hurts so much: You actually go through withdrawal-like symptoms after a breakup because the feel-good hormones you got from your partner are suddenly gone, says Elle Huerta, founder of Mend, an app and online community designed to help people post-breakup. “When your partner is no longer there, you start to crave those feel-good hormones,” she explains. “If you give in to this feeling and see your ex again, you’ll struggle to move forward and find yourself stuck months and maybe even years later.” (That’s why Mend promotes a 60-day “ex detox.”)

Cutting off all contact in the beginning is healthy, agrees Hendrix. It allows you to break your attachment to your former partner. That said, there’s no hard-and-fast rule about contacting your ex, she says. Brief, occasional communication—like, “Hey, could we talk for a few minutes? I’m having a hard time with this”—could be okay. Just be cautious that those “innocent check-ins” don’t become a habit. “Every time you talk to them, you open up another energy tie between you, and your goal is to break those energetic ties, not to keep creating them,” says Hendrix.

2. Find a support system.

Call two or three people you really care about and let them know what you’re going through, says Hendrix: “A lot of people love you, and they want to support you, but often they don’t know how because you’re not telling them.”

Opening up to others may bring catharsis in return. “Most everyone has been on the receiving end of a breakup at one time or another, and commiserating with them, sharing experiences, getting counsel, being reminded you’re not alone, can be highly beneficial,” says Franklin A. Porter, PhD, a clinical psychologist in New York City.

Durell also recommends “being witnessed” in your grief over a breakup by a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional—or even better, all of the above. “Say I'm carrying shame or embarrassment or whatever it is, to actually cry in front of people who are there to support me can change your life,” he says. “It changed my life to be vulnerable and be witnessed in my grief.”  

3. Exercise.

Breaking a sweat may be the last thing you want to do when you’re wallowing over a past relationship, but trust: It can help just as much as watching those breakup movies, if not more. “The endorphins produced during exercise will help with the withdrawal symptoms post-breakup, and it also helps you build confidence in yourself,” says Huerta.

Durell says a physical reset is all just part of the grieving process. “When something traumatic happens to an animal, what do they do?” he says. “They shake. When a gazelle is being chased by a lion and it gets away, it shakes; it resets its body. Our way of resetting as human is grieving. We can shake, which is an amazing exercise, but it's still part of the grieving process. We have to have an official ending so we can have a new beginning.”

4. Try yoga or meditation.

If running on the treadmill isn’t your idea of how to get over someone, at least consider gentle movement activities like yoga or meditation apps. “Grief is experienced in the body,” says Dr. Wise. She suggests yoga to help your body release those emotions. “Grief is stressful and can temporarily dysregulate the autonomic nervous system, hence changes in your sleep, appetite, and concentration.” According to Dr. Wise, breath work—a big part of yoga and meditation practices—can help calm the activation of that system.

“Going through grief can be an opportunity to learn new wellness habits like the regular practice of yoga, mindfulness, exercise, and even honing the ability to create more resilience and resourcefulness,” she says. “If you have challenges finding such a practice, consider using a HeartMath biofeedback device, which can help you reset your nervous system and decrease the adverse effects of stress.”

5. Remember what sucked.

A common response if you regret breaking up a romantic relationship is to idealize the other person, says Hendrix. And while you don’t want to deny that there were good parts of your relationship, you also don’t want to fixate on them. To find the middle ground, write a list of all the negative aspects of your former partner or relationship, like signs of cheating or fighting in a relationship, and look at it on the reg. “This mental exercise helps counterbalance all the obsessive thinking you will probably be experiencing around what you miss about your ex and why they were so great—even if they weren’t,” says Huerta.

6. Take care of yourself.

All experts agree that taking care of yourself in the midst of heartbreak is key. Check in with yourself throughout the day, says Hendrix, and ask, What do I need? Maybe it’s a healthy salad, maybe it’s a hot bath, maybe it’s a phone call with a friend, maybe it’s seeking professional help.

Also, know that feelings of rejection and diminished self-worth could trigger unhealthy responses like over- or undereating or substance abuse, which could lead to a depressive spiral, says Dr. Porter. “Exercise, nutrition, and proper sleep will raise the floor on how bad you feel,” he adds.

7. Don’t internalize the breakup.

In the aftermath of a difficult split, Dr. Porter says, avoid thinking, I’m not good enough—there’s something wrong with me. Instead, situate the problem in the relationship (if not in your partner), he says.

8. Identify and eliminate unhealthy behaviors.

Try to understand any impulses you may be having, like texting your ex, checking their Instagram every hour, or replaying every damn detail of your last weekend together. These urges are part of the natural withdrawal process that happens after heartbreak, but don’t let yourself overindulge in obsessive behaviors (like analyzing every aspect of your relationship until 4 a.m.), says Hendrix. If you find yourself spending significant time in this frame of mind, it might be wise to reach out to a coach or therapist for support.

9. Create new routines.

Realize that the breakup is likely going to cause voids in your life. Say you and your ex always went to the movies every Friday, says Hendrix. Now your Friday nights are wide open, but instead of wallowing alone, proactively call your friends and make plans.

Durell recommends filling that time with self-care and healthy habits specifically. “Time does heal,” he says. “The sting, you might still remember it, but it will go away. So fill your time until then with healthy habits.”

10. Explore old—and new—interests.

Say you really enjoy the outdoors, but your ex didn’t, so while you were together, you cut back on your weekend hiking habit. Now that you’re single, give yourself permission to reconnect with that interest and also explore new hobbies. “The universe meets us at the point of action, and if we’re trying to heal, we have to take steps to heal,” says Hendrix.

Take intentional steps to move forward with your life, like joining a new gym, signing up for pottery class, or booking a trip with friends.

11. If you decide to date, do so cautiously.

After getting your heart trampled, it can be tempting to instantly download a dating app and search for a rebound or even your next relationship. But Hendrix warns against dating too soon after heartbreak

“You don’t want to push yourself before it’s time just to avoid feeling your feelings because, most likely, they’re going to come back to bite you,” she says. At the same time, reentering the dating scene could provide a healthy confidence boost for your bruised ego. Just be honest with yourself—and the people you’re dating—about where you’re at emotionally, she says. If you’re not fully over your ex and simply looking for a fun fling, say so. 

12. Down the road, reflect on the positive things.

In the long run, the breakup shouldn’t taint the whole relationship, says Dr. Porter. “As the pain subsides, consider the good you got out of it, embrace the excitement of new possibilities, and remind yourself how awesome you are.”

Can you be friends with someone you still love?

If you're still wondering how to move on from a relationship, you may need to accept that you’re losing your best friend as well. “It is extremely difficult to be friends with someone you are in love with,” DeAlto says. “But if you have love for them, you can still be friendly.”  

What if I can never move on? And how long is too long to get over someone?

“It's okay to be scared and hurt,” says DeAlto, adding that the time frame for healing is different for everyone. “But know that, with time, the pain numbs. And with new experiences, there is new hope.”

Okay, but how long does it take to get over someone, really? Durrell says you'll inherently know when you're ready to let go. “There comes a point when you'll feel it,” he says. “When it's like, ‘Okay, time to pick myself up. My worth doesn't come from this person who left me. My worth comes from how I feel about myself.’”

1. Don’t judge the length of your healing process.

“Don’t equate the time of healing with the time of your relationship,” says Hendrix. Even “almost” relationships can cause enormous heartbreak, says Huerta.

“A lot of times people are like, ‘Well, I was only with them for six months. Why am I devastated?’” says Hendrix. “Because you fell for them in six months and you’ve gotten super attached and you started spending every day and night together for a while. Your six months is like somebody else’s two years. So whatever you feel, honor that.” In truth, how long it takes to get over an ex depends on a variety of factors, including the narrative you tell yourself.

2. Accept that closure is something you may need to find on your own.

Sometimes you’re not going to get the closure you need from your ex-partner, and you’ll have to find it on your own after the end of a relationship. If your former partner couldn’t explain the reason for the breakup, create your own healthy narrative. And if that isn’t enough to provide closure, consider talking with a therapist about how to heal a broken heart, says Hendrix.

Also, if your breakup triggers thoughts and feelings about other losses in your life and you’re having a hard time processing it all, definitely seek outside help.

3. Trust that the pain won’t last forever.

“However much pain you’re experiencing, try to believe that ‘this, too, shall pass,’ and have faith that on any given day, you could meet your special someone who’s truly right for you,” says Dr. Porter. When you’re in the thick of heartbreak, it can be hard to imagine that you could ever feel otherwise. But “time does tend to heal most, if not all wounds,” says Dr. Porter.

How do you know it’s truly over?

“I never say never, but if you've had honest and open communication about the end of your relationship, tried to reconcile and it didn't work, and someone has moved on, it's likely truly over,” says DeAlto. 

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This post originally appeared on Glamour and was published July 25, 2023. This article is republished here with permission.

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