Five Reasons Why It’s So Difficult to Get Over an Old Flame

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No matter how we try to sugarcoat the brutal pain of a breakup, the ending of a significant relationship can be excruciating, even life-changing.

Despite what Hollywood movies and glossy magazines will have us believe – going through a breakup is perhaps one of the most challenging things to go through in life – second to losing a loved one or our health.

Why are breakups so hard?

Relationships are complicated, but breakups are even more so.

There’s so much going on in the aftermath of a separation that goes beyond simple heartbreak.

For instance, couples often get tasked with grieving the relationship and healing the psychological damage that seems to follow after a split.

Rumination

One of the most common things people do after a breakup is ruminating over what could or should have happened to salvage the relationship. The ‘’shoulda, woulda, coulda’s’’ seem endless when our hearts get shattered; we often torture ourselves with everything we could have said or done better. 

Experts say that rumination is a normal part of grieving a broken relationship.

However, chronic rumination may be detrimental to our health since there is no end in sight – unpacking where things went wrong and how we can improve ourselves for future relationships is healthy. Still, prolonged rumination can leave us stuck and unable to move on and find someone new.

Expert advice

Despite following expert advice – many people feel stuck in the grieving phase of a breakup – the pain of heartache feels cruel and endless; a constant barrage of self-loathing, sadness, longing and wondering whether the old relationship can get salvaged. 

For many, the post-breakup blues continues long after what feels normal or healthy – and people often begin questioning whether they will ever get over their ex or if the heart-wrenching anguish caused by the breakup will be with them forever.

Is there a specific timeframe for getting over an ex?

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Much like grief – there is no magic formula or timeline of when you should be over your ex-; however, various studies posit that it is possible to get over an ex within a specific timeframe.

For example, a study by The Journal of Positive Psychology postulates that most people begin moving on from an ex-partner after around three months (or 11 weeks).

Bouncing back from a breakup

On the other hand, other research shows that it takes about 18 months for most people to bounce back from a significant breakup.

However, you must remember that going through a breakup is a form of grief, and there is no timeline of when you should be ‘’over it’’.

Some people may take a few months to heal from the pain of a breakup.

In contrast, others may take a few years; there are no absolutes to how long it will take you to feel better after a separation; your connection to your ex is as unique as how long it takes to heal. Therefore, everyone’s healing process will be different.

Why are some relationships more complex to get over than others?

Studies show that getting over an ex-partner may be more challenging depending on the relationship and the circumstances surrounding the breakup. 

Below are five reasons why getting over an old flame may be more complicated than you thought.

1. Your relationship with your ex was toxic.

Some variables to getting over an ex may make moving on from someone more challenging. 

For example, if a person’s relationship with their ex was toxic, they likely mistook this toxicity for passion.

Constant fighting and periods of making-up may seem exciting and thrilling at first. Still, when the rollercoaster of breakups becomes constant, it often takes an emotional toll on both parties, and the relationship may become irreparable.

2. You engage in addictive relationship patterns (without knowing it).

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Similar to substance addiction, people can also get addicted to toxic relationships, particularly those who have been in complicated relationships for a while.

The rollercoaster of emotions synonymous with a toxic relationship can become addictive, where a person’s nervous system becomes wired for excitement and passion. 

People often view healthy relationships as dull when this happens.

Such individuals crave the addictive pattern of relationship toxicity. The excitement and thrill of constant drama and conflict become the familiar narrative that seems impossible to break away from; according to experts, this is how negative relationship patterns emerge.

3. Your ex betrayed you in some way. 

If your relationship ended due to betrayal, it might add a new dimension to how (and when) you process the breakup.

The healing process can take a lot more time under certain conditions. For example, feeling betrayed by someone you thought you could trust can be a significantly painful experience, a profound shock to the system.

Such trauma can leave you feeling disrespected and worthless, and the shame of being humiliated in this way may linger longer than the usual heartbreak.

4. You have other stressors in your life.

Another component that can affect how we move on from an ex is the presence of other stressors during the breakup period.

For example, if you experienced job loss, mental health issues, the loss of a loved one, or financial difficulties during (or immediately after) a breakup, it is likely to cause complications in how you feel about and deal with your breakup.

Essentially, it is likely that you are already emotionally wounded due to the other stresses in your life. The breakup will likely create an additional lashing of pain and trauma to the wound, which may take a while to heal.

5. You tend to hold onto the idea of a person rather than who they are.

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Have you ever looked at an ex-partner or old flame and wondered what you saw in them? 

Years after a breakup, you might come across an old photograph or scroll your Facebook feed and viola, your ex is right there in your peripheral vision, and the thought crosses your mind, ‘’What on earth was I thinking dating this person?’’

Most people tend to ‘’buy into the story’’ of a person rather than see them for who they are; it’s as if we get blinded by the rush of chemicals that ensue once we decide that this person is ‘’the one’’.

Time has an excellent way of uncovering the mask that often leaves us blinded when we first meet someone.

We often convince ourselves of how extraordinary, successful, attractive, caring, and excellent a person is without taking the time to get to know them. We ‘’sell’’ ourselves on how phenomenal and irreplaceable someone is based on what we want to believe, not what is happening in reality.

Instead of getting to know a potential partner over time – many people decide to ‘’go all in’’ at the outset and often find themselves disappointed and heartbroken when the truth finally reveals itself.

Essentially, much of the heartache people experience is merely the ‘’story’’ they tell themselves about a person – the trick is to let things unfold over time, a person’s intentions, their level of investment in the relationship, compatibility and so forth.

Is there a solution to getting over an old flame?

There is no ‘’quick fix’’ to getting over an ex as there are likely to be many variables that may take time to process. The above depends on the nature of your relationship and the other things going on in your life around the time of the split.

Attachment styles

Many experts say that our attachment styles can affect how we handle breakups; for example, those with secure attachment styles are likely to have an easier time during breakups than those with insecure or anxious attachment styles.

Moreover, if an individual suffers from a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression or a personality disorder – such conditions may also influence how they cope with a breakup.

Help and support

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Fortunately, there are ways that you can help yourself during and after a breakup.

Relationship experts say those who engage in self-care rituals such as therapy, meditation, trauma therapy, physical exercise, maintaining a proper diet and getting enough sleep are all valuable ways to take care of oneself after a breakup.

Additionally, psychologists say that the following tips may also allow a person to recover from a breakup sooner:

  • Consider the realistic outcome of a breakup rather than the worst possible scenario – our minds can play tricks on us during challenging periods, and the key is to be practical rather than catastrophise.
  • Try minimising the ‘’what ifs’’. You likely did the best you could with what you knew then, so be gentle with yourself.
  • Keep an open mind and be willing to receive feedback, even if it’s not always what you want to hear – this may help you grow and apply what you have learnt to future relationships. 
  • Engage in hobbies and activities that you enjoy – this may help restore your sense of self, allowing you to move forward with clarity and self-awareness.

Contact us

Contact a Centres for Health and Healing specialist today if you are going through a challenging breakup or are concerned about your mental health.

We specialise in treating various mental health disorders, addictions and much more. To begin your transformation, speak to our friendly team who can help.

Resources you might find helpful

1. 5 Reasons People Can’t Get Over Some Exes: Psychology Today, Jen Kim, June 21, 2018
2. 6 Reasons Why Getting Over A Toxic Ex Can Be The Hardest, According To Experts: Elite Daily, Rachel Shatto, March 21, 2018

Lisa Davies - Program Director of Vaughan Recovery and Kirby Estate

About Lisa Davies

Lisa is the Program Director at Centres for Health and Healing. She lived for most of her life in the Durham region, before moving to Peel five years ago.

Lisa is a Master Hypnotist and is certified in Hypnotherapy (2008), Self-Hypnosis and in 5-phase Advanced Therapeutic Healing. As a Member of National Guild of Hypnotists, she is also specialized in hypnosis training in pediatrics, pain management, neuro-linguistic and stage programming.

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