Why Is It So Hard To Get Over An Ex?

broken heart
Love, Heartbreak

YourTango Experts answer your biggest breakup questions.

Breaking up isn't hard to do. It's getting over the breakup that's tough. Sometimes the recovery period after a failed relationship lasts as long as—or longer—than the relationship. Such is the case for Tina, 30, from New York, NY. She briefly dated Samuel a few summers ago. When he abruptly called things off, she was confused and hurt. She still is.

"I only dated him for a few months, so I know it sounds crazy," Tina says. "But years later, I feel the same anger about what happened."

Andrea, 28, of Hoboken, NJ feels the same way, except her long-term relationship had more history. She and her ex dated for three years, lived together, and adopted a puppy before splitting up.

The circumstances in every relationship may be different, but post-breakup emotions are as universal as the stages of grief. And oh man, is it a long journey from denial to acceptance. When asked how long it usually takes them to get over a breakup, 55 percent of respondents in a recent YourTango survey said it takes them months and 18 percent said it takes them years

As part of our "Break Up With Your Ex" initiative, geared at helping readers finally let go of past loves, we asked YourTango Experts to answer the big breakup questions we've all asked. Love may come and go, but this advice is worth committing to.

Why do breakups hurt so much?

Falling in love is a chemical reaction. Your brain runs on a cocktail of dopamine, the natural amphetamine PEA, and the bonding hormone oxytocin. Eventually, you develop a tolerance for these chemicals. But when you break up, they surge again.

"Dissolving feelings for an ex is equivalent to withdrawing from a cocaine addiction," says Dr. Denise Wade, a relationship coach and couples counselor.

Like any other threat to our well-being, emotional pain fires up adrenaline and cortisol. The result: nausea, increased blood pressure, loss of appetitie and accelerated heartbeat. Breakups aren't just emotional—they physically hurt. 

Then there's the psychological aspect of it. Surviving the fallout of a broken relationship isn't entirely different from being in a car crash or losing a loved one. It often results in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Even your childhood plays a role. Our attachment to romantic partners is generally a reflection of our attachment, or desired attachment, to our parents. "We tend to transfer the surrogate parental role onto our partners," says Dr. Wade. "This makes for relationship enmeshment and a difficult detachment during breakups."

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