There’s a saying about getting over someone—that it takes half the time you spent together to truly move on. That means six months of wallowing for a year-long relationship—time that might drag on endlessly, or time that might fly by faster than you can blink. But for longer relationships? Those marriages that have spanned years and possibly decades? The waiting period is a whole other discussion, a conversation we are going to have now.
Because after divorce, you want your life back. But a part of you is still reliving the past, turning your marriage over and over like a skipping stone in your hand. A stone that, at some point, you have to drop. You have to let it go. For the truth of the matter is spending the next decade missing your Ex—and feeling sorry for yourself—is even more depressing than your actual divorce.
So you aim to help yourself, you start researching. You ask friends, you ask family (or maybe they ask you), “How long is it supposed to take to get over a divorce, anyway?” Yet, you get nothing in return, but differing answers leading to more questions.
Now you’re here reading, and we are with you. We know that sometimes arming yourself with knowledge is the best way you can feel in control, especially when it comes to all-things-divorce. So, how long does it take?
What science says
Past studies suggest that it takes a person, on average, eighteen months to move on after divorce, while others simply leave it at “it’s complicated.” And that’s the truth—divorce is complicated, and because of this, science is only so accurate. Some study participants, for instance, might have been separated before getting a divorce, while others had only just broken things off. Other participants may have wanted a divorce, while others still wanted to try to make their marriages work.
What is clear is that even when marriages look the same on paper, their insides are messy, intricate things that can’t be examined like a math equation.
What experience says
What we know, despite what our loved ones tell us or even what science says, is that people often discover they’ve “moved on” almost unconsciously. They wake up one morning, and the sadness they’ve been carrying feels different, less of a weight than a kind of memory. You’re in the middle of a conversation, for instance, or you are out shopping in the grocery store, and you see the latest tabloid announcing another celebrity divorce when you remember your own divorce, what you’re supposed to be grieving, or “missing” or reverberating from. Only you don’t so much. You feel stabilized. It’s not that you’re unaware of the scars you are wearing, but you own them now. And best of all, you no longer care.
This not caring is freeing! It seems to happen a little sooner when you have distance from your Ex. That means no “let’s be friends.” No late-night, I’m-feeling-sorry-for-myself phone calls. No hookups “for old times sake.” In fact, to help with your healing, you must consider your past relationship like a drug, for a certain time at least. You have to cut off your exposure to the drug and to its many triggers.
You have to re-circuit your brain and teach it to do new things rather than reach for the phone to “let him have it” or to beg. (Drink a glass of water every time you want to call your Ex!) Limit your triggers of being reminded of him*. Unfriend him, or better yet, block your Ex on social media. Delete his number from your phone. If you are coparenting with him, only communicate through Family Wizard. This is about creating a buffer for the new and emerging you to grow. It’s not about adding to your confusion and grief by constantly being near the man you once thought you’d spend the rest of your life with.
But what if you aren’t grieving your “Was-band”? But grieving the loss of who you were in the marriage? Who you used to be? The lifestyle you enjoyed? The summer rituals you shared? What about the friends and family who played a role in that former life of yours?
Life after divorce is a whole new way of living, and it means almost by definition … change. A lot of change. You need time to grapple with the changes and the many losses you have suffered, ignored, or even, created. So really, when we ask how long does it take to recover from divorce? We are talking about the time it takes until “You’ve Got Your Groove Back.”
But what if you are tone—or you can’t dance? Getting your groove back does not explain what you are striving for?
In our 46 Steps to Divorce Recovery, A Definition and A Guide, we define this moment in time, post-divorce, as a process, a journey of its own within divorce where the “emotional and practical restructuring and healing” is a “constant, cyclical process in which you are broken down and built back up numerous times until finally, you are whole again.”
Another way of saying this is, you will know when you are healed when all the shattered pieces come back together in a way that makes you feel proud of yourself.
What you can do to help yourself move on
The very fundamental desire to heal is your beginning. Now you must take steps. Try to avoid doing things that smack of those old familiar patterns and people you miss. At first, fighting these instincts will be hard, because during your marriage you probably did everything you could to bring all these things together—the people, the routines, the joys, the rituals. You tried to make the most of your marriage. But now your challenge is to create your “new normal,” and to do that, you’ll have to rediscover yourself and who you are now.
Some women find that their divorce recovery takes years, while others find that they’ve prepared for divorce so long that within months or weeks they already feel better than they have in years. To those in the latter camp, we say, yes, you may be feeling better. But don’t lose sight of the work and steps you must still be taking to ensure your healthy independence. Doing the work and practicing self care, will ensure you start seeing the signs that indeed, you have started to truly move on.
Here are some of those signs.
1. The idea of going on a date is thrilling
If, after divorce, you say to yourself whenever someone suggests you should get back out there,“What? Start all over? It’s so much work…” this is a sign that you’re not over your divorce. The idea of dating feels like a chore, a series of boxes to check off a list someone else has generated, rather than the adventure it can really be. So, don’t do it. Focus on yourself and what you need to discover about putting your life back together. Until you do this work, you will only be showing up half-heartedly or, damaged.
But if you feel a twinge of excitement at the thought of meeting someone new, then some part of you might be ready to move on—at least in the romantic department. Check in with yourself. Manage your expectations of self, what you want, what you need, and what you are willing to share.
2. You feel comfortable in your own skin
You’re feeling yourself. Not just feeling sexy—though there’s no shame in that, you feel healthy and fully of energy. You feel a sense of peace and balance. You have planted your feet in the direction you want your life to take. In short, you know who you are, and you like that person.
For some women, this may mean they’ve secured a job (a paycheck!) and routine. For others it may mean understanding at long last their finances, and what their plan is for moving forward. Or maybe the kids are no longer acting out but settling into their new routines at both houses, and this is giving you a chance to ease up in hyper-management of the shifting parts. But that frenzy of survival mode has passed. You are able to look up and consider what else might be possible for you now.
3. You feel positive about you future
Before your divorce and maybe even sometimes, afterwards, it was hard to care much about your future let alone believe there was anything good waiting for you there. But now surprising events or happenings have inspired you. You may be full of hope. Look! There’s so much about your life that’s new and surprising. You never could have predicted or planned for it.
There’s something beautiful about leaning into the unexpected.
Being positive about your future implies that you have taken a hard look at your past and come to a place of acceptance about it, both the good and the bad. It means you no longer carry the past like a weight. You’ve moved past blame. When you are living in the here and now, planning and building your new future, this is another strong indicator that you’ve begun moving on after divorce.
4. Your divorce doesn’t keep you up at night
The end of any relationship generally comes with a certain dose of feeling sorry for yourself. Nights spent crying yourself to sleep and days spent walking around in a daze. But now? You’re tired of being tired. You’re done with being sad. You find yourself making plans for your summer and spending more time with new people and those unbelievably wonderful, stalwart friends. One day you think to yourself, “When was the last time I thought about HIM?” And the fact that you have to think about that puts a smile on your face.
You might never truly “get over” your divorce, but over time, it will become a quieter ache instead of an intense pain. The heartbreak will callus over—you’ll be wiser and more prepared for red flags that may appear again. Experience is a gift that gives you the chance to learn from mistakes and failures. Whether those mistakes and failures are real or simply dancing in your head, time and doing the work you must will give you perspective.
When it comes to getting over a divorce, there’s no rulebook or timeline except the one that feels right for you. If you do nothing about your divorce recovery, you can expect very little to change about the way you are feeling. It will probably become more muddled and less pronounced. But did you grow from it? If you choose to support yourself by finding the help you need to really honor your beautiful life, you’ll discover the time it takes to get over your divorce will be just the right amount of time you need to move forward bravely and with grace.
Since 2012 smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional and often times complicated experience of divorce. We invite you to learn what’s possible for you. Schedule you FREE, 15-minute consultation with SAS. Whether you are coping with divorce or already navigating your life afterward, a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone.
*This piece was written for SAS for Women, an all-women website. At SAS we respect same-sex marriages, however, for the sake of simplicity in this article we refer to your spouse as a male.