Time is said to heal all wounds, but a new study suggests that the passing of days alone won't restore your broken heart after a breakup: You need to talk about it -- a lot.
It may seem counterintuitive, but parsing out the details of the split and how you're feeling can actually restore your sense of self, according to Grace Larson, a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University and co-author of the study.
"When you enter into a romantic relationship, your self-concept becomes really intertwined with that loved one," Larson told The Huffington Post. "One of the most powerful things that happens when you fall in love with someone is you start to feel like who you are is melding with who they are. I think that's an incredibly painful process to have to reverse."
Larson found that a great antidote for that identity-melding is talking about how you feel now that you're no longer in the relationship. For her study, she took 210 young adults who had experienced a non-marital breakup within the last six months and divided them into two groups. The first group simply filled out a survey about their breakups at the beginning of the study and again nine weeks later.
The second group underwent a much more extensive recap of their relationships, completing multiple tests to measure breakup-specific distress as well as stream of consciousness-style interviews. In these interviews, they talked about specific aspects of the breakup, like when they first realized their relationship was going south and how the whole thing affected their views on romance. This group came in four times during the nine-week study period and spent a total of three and a half hours dwelling on their exes, compared to the first group's total of 45 minutes.
Participants in the second group, which extensively dissected breakups, had an easier time regaining self-concept after those nine weeks. They reported larger decreases in breakup-related emotional distress and loneliness compared to the group that only completed basic surveys. According to the authors, this study is the first to suggest that rehashing breakups actually boosts well-being by allowing you to think about your feelings and rediscover your self-identity independent of the relationship.
Interestingly, as the study went on, the researchers also found that those who reduced their use of first-person plural words like "we" and "us" when describing the split had an easier time coping. But this finding in particular needs further examination, according to the researchers.
New York-based psychologist Suzanne Lachmann, whose forthcoming book deals with how to get over breakups, told The Huffington Post that she couldn't think of a more effective coping mechanism than talking about a split.
"Locking it inside or trying to power through it yourself just means that it festers in there," Lachmann said.
Instead, she suggested that you focus on the things that are in your control, like what you can learn from your previous relationship and what you can do to fill your time now that you're not part of a couple. Think of it as an opportunity: Sign up for that cooking class you always wanted to take or book that trip your partner never had time for. It's all about you now, Lachmann said, so try not to think about what your ex is doing or how he/she is dealing with the breakup, which can stifle your progress.
As for exactly how much time you should spend dwelling on a split? "My theory is that it takes as long as it takes," Lachmann said.