How to Let Go When the Relationship is Over
How to heal when love ends
Relationships are hard. And, let's face it, most of them end at some point. If they didn't, we'd all be happily married right now and still dating the first person we ever went out with. So it's important to learn how to deal with breakups, and being able to gracefully let him go when the relationship ends is crucial to your emotional well being.
Grieve your loss
If a relationship has ended, first of all be kind to yourself, said Jennifer Howard, a psychotherapist and author of "Your Ultimate Life Plan." Howard said, "You'll need to grieve through your loss. The immediate loss is in the present. And in that there will be some kind of thread tying it to the past, whether that is an earlier adult relationship, a love from your teenage years, or some kind of childhood wounding in your family of origin."
Howard said, "Elizabeth Kübler-Ross delineated five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Just know you won't necessarily go through these in a linear fashion. They're more like aspects of grief, because they overlap and more than one of the aspects can go on at the same time.
"Allow yourself to be with your feelings. Remember, we can't really control anything completely. So breathe, journal, meditate, pray, see friends, learn good self talk that builds you up and nurtures you, and reassure yourself that somehow you will go on."
Use the experience to learn and grow and perhaps find something that went awry that you can avoid in your next relationship. Don't think of it as a mistake, Howard said. "From our deepest level nothing is wasted. All of life is a teacher. Later, after the deep pain has subsided, ask yourself what might you be learning here? Again, part of growing psychologically and spiritually is knowing that we don't have control over everything and that no matter what arises, we can keep learning and do our best."
The pain of heartbreak
"It is so very hard to let go of a romantic relationship - indeed some say there is nothing more painful than heartbreak - and this is a challenging issue for many of the patients I see," said Alicia H. Clark, PsyD, PLLC, and a licensed clinical psychologist.
"While conventional wisdom holds that the partner who does the breaking up has an easier time letting go, my clinical experience has shown that it has more to do with how you think about the relationship, and how much you let yourself fantasize about the 'highlight reel' memories, and what could have been. Few struggle to let go of the realities of the relationship, but many have a hard time letting go of the fantasy of what they wanted their relationship to be," Clark said.
Don't skew your memories
It's normal to mourn the good times of a relationship, once it's over, but it can easily become problematic, Clark said.
"In thinking so much about the good times, and fantasies of what might have been, one’s thoughts of the relationship can become skewed from reality into fantasy. Moreover, this fantasy reverie can become a go-to salve for the painful reality of loss, making it more and more of a part of one’s thoughts. Indeed, as people flock to feel-good movies to dull the pain of reality, patients reveal that their fantasies about their relationship offer them a respite from their pain, even if temporary and fleeting. What many don’t always realize is that every retreat into fantasy comes at the price of keeping us attached," Clark said.
Interrupting this fantasy process is a critical step in letting go of a relationship. Becoming aware of the negative impact of fantasy can be a key to healing as a more truthful narrative of the relationship is created, Clark said. "This truthful narrative sets the stage for recognizing the choices we have, rather than the choices we wish we had, and sets the stage for moving forward in a way that is adaptive. For the ultimate test of letting a relationship go is being ready for a better one."
How to heal emotionally
Relationship expert and psychotherapist Tina Tessina, Ph.D., author of "The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again," shared her best advice on how to heal emotionally after a breakup:
- If you gave it your best shot, and you know it's over, don't waste time in resentment and anger, it's self-destructive. Let go. Do your grieving, cry, journal, and talk about alone, or with a trusted friend. Have a "letting go" ceremony with close friends, and say goodbye to your previous life. Put reminders away for a while.
- Don't hesitate to get therapy to help you through this transition, so youcan grieve what's lost (even if you're the one who left, you've lost your hopes and dreams for this relationship) and move your focus on to building a good life in your new circumstance. A professional viewpoint will help you move from past to present, and plan for the future.
- Take care of yourself financially -- a good lawyer can help you fight for your rights if you were married. You'll feel a lot less resentment if you get your fair share of the assets.
- This is an important time to have your friends or family around you for support. Don't isolate. You don't have to go right out and date again (go slow with that) but you should have a social life with friends and family. Even if you don't think you feel ready to see people, see your closest friends and spend time with them. They'll help you heal, and remind you that you still have people who love you.