Even when we know a particular relationship has an expiration date or a major deal-breaker has come up (like you want children and they don’t), letting go of any relationship — especially one that has had love in it — can be very difficult and painful.
All change comes with loss attached to it. When we graduate high school, we are moving onto a new exciting life, but we are also leaving behind a building with so many memories in it, friends we knew we would see every third period or at lunch, teachers we looked up to, and a schedule and routine we were used to.
Even if we quit a job we absolutely hate, we are still losing those coworkers we might have been friends with or, at least, knew we’d run into in the breakroom, as well as a familiar commute and place.
The same applies to relationships we know we have to let go of.
When I separated and then divorced, I lost a lot beyond the relationship with my actual husband. I lost being a wife and what that meant.
I lost our traveling-across-the-county-in-an-RV retirement plan.
I lost time with my children.
I lost the relationships I had with my ex’s family (who were pretty wonderful and fun people).
I even lost friends who sided with him over the divorce, or who naturally drifted away because they were partnered and I was now the ostracized divorcee whom they probably felt would “rub off on them” and ruin their marriage.
Yes, you might be making the absolute best decision for you (as it was for me), but you are still going to face many losses:
- You may have been close with their friends and family, and you know now that those relationships will end or change.
- You may be losing whatever hopes and dreams you had for the future of your relationship. This is especially true if what is ending is a long-term/serious relationship.
- You may be losing “your person,” someone that you were used to doing things with, even if it was just having a companion to sleep beside at the end of the day.
It can seem strange to have a grieving process over something you might be happy to see end, but grief always follows loss. It can feel wrenching to navigate spaces this person once filled, like knowing you won’t see their aunt you really liked on holidays or knowing they were that one person who loved the same trashy television you do.
The reason why letting go of love is so hard is because we often don’t want to address the grief attached to all of those losses. You must realize and honor the many losses you experience to be able to walk through it, and walk through it you must.
Here are some things you can do to help you in the process:
1. Give yourself some time alone.
You’ll have to feel your feelings eventually, so even if you jump immediately into another relationship, those feelings are going to come up. Your new relationship won’t be starting out on the best footing if you are also still having to sort out your feelings about your ex.
I didn’t follow this advice initially, but I eventually had to in order to process what I needed to.
2. Recognize that nature abhors a vacuum.
While it’s a great idea to not engage romantically until you’ve processed the end of your relationship, realize that if this person was in your life a lot, you’ll need someone or something to replace them with.
Think about throwing yourself more into work, adopting a new hobby, prioritizing fitness and health, or making sure to make time to spend with friends and family that make you feel good.
I took up reading and cycling again. They became solitary pastimes that I enjoyed and looked forward to.
3. Practice some positive self-awareness practices.
Journaling is a great tool to consider doing when you’re in the midst of whatever you’re feeling. It can also help you contextualize. You may not miss the person, for example, but you may miss what you hoped you both would have together or you miss having someone to do things with. Those things are important to separate, so you don’t try to run back to them in the hopes that things will be different this time.
It can also help you figure out what you need. For example, if you just miss having someone to do things with, make plans with friends or family instead.
I journaled for one to three pages longhand everyday. This is a practice I still follow because it helps. It really really does.
4. Make having fun a priority.
Whether it be going to see a funny movie or TV show, making time for a lunch date with your funniest buddy, or being silly with your nieces or nephews, laughing and having fun is healing, especially if you’re mending the wounds of an ended relationship.
Do whatever you can to make it a priority and know that even if you’re feeling blue now, it won’t be forever. Everything eventually passes, as long as you work on it.
Relationships are always difficult to let go of because, no matter how brief they were, you had fantasies or hopes wrapped up in them or you had built a life that included them and their special people in it. With all change comes loss and then grief. Give yourself what you need to move through it and know it’s all normal and right to feel.