What To Do When You Can’t Let Go

You know it’s the only way to feel better. Books and websites tell you to do this. Your friends and family say it’s the best way to move forward, but you just can’t seem to let go.

You’ve tried to let go of your relationship or marriage that’s now ended, but it feels impossible.

As much as your rational mind tells you that it’s in everybody’s best interests that your relationship is over, another part of you rejects this. Despite the incessant arguing, lying, cheating, hostility, cold and distance, your impulse is to hold on to what you had and possibly to never stop trying to get back together with your ex.

The urge to hold on to your ended relationship can manifest in different ways including:

  • spending hours pouring over old photos of the two of you
  • calling your ex (whether or not you say anything when he or she answers)
  • declining invites from friends and family to listen and cry to sentimental songs
  • inventing reasons to contact your ex (for help fixing the mower, questions about the dog, etc.)
  • stalking your ex on Facebook
  • steering conversations with others to the breakup or events that led up to it
  • daydreaming about ways you can get back together with your ex
  • feeding fears that you’ll never find another partner who is as wonderful as your ex
  • feeding fears that you’ll never find another partner. Ever.

It’s natural and normal to engage in almost all of these behaviors when healing after a breakup. When you’re doing these things frequently and for prolonged periods of time however, that’s a sign that you’re having a hard time letting go.

As much as you might not want to hear this…

If you’re going to feel better and start really living your life again, you do need to let go. In fact, even if you are to– one day– get back together with your ex, you need to get out of the past and start living in the now.

Even if you still feel BIG resistance to the idea of letting go, you probably want to stop the pain. As strong as that impulse is to hold on to the past, there’s another impulse you can follow– to care for yourself and to soothe those hurt feelings that are weighing you down.

Go easy.
Healing can’t be forced. You may have tried to put on a fake smile. Maybe you’ve pushed yourself to go out and socialize with others or go on a date. It just doesn’t work when you’re not ready. This is a time to be gentle and kind to yourself. You can be easy about the process of letting go too. It’s unlikely that you’ll do this in an instant and that’s helpful to remember. You can release your hold on the past (or the hold the past seems to have over you) gradually and at your own pace.

There is a difference between going easy and immersing yourself in the past. Very soon after your breakup or on triggering days (like anniversaries), you might spend most of your time feeling miserable and focused on the past. But as the days go on, invite yourself to spend a little less time remembering, reminiscing or re-living your ended relationship. Support this shift by intentionally looking for people and things that soothe and interest you now.

Honor the past.
Another way to ease into letting go is to honor your ex and the ended relationship. If you are angry about whatever happened that led to your breakup, make space to express those emotions. Honoring the past doesn’t mean that you agree with everything that transpired and it doesn’t even mean you like your ex very much.

It’s about acknowledging what the whole experience taught you. For now, set aside “good” and “bad” judgments and consider the ways that your ended relationship served you for a time and helped you become the person you are today (and also who you will be in the future).

Let go of one thing at a time.
Going at your own pace and honoring the past are actually essential parts of letting go. This can be a relatively smooth and easy process that brings you a sense of peace and genuine excitement for what’s next in your life.

Start to notice the places where you are holding on and pick something you’re ready to release. Take the photos of you and your ex off your wall. Box up physical reminders of your time together. Call a friend instead of your ex when you need help with a project. Pick a movie, book or music to listen to that lifts you up instead of one that makes you cry.

The powerful thing about letting go is that you get to control the speed and the specifics. Make healing your top priority and make intentional choices that help you feel better and enjoy your changing life more.

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