Recently, I needed to say goodbye to someone special and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. This person wasn’t making me as much of a priority as I was making them. Their actions were not as loving as the words coming from their mouth. I gave this person several chances to treat me better, but they didn’t. So it was becoming more painful to have them in my life than to release them.
So I let go.
It wasn’t easy, because we had great chemistry and friendship. But one day, this person stepped on my heart just a little too hard and I knew I had to walk away. I’m in mourning right now, and I will probably feel the pull of this individual for a long time. And while I don’t know what the future holds, I do know that I must treat myself with kindness and respect in order to move on.
If you’ve just let go of someone, or are in the midst of deciding whether or not to call it quits, here are some aspects of the process to think about, as well as some strategies for coping with the misery.
Know when enough is enough. Maybe this someone has repeatedly disappointed you. Perhaps the relationship isn’t progressing the way you want, despite your best efforts to communicate. Perhaps you are putting more time and energy into the union than they are. The decision may be seem obvious to your head, but you’ve got to persuade your heart. The process often takes time, and it’s always painful.
How do you know when to give up the fight? It’s one thing if you’ve fallen completely out of love and can’t recapture the magic, despite your best efforts. In this case, you probably realize that once the ties have been severed you’ll be able to move on. But what if the love connection is there and the more “practical” stuff isn’t fusing? Maybe you want kids with someone who is unwilling to make that commitment, or perhaps you’re “in love” but throwing dishes at each other. What do you do when your heart and mind are at war?
One of the beautiful things about love is that it’s amazingly optimistic. And we can idealize someone who is unbelievably wrong for us. When we’re smitten, our minds can play tricks on us, leading us to make rationalizations for that person’s behavior and tell ourselves it’ll be different the next time. But remember, it takes two people to be committed. And it’s easier than you think to fall in love with the idea of someone, instead of who they actually are.
Ask yourself, what am I getting out of this relationship? Does it feed my soul, or drain me? Sometimes it’s hard to know when to quit. But your body knows. It responds to stress in a variety of ways, some subtle and some not so subtle. Are you losing or gaining weight? Do you feel anxious? Don’t ignore those revealing physical signs.
My final goodbye was accompanied by a flood of tears and a sinking feeling that it was really over this time. How did I know? Because the so-called “love of my life” said nothing to comfort me or prevent me from giving up. Maybe they were overwhelmed, maybe they were scared. Maybe they didn’t know how to give me what I needed. But the point is, they didn’t fight for me. They didn’t dignify me with a response, so I had to dignify myself by moving on.
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” —Hermann Hesse
Realize It’s a Death. Losing someone to death is out of your control. But letting go of someone who is alive and well is a hard choice that can feel equally devastating. Psychologists will tell you that breaking up with someone can feel like a death, with all its complex stages.
At first, you may be in denial—a stage that actually serves to protect you from the intensity of the loss. Then you might feel numb. But as you slowly acknowledge the impact of the loss, both the denial and the disbelief will gradually diminish.
In the next stage, which psychologists often call the “bargaining” period, you may have persistent thoughts about what more you could have done to prevent the loss, or become preoccupied with the good times you had together. Images of your loved one flood your mind and you might question your decision to walk away. I will probably always wonder if I should have stuck in there longer, as I will always be unsure if this person ever truly felt the same way I did. After all, how they could have been so affectionate and passionate and “into” me without seeing a future with me? How could they say that I was the love of their life, but then let me slip away? But as Pink sang, “Sometimes I think it’s better if you don’t ask why.” While exploring your role in a break-up can be a good way to learn about yourself, lingering in intense emotions like remorse or guilt can interfere with the healing process and keep you from moving on.
Depression is the next stage of grief, and it happens after you realize the true extent of your loss. Signs of depression may include sleep and appetite disturbances, a lack of energy and concentration, and crying spells. You might feel lonely, empty or sad. You may feel self-pity. Anger may be a part of this stage, too, especially if you felt powerless in the relationship or the situation. But remember that within you is an enormous well of power—a power that surges whenever you decide to take any self-worth-affirming action.
Allow yourself to heal. One day you’ll arrive at the final stage—acceptance. The quickest way to get there is by taking good care of yourself, both mentally and physically, while you heal. Because your energy is zapped from the emotional turmoil, all you may want to do is lie in bed and cry. And you will do that for a while. Cry your little heart out. Don’t pretend the pain is not there—let yourself feel it. Express yourself by writing in a journal or wailing on the phone with a good pal. But after a while, you know you’ve got to get up and get moving.
Take the dog on a walk, go on a hike, or do other activities you enjoy. Exercise has been proven to release feel-good chemicals within your body that can actually lighten your mood. Smile at people you meet in the neighborhood, or pick up the phone and chat with a good friend. Positive social interactions can boost your confidence and make you feel connected with the world outside your grief.
Look at the big picture. Remember that healing can take time. Some experts estimate you may be mourning for as long as half the time the relationship lasted. So go easy on yourself and realize it’s a process. Know that it’s OK to still love the person, miss them and think about. But remind yourself that you are often fantasizing about the person you wanted them to be. And realize that some day, you will look back and realize you learned something about yourself from this experience. It may be something profound, or it may just be that you finally discovered what a broken heart feels like. But you will have learned something.
One day, you also may decide to be friends with this person. Or, if they ever find the courage and the capability to love you the way you wanted or needed to be loved the first time around, you may give the relationship another try. But right now, just strive to be compassionate with yourself and take it day by day. And know that letting go was the best decision you could make at the time, given what you had to work with.
Right now, I need to be alone as I try to “get over” this person. I know it won’t be easy. I have no idea if this individual misses me too, or fully comprehends the impact our relationship has had on me. I don’t know if we’ll ever try to reconcile, but I do know that things will need to be different if we ever do. Right now, just thinking about what could have been makes me want to climb into bed and cry into my pillow. But I won’t. Because right after I finish writing this, I’m heading outside to meet some friends for lunch and a hike in the woods. Maybe I won’t be so strong later today, but that pillow will still be there for me. And that’s OK too. Baby steps.