From anyone else’s perspective, it was easy to see that things were not going well in our relationship. We argued more than we laughed. And the arguments weren’t changing anything. They just got more confusing and frustrating. We were tense all the time. I was burying my hurt and trying to hold it all together. After all, I was still in love. We had been together for years and had gone through so much—moving across the country, new jobs, family drama, big changes—and honestly, I couldn’t imagine life without him. But I knew he wasn’t good for me, and I finally had to admit the truth even though it broke my heart. If that’s your situation, here’s how to deal with the agony of letting someone go when you’re still in love.
Get real about what isn’t good for you.
It’s amazing how much we will justify for someone we love. You’ve got to stop and get real about the pain and damage your partner is causing for you. In my case, my partner’s tendency to feel victimized had become constant blame-shifting. His constant need for attention turned into a string of emotional affairs. When I confronted him, he always had excuses. His ability to rationalize anything he did was making me feel crazy, and his refusal to take responsibility meant I was the one doing all the work to save our relationship. Look at the patterns in your relationship. Identify the ways your partner continues to ignore your needs, break your trust, and treat you poorly.
Make a list of the most hurtful moments.
I made a list of the women my partner had emotional affairs with—seeing it written down was a blow, but it showed me something important: he hadn’t made one mistake, one forgivable breach of trust. He had a pattern of deceiving me and breaking my trust. When you write down the most hurtful moments and experiences in your relationship, you’re showing yourself the reasons you cannot stay. And when you feel weak—when you want to try again, when you feel lonely—you go back to this list, and remind yourself why you won’t be texting, or calling, or giving it one more try.
Admit that it’s not getting better.
My relationship had changed from mostly getting along, enjoying each other, and supporting each other—with the occasional ugly argument—to mostly having ugly arguments and occasionally getting along. And it was getting worse. Every time we argued, his voice got colder. No matter what I said or did, we ended up in the same situations. And his changes were only on the surface, and never lasted long. Every relationship has issues. But you can work on the issues when two people are willing to honestly try. If there’s no progress, no change on issues that have been apparent for a while, you have to admit that nothing is going to get better.
Realize that you cannot fix a relationship alone.
It took me a long time to admit that nothing would change unless he changed—and the simple, devastating truth: he wasn’t willing to change. I was trying to solve the problems. He was trying to escape. I was taking responsibility for everything. He was blaming me for his own unhappiness. Imagine a relationship like a bridge. You’re each building it, starting from opposite sides and building toward each other. If you’re the only one building the bridge, it won’t ever be strong enough to support you both.
Accept the experience of heartbreak.
You’d think that after all that hurt, I would be over it, over him. I wasn’t. When I finally asked him to leave, it felt like I was breaking my own heart more than I was breaking his. I think I was waiting for a time when being apart wouldn’t feel so devastating, when I would feel ready. But when you love someone, it’s going to break your heart to end it. You have to accept that it’s going to hurt. It’s going to really hurt. It’s going to break your heart. But you will live through it, and you will heal, and you will be okay.
Set some clear boundaries.
You can’t let go of someone when you keep the door open. You’re cheating yourself out of moving forward into a relationship that’s healthy and fulfilling. It’s tough, but you know what you have to do. No texting. No social media stalking. Definitely no calling. No casual hanging out. When you’re still in love with someone, that kind of interaction is like ripping the bandage off an open wound. It makes it worse, it intensifies the pain, it brings infection, and it slows the healing process.
Have a plan for moments of weakness.
You’re going to set the boundaries, but there will be times when you really, really want to ignore them. And sometimes, you might. The key is to notice when those moments happen. For me, late at night is always the toughest time. I miss my partner, I feel lonely, and it’s easy to justify a bad decision. What are your moments of weakness? Come up with a simple plan. What will you do? Who will you reach out to instead? How can you distract yourself until the moment passes?
Let yourself grieve.
The end of a relationship is like a death. It’s a huge loss. The closer you were, the longer you were together, and the more in love you were, the greater the grief. The best advice I got for grieving was to let myself. To quit resisting. When the sadness swept in, to give into it. It’s scary, it’s awful, it hurts. But when you let yourself grieve, you can also let go. Grieve for the good stuff, for the moments, for the memories, and for the future you won’t have. You invested your whole heart in the relationship. It’s worth grieving over, and grief is essential to accepting the loss so you can release it and move on.
Find what heals you.
Pay attention to what makes you laugh, what helps you rest, and what gives you a sense of calmness. Then do more of that! Plan dates with friends, watch stand-up comedy, pick up a new hobby, read YA fiction, learn about birds, go thrifting. Every time you relax and enjoy yourself, you are healing. You’re reconnecting with who you are, and turning all that energy that you poured into your relationship back into yourself. Make room and time for what feels good, no matter how ridiculous, silly, or temporary it seems.
Believe in your own future.
A big part of the pain when a relationship ends is having to rewrite your future. You already had it pictured, and now the picture is broken. As you grieve over losing what is broken, remind yourself that you still have a good future. A happy future, a fulfilling future, a future that has a loving and healthy relationship in it. You may not be able to picture it just yet, but you can believe in the idea. This experience is one experience in your life, and it doesn’t define you or limit you. You aren’t stuck. And even though this relationship is broken, YOU aren’t broken. Your heart will heal, and what you’ve learned will make you kinder and wiser.
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