Letting go or ending a relationship can be really hard even if in your head, you know it’s the right thing to do. Being in love or in an intimate relationship has been shown to activate the pleasure centres in the brain (releasing dopamine) and decrease frontal lobe activity which can inhibit our higher thinking and rational decision making.
Why is it so hard to let go?
Some reasons why it can be so hard to let go are:
- Fear of being alone – ‘having someone’ in some ways can be less scary than having no-one
- Choosing to stay can feel easier as its at least familiar,
- You feel invested in the relationship, and it’s part of your identity or status
- The thought of finding, dating and starting again with someone new can feel very daunting
- You forget or romanticise the relationship or hope your partner will change
- Your partner is emotionally abusive or controlling
- The relationship is triggering attachment issues from the past, so it can feel very threatening to let go
- You blame yourself or think you need to try harder or are that you’re being too selfish
It’s also important to remember that there’s always an element of grief and loss with letting go, particularly around your hopes for what the relationship and your future would be like, and dealing with those emotions is always challenging.
Realising it’s time to let go
Often, it starts with a niggling feeling of discomfort. It may be in a friendship or in relation to a family member or a significant other. You may try to ignore it given the long association, try to focus on their good points or what you like about them or what brought you together, and yet, the uncomfortable feelings keep coming back.
If this is happening, it’s important to take a step back and look objectively at how the relationship is impacting you. Try asking yourself these questions:
- Do I feel safe and supported when I’m with them?
- Do they tend to criticise or put me down, even jokingly?
- Do I feel worn out after being with them or less confident than I was before?
- Do I trust them?
- Do I feel they show me respect?
- Do I tend to drink excessively or behave in ways I’m not happy with when I’m around them?
- Do I feel I’m generally putting a lot more effort into the relationship than they are?
- Am I constantly feeling let down by them?
- Is this relationship having a negative affect other areas of my life eg I’m not doing activities or seeing people that I used to see?
- Do we have similar priorities and values?
- Can I see a future with them?
How to let go
With relationships which don’t involve a significant other, letting go may simply be a matter of “winding back” your involvement with the person in terms of the amount and frequency of time you spend with them, or engage with them on social media. There may not be a need to overtly say anything to them, but rather you consciously choose to focus and spend time in other areas. These shifts are a natural part of life as relationships are never static.
With a partner or significant other, or a close family member it’s advisable to plan how and when to do it. You may want to get professional advice first particularly where children and financial issues are involved. If there’s any form of abuse or a controlling relationship – safety concerns are paramount. Consider doing it in a public place and potentially having someone else there or nearby to support you. (Call 1800 Respect for further advice)
Think about what you would like to communicate and the outcome you want. If you feel comfortable, and safe consider doing it in person but this isn’t essential. It is however important to be respectful and compassionate where possible. Be prepared to give some kind of explanation that feels authentic to you, in case they ask “why”. Presumably you have raised your concerns before so that things will not be a complete surprise. If you want to leave the relationship it’s important that you state that clearly, so as to minimise the chance of misunderstanding or being cajoled or persuaded to “give it another go” when you don’t want to.
Think about the best way to look after yourself afterwards. It may be the case that continuing to have contact or following them on social media actually has a negative effect on you. If so, you can choose not to do that. Spend time doing the things that make you feel good and being around people who support you. It may be a chance to reconnect with some people or activities you’d previously neglected. As with any ending, there’s a grieving process involved, and different emotions may come up. It’s important to hold yourself with compassion and increase your self- care. Many people find journaling and gratitude practices really helpful at times such as these.