What Is the Best Way to Let Go of a Painful Relationship?

E.B. Johnson | NLPMP

It would be nice to think that our relationships always have a happy ending. That’s not the way life works, however. Connecting with another person is challenging, and building a life with them is even more so. It’s a balancing act. You have to hold space for yourself while holding space for someone else.

That balance is impossible to hold in toxic, immature, or otherwise failed relationships. One person ends up giving their all and the other ends up taking more than they give. In the end, the person who gives up the best parts of themselves ends up burned out and in pain.

When one is in that position of pain, it’s imperative that a way is found to move forward. The damaging lessons and poisonous connections that break your heart have to be let go. No, you won’t erase the memory — but you can create new ones. There’s beauty in the lessons learned when you find better ways to transcend your most painful relationships.

Our relationships can leave deep wounds.

Humans are social animals, and most of us have developed a deep need for close interpersonal relationships. We crave the closeness of an intimate partner, someone who can support us and validate the most delicate and vulnerable parts of who we are. These relationships can make or break the life experience for the person who desires them most.

When we find a caring relationship with a partner who is present, empathetic, and willing to do the work, it can be one of the greatest experiences in our lives. Healthy relationships can give us a safe environment to discover ourselves and they can teach us what it means to love ourselves and someone else.

Bad relationships can be life-changing…in the worst possible way.

Just as a good relationship can teach you to feel more confident in yourself and your abilities, a bad relationship will do the opposite. Painful relationships leave us feeling even more vulnerable, unworthy, and unlovable.

If you get stuck in a cycle of toxic or abusive partnerships, it can undo your entire understanding of self. Bad relationships will teach you how to hate yourself, how to distrust others, and worst of all how to hold on to wounds that never should have been there in the first place.

For us to break the cycle, we have to sever ties with our most painful relationships and find effective ways to let go. Holding on won’t bring resolution. It won’t change what happened. Learning to let go? That has the power to change the entire trajectory of our lives (and our future relationships, as well).

What happens when you can’t let go?

It’s clear when someone hasn’t been able to let go of a relationship that causes them pain. Some will literally stay trapped, day in and day out, taking the same barbs and jabs that break their hearts. Others, though, linger in the pain even after they’ve extracted themselves from the painful partnership.

The pain remains as present as the day it happened. People who refuse to let go find themselves spiraling through cycles of chaos, attracting the same painful sort of partners and breaking all the other worthwhile connections in their lives.

Holding on to the pain comes at a high cost for those who haven’t found their way out of the darkness:

  • Attracting the chaos: If you are still holding on to a relationship that brought you suffering, you are more likely to attract more of that suffering into your life. Craving that loss, you can select partners who cause just as much pain and repeat behaviors that cause similar breakdowns.
  • Broken connections: Failing to address your toxic relationship patterns can break your most valued relationships. This applies to more than just your romantic partners. Sure, you will keep selecting bad spouses and love interests. But you can also push away friends and family when you ruminate or repeat past suffering.
  • Paying high prices: Even if you escape a relationship that has caused a lot of mental, emotional, or physical pain, the scars remain. Your mental and emotional health can be long affected. Relationships like this can change your beliefs, your values, and your view of self if not resolved in a healthy way.

It doesn’t matter if you’re holding on subconsciously to things you haven’t allowed yourself to process, or you’re consciously refusing to accept the realities. Failing to move on will cause you to fail in future relationships, in finding peace, and in creating a tomorrow free of toxicity.

No, “letting go” doesn’t mean you close your eyes and walk away. It doesn’t mean you put your head in the sand and keep plowing forward in the darkness. To truly move on from a painful relationship, you have to accept what actually happened and accept how it affected you. Then you can process the pain you’re in and focus on setting new intentions and behaviors for the future.

How to move on from a painful relationship the right way.

When you’re ready to move on from a painful relationship, there is a process that must be followed. Keeping these steps in mind, you can skirt the avoidant coping mechanisms that keep you from getting beyond your relationship pain. That’s where you find new values and a sense of who you are within a romantic partnership.

1. Let acceptance take root

The first mistake most people make in terms of a bad relationship is avoiding acceptance. It’s a big ask, and it’s the place where all the real healing and processing starts. Accepting your relationship as it is empowers you to see the role you’re playing and the damage that has actually been done. Giving yourself time to accept what’s gone wrong gives you the focus and courage to confront it.

Before you leap into a new relationship or sweep into some grandiose healing gesture, you simply need to take time to accept where you’re at, what’s happened, and figure out where you want to go. Acceptance needs time to take root.

Create a plan for processing what’s happened. You need to feel your emotions, and you need to question yourself and your experiences within your relationship. What went wrong? After you’ve had time to think through everything and feel the pain, grief, disappointment, resentment, and frustration — you can begin thinking about taking action and protecting yourself.

2. Create emotional distance

Painful relationships haunt us in many different ways. We still see the good in the people that hurt us, the things that brought us together with them in the first place. We hold on to the good and minimize the bad. If we don’t give ourselves enough emotional space from the relationship, we risk getting sucked back into the same toxic patterns.

You need to create emotional distance from the pain and the triggers of your toxic relationship (or spouse). We do this in different ways, but the results are the same. Space gives our emotions time to wind down and to rebalance and re-center.

Once you’ve accepted where you’re at, focus on building new memories and experiences. Don’t keep circling the same drains that you and your harmful partner or spouse once circled. Give yourself a chance to branch out and establish new ties with emotionally important people, places, and things that can help you reconnect with a life that’s not tainted by old loves.

Forming new connections with life isn’t enough, however. You need to ensure you have enough emotional space for the person who hurt or conflicted with you. That means limiting contact, limiting their presence in your life, and ridding yourself of the physical representations that may still fill your home or living space.

3. Limit communication

There is no time more confusing than the aftermath of a breakup. Even though you may have spent years in pain, it’s hard to let go of something that becomes familiar. Too many people suck themselves back into damaging relationships by keeping the channels of communication open during this confusing time. Emotions still run high and they can make a lot of the same bad choices for themselves out of habit.

If you’ve exited a toxic relationship, then make sure you’re really out of it. Limit communication with your ex-partner or spouse as much as possible. Don’t keep lines open that could anchor you back into a partnership that was one-sided, abusive, or otherwise unfulfilling.

Unless you have children together, a business, or some other legally binding responsibility — cut ties. Walk away. Block them on social media. Change your phone number. Erase theirs. Do what you have to do to make sure they don’t remain a constant presence in your life. If they hurt you, take away access to your person.

4. Mark important lessons

Failing to take time to accept a bad relationship is a big mistake in the recovery process. That’s only the first mistake, however. There’s another huge mistake that too many people are guilty of making when it comes to moving on and walking away from a painful relationship.

Although you may think this mistake is going back again or saying something they regret, it’s not. The big mistake is moving on too quickly. Instead of taking the time to think through what happened, instead of marking the important lessons and carrying them on into the future, a lot of people jump in blind to the next thing, hoping it will heal them.

Guess what? It won’t. Jumping into bed with a stranger won’t heal the pain an old love left behind. That’s work that you have to do on your own, and if you don’t take the time to apply the lessons you learned in the painful relationship you’ll just create more of those painful relationships.

There is a real need to consciously take note of what went wrong, and walk yourself through the mistakes you wouldn’t want to make again. Where did you go wrong? Why did you choose someone who hurt you? How can you avoid choosing someone toxic again? You should have all those answers before you move on to someone else.

5. Avoid all comparisons

We tend to look at lists like this and make some bold assumptions. First, we take advice like this literally and think that we have to apply every single idea rigidly to our own journeys. That won’t work. No matter what the right way is to proceed in healing from a painful relationship, it’s important to note that we all move at our own times and in our own ways. What works for one person may not be the right process for you.

Avoid all comparisons and assumptions on your journey away from the pain of your past relationships. For you, it may take years to process. It may take you months. There isn’t a one size fits all solution.

Let yourself heal at your own pace. The acceptance part of the process may be something you have to lean into for weeks. At the same time, you may find yourself ready to move on into distancing or action.

Go with the flow. Listen to your comfort levels, your body, and your heart. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and never fall into the trap of believing your healing journey has to look exactly like anyone else’s.

Remember: You deserve to have a happy ending.

What does your ideal relationship look like? Are you partnered with someone who is kind to you? Someone who makes space and time for their life with you? What do you imagine that “perfect” love will look like? This is your chance to envision it. More than that, this is your chance to accept that it can be yours.

Sacrifices will have to be made first. Namely, you will have to sacrifice the painful relationships and the memory of them. They’re holding you back. They’re keeping you small. What are you going to do? Stay stuck in those cycles? Or will you find the courage to let go so you can have the love you’ve always deserved?

The choice is one that won’t come immediately, but when it does make sure you’re on the right side of it. Love isn’t a fantasy. It’s not a fairy tale. Compassionate, stable relationships are out there waiting for you to step into them.

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Writer | NLPMP | Host of the Practical Growth Pod | Get coaching and recovery resources @ the link.

Pelham, AL

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