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Why It’s So Hard Letting Go of a Relationship

A woman who's having a hard time letting go of a relationship looking off to the distance while thinking.

It’s easy to assume that the person being broken up with has it the hardest at the end of a relationship, but oftentimes it’s the person asking for the breakup who’s had to battle with a hard decision. 

When you love someone but they’re not giving you what you want from the relationship, it can be incredibly hard to walk away from. Before deciding to call things you may tell yourself, “I know this person will never love me the way I love them,” or, “I know I can find someone who appreciates and loves me the way I need.” You know the relationship isn’t working and isn’t making you happy. You know that things aren’t going to change. And yet, you still struggle to pull the trigger and walk away from something you know is hurting you. 

You’re not alone, even if you might feel like you are. Lots of people feel this way at the end of a relationship, and even when you know it’s the right thing to do, walking away from someone is a hard process to start. Don’t get down on yourself for wanting something (or someone) that you know isn’t good for you.

Here’s why it can be so hard to let go of a relationship—and some tips for how to make it slightly easier.

We are creatures of comfort, and we want to be right.
There comes a time in every relationship where you get comfortable. And while some of that entails forgetting to shave occasionally or wearing sweatpants more often, it also means planning vacations ahead of time, inviting your partner home for the holidays, or knowing you’ll have someone there at the end of each day. It’s nice to be able to plan ahead and assume the person that’s currently in your life is always going to be there.

The problem is, this thinking also may stop you from wanting to change things—even if you know it might be the right decision. Sometimes the hardest part of ending a relationship is simply admitting you were “wrong,” and admitting to others (and to yourself) that your current partner isn’t the one after all. This also comes with the difficulty of cancelling future plans, explaining the demise of the relationship to friends and family, moving your stuff out of their place, etc.

Even without the messy emotions, letting go of a relationship can simply be hard based on logistics alone.

The process of dating can be exhausting.
Sometimes, the end of a relationship is exciting. Now you can finally flirt back with that cute barista, or try that new dating app all your friends have been swiping around on.

But if this isn’t your first rodeo, you probably know that after the first few months of initial single excitement, dating can become exhausting, annoying, and sometimes downright depressing.

When we’re considering ending our current relationship, we subconsciously think to ourselves, “Do I really want to have to start from scratch with someone new?”

It sounds awful, but it’s true. And in our current dating culture, with overwhelming dating apps, ghosting, and judgement, most of us don’t find the idea of hitting the dating game again too appealing.

Because of the fear of having to get back out there and go on awkward dates, not to mention the fear that we won’t find someone else (a silly fear, but one that we all have), many of us want to hold on to our current relationship, even if it’s not serving us.

We naturally want someone more when we feel them slipping away.
There comes a point in your dating life where you’re sick of playing games, but unfortunately they can be seriously effective. In fact, studies have shown that many of us actually become more interested in someone when they act less interested (or start pulling away from) us.

While there’s not a surefire way to reverse this brain chemistry, it is helpful to know how your mind works. The next time you feel like you can’t bear to be without your partner, remember that their disinterest (and not your interest) may be the reason you’re feeling so strongly. 

We’re super lonely—and having someone can seem better than having no one.
Data shows that humans are feeling more and more lonely. While it’s not always the solution, many of us have a natural inclination to partner up to combat this loneliness. When we’re stuck in a subpar relationship, it can feel like the smarter decision to stay with someone rather than be alone.

Studies have shown that most people feel the most lonely in their late 20s (due to anxiety over decision-making), their mid-50s (due to the typical mid-life crisis time), and their late 80s (due to health problems and the passing of friends). If you’re in one of these age ranges, your fear of loneliness may be part of what’s holding you hostage in your relationship.

Our culture normalizes relationships as a major life goal.
When you tell someone you just broke up with your significant other, chances are they’ll say, “I’m sorry.” When you tell your grandmother you don’t have a partner to bring home for Christmas for the fifth year in a row, she’ll probably make some joke about how she wants grandkids before she dies.

While our culture is definitely making strides towards normalizing being single, the assumption is still that people in relationships are “winning” while those who are single are hoping for a relationship. Because of this phenomenon, letting go of a relationship can make you feel like a failure. This goes doubly if most of your friends are in relationships, or if your friends and family love your partner and are expecting wedding bells in the future.

Thankfully, our attitudes towards relationships are changing, and the language and standards surrounding the ideal relationship are continuing to change as well.

If you’re having difficulty letting go of a relationship, just know that you’re not alone. Saying goodbye to someone special is (almost) never going to be easy, but with the right self-reflection and support system, you will survive and ultimately find a better and more beautiful relationship. (Even if that relationship is with yourself).

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