15 Tips for Letting Go of a Relationship That Is Not Healthy

Person with long hair wearing jacket and shorts sits alone on mountaintop looking into distanceEnding a relationship can be incredibly difficult no matter how toxic it is. Part of this is for simple biological reasons, as some scientific studies have shown that being in love activates the same areas of the brain as being high on cocaine.

Brain scans of lovers and people experiencing cocaine addiction both display increased activity in the pleasure centers of the brain (most notably the dopamine centers) and decreased activity in the frontal lobe, which is the area responsible for cognition. This means that while falling in love can make us feel good, it can also profoundly affect our judgment.

It is for this reason that love can sometimes be compared to an addiction. In love, much like addiction, there may be negative side effects such as abuse or gaslighting. But despite all of those bad circumstances, it can still be difficult to kick the romantic attraction and feelings of love.

If you find yourself feeling trapped in a relationship you know is not healthy, consider these 15 tips for letting go of it for good:

1. Recognize the Problem

Awareness is the first step.  Educate yourself or consider talking to a therapist or counselor about what constitutes an unhealthy relationship. Take a good, hard, and objective look at your relationship and be honest with yourself.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is this relationship serving my highest good?
  • Is this relationship negatively impacting other areas of my life?
  • Is this relationship detrimental to my self-esteem?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider ending or talking to a professional about the relationship.

2. Allow Yourself to Feel

Letting go is usually not easy. It can be painful to end a relationship even if the relationship was not serving your highest good. Honor any feelings of grief you may have, and allow yourself to feel those emotions rather than attempting to suppress them. Accept grief as a part of the experience, and allow yourself the time you need to heal.

3. Discover the Lesson

Many people who move on from a toxic relationship feel guilt or shame as they perceive the time they spent in the relationship as a waste. However, every person who comes into our lives can teach us something. Rather than looking at your relationship as wasted time, try to find the lesson in it. What did this person teach you? What are you taking away from the relationship? How have you changed as a person, and how might you do things differently next time?

In life, lessons may often be repeated until they are learned. Look for the lesson from this relationship and you may be less likely to carry the same lesson over into your next relationship.

4. Create Separation

It can be hard to distance yourself from someone you’re used to spending so much time with, but it is usually necessary if you want to move on from the relationship. This doesn’t mean you can’t maintain a friendship with your ex, but it’s usually best to allow some time for both parties to heal before you try to spend time together as friends.

5. Let Go of the Mementos

It can be tempting to hang on to all the old relics of a past relationship. Doing so, however, may prevent you from moving on with your life. If you must keep the old love letters, movie ticket stubs, photos, or romantic gifts, you may want to store them somewhere out of sight until you’re ready to move on.

6. Take Off Your Love Goggles

Love often has a way of clouding your perception, which sometimes makes it difficult to a see someone for who they really are. If you really want to get out of an unhealthy relationship, you must be willing to take off your love goggles and look at the person objectively. Consider talking with a close family member or friend or even finding a therapist to help you look at the relationship impartially.

It isn’t uncommon to only hold on to the good memories of an ex and completely shut out the bad memories. Maintain your perspective by remembering both sides of the experience. Remind yourself of the good times, but don’t forget those bad times or you could end up forgetting why you ended the relationship in the first place.

7. Compose a Letter to Your Ex

Consider writing out all your feelings in a letter, even if you have no intention of sending it. You can choose to give this letter to your former partner or destroy it when you’re finished. The point of the letter is to allow you to release your feelings. Writing or journaling can help you reflect on the relationship as a whole, while giving you a way to further your mental and emotional wellness.

8. Focus On Empowering Yourself

Try your best to shift focus off the relationship and back to yourself. Consider trying new things or putting your energy into a hobby you’ve neglected. Remembering why the relationship was unhealthy and focusing on what it is you do want in a relationship can be empowering.

Most importantly, work on your relationship with yourself. Focus on cultivating self-love and respect. Remind yourself that you are worthy of love and that you deserve a healthy relationship.

9. Rewrite Your Story

We often tend to place the weight of our identities into our self-professed life stories. We believe we are what we continually tell ourselves. Examine your story and rewrite it in a more empowering way to start making positive changes in your life.

If you continually tell yourself you lost your soul mate and you’re destined to be alone, you might struggle to hang on to a relationship that is no longer serving you. Reframe your story and consider the fact this relationship may have just been one step on the journey toward an even better relationship in the future.

10. Practice Forgiveness

Release any feelings of guilt or regret you have surrounding the relationship. Forgive yourself for anything that happened in the past because you can no longer change it. You can only move forward and learn from it.

Be willing to forgive your former partner as well. Let go of any resentment you have regarding the relationship. Look at your partner with compassion and empathy and understand that all humans are susceptible to mistakes.

11. Live in the Present Moment

Life exists in the present moment. Choose to live in the present rather than getting lost in nostalgia. Often, people stay in a relationship that is no longer healthy because they are clinging to the past. Judge your relationship based on how it is at present rather than how it once was.

12. Accept What Is

We must be able to accept things as they are if we want to move forward. Many people remain in relationships that are unhealthy hoping they can somehow change their partner. It is important to remember you cannot change anyone, especially if they have no willingness to change themselves. If the relationship isn’t working for you, then you have the choice to leave and move on. That is something you can change.

13. Contribute to a Cause You Care About

If you’re having trouble letting go of the past, consider getting involved in a cause you feel passionate about. Doing this can not only occupy your time and mind as you process feelings and let go of the relationship, but it can also help shift your focus to something bigger than yourself. Studies have shown volunteering can significantly improve overall well-being. This can provide perspective and help you feel good as you also help your community.

14. Practice Self-Care

Most importantly, work on your relationship with yourself. Focus on cultivating self-love and respect. Remind yourself that you are worthy of love and that you deserve a healthy relationship.Letting go isn’t easy, and it isn’t uncommon to forget our own physical and emotional health after a painful breakup. The grief can be overwhelming and we may start to neglect our own needs.

Help yourself by choosing to practice self-care every day. Get plenty of rest. Eat nutritious food. Indulge. Take a hot bath. Get a massage. Whatever it is, just do something to meet your personal needs.

Furthermore, practice self-compassion. Moving on can be a big and scary step, so be gentle with yourself as you heal and create a new life after this relationship.

15. Embrace the Impermanence of Life

Forever is a misleading term. The only constant that exists in life is change. Despite our efforts to the contrary, we truly cannot hold on to anything in life forever. Everything—friends, family, and relationships—come and eventually go.

When it comes time for something to end, rather than clinging to what no longer is, realize impermanence is the nature of life and try to embrace it. Appreciate the good moments you had, cherish those memories, and let them go in exchange for new experiences.

Know When to Ask for Help

The first few moments, days, or weeks following a breakup can seem debilitating. For some, ending a relationship means a loss of identity, support, and normalcy. Ending a relationship—even a toxic one—can be incredibly challenging and emotionally draining. However, you do not have to do it alone. Know when to seek support if you need it.

If feelings of grief, shame, guilt, or other negative emotions persist and begin affecting your daily life after a relationship ends, consider finding a qualified therapist or counselor who can help you process and acknowledge your feelings in a healthy way. A qualified mental health professional can help you examine the past relationship in a safe place free of judgement while you work toward achieving a more complete sense of self after the relationship has ended.

Even if you feel like there is no hope after severing an important tie in your life, remember you can heal and you deserve a healthy relationship that meets your needs and complements you and your happiness.

References:

  1. Lahat, I. (2014, July 9). The brain looks the same when we’re in love or high on cocaine. Retrieved from http://www.businessinsider.com/the-brain-looks-the-same-high-on-love-or-cocaine-2014-7
  2. Tabassum, F., Mohan, J., & Smith, P. (2016). Association of volunteering with mental well-being: A lifecourse analysis of a national population-based longitudinal study in the UK. BMJ Open, 6(8). doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-011327

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  • 23 comments
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  • Nancy Jo

    Nancy Jo

    August 29th, 2016 at 8:41 AM

    Putting some distance between yourself and that failing relationship is the best policy.
    How are you ever supposed to get over someone when you still see them or run into them everyday?
    This is a no brainer- stay away

  • Leslie

    Leslie

    August 29th, 2016 at 10:17 AM

    I did the compose a letter thing, only I did it via email. I never did send it but man oh man I wanted to.
    But my therapist advised against it.

    Anyway I just put down all the ways I had loved him and the multiple ways that he had let me down. It was good for me to actually see all of that in black and white and helped me to understand that although I was not without fault, this break up had just as much to do with the things he did wrong as the things I did wrong.

    That was very helpful to me

  • alex

    alex

    August 29th, 2016 at 3:05 PM

    Can anyone please explain to me why the toxic people in our lives are quite often the hardest ones to let go of?

  • Aubrey

    Aubrey

    April 5th, 2018 at 8:03 PM

    I second that…..it does seem to be the case.maybe cause we have looked at the relationship as a challenge and when all fails we hold ourselves personally accountable. And we self consciously feel we can “fix” them….which is I suppose a somewhat egotistical idea?

  • Sylvie

    Sylvie

    August 29th, 2016 at 6:19 PM

    I am so torn because I know that I should break things off with this guy I’m seeing but I don’t know, it’s like what we have together has this hold over me and I can’t seem to face being without him.

    There are some things that we do that are not the best together, I will say that much but it still feels like there is this connection, and I don’t know, I want to let him go but there is a part of me that just can’t do it.

  • Nora

    Nora

    February 16th, 2018 at 10:07 AM

    OMG! I so needed to hear that I am not the only one feeling exactly like this. So conflicting and anxiety-provoking!
    I see that you posted a while ago. I hope you’re in a better place in regards to this person.

  • Avery

    Avery

    August 30th, 2016 at 10:27 AM

    Well there was one guy that I broke up with and i burned EVERY SINGLE THING that he had veer given to me. It was great, I got such pleasure in seeing hundreds of dollars worth of stuff that he had paid for going up in flames.

    Call me sadistic, but he really hurt me, broke my heart, and that just felt like what I needed to do to be able to move forward.

  • danna S

    danna S

    August 30th, 2016 at 2:14 PM

    When I got a divorce I felt like I had to be so strong for the kids that I did not allow myself to grieve the end of the relationship nor did I ever fully process all of the hurt and betrayal that I felt. It has all come back at such unfortunate times now years later that I feel like I am reliving the whole nightmare even though it was years ago. I would have probably been much better off letting myself feel it then instead of choosing to bury it, and I might have a normal life now. But instead all I can think about what might have been and ugh, that gets too depressing.

  • Brynn

    Brynn

    August 31st, 2016 at 11:24 AM

    The most difficult thing for many people to accomplish is actually getting to a point where they can clearly see that this is not a good or healthy relationship to be a part of anymore.

    I think that often once you can come to that moment it is a little easier to make peace with that loss than it is up until that moment.

    Most of us will hang on for way too long to something that is ephemeral, isn’t there in reality anymore just because this is what we have known for so long and it is hard to think of anything or anyone different.

  • Em

    Em

    September 3rd, 2016 at 9:11 AM

    Do you think that it is too simplistic to say that all in all the worst relationship that I was ever in was the one that ultimately taught me the most about myself?

  • Claire

    Claire

    September 6th, 2016 at 2:07 PM

    Even though my husband is the love of my life there are still times when I have to take off those love goggles and not allow the feelings that I have for him cloud my judgement/. There has been a time when I thought that he could do no wrong, but he is human just like the rest of us and I have to sometimes make a concerted effort to understand that he is going to make mistakes and misjudgements just like the rest of us do. We are still newlyweds so I want everything to be perfect but I am also learning that life is not all about what you only see through those rose colored glasses.

  • HH

    HH

    December 14th, 2016 at 12:33 PM

    Easier said than done.

  • Que

    Que

    January 16th, 2017 at 5:46 PM

    I just don’t know how things can be so great yet so horrible. We just can’t communicate..it’s like we’re just try to out beat the other instead of come together and understand each other. It just doesn’t make sense anymore and I think it’s time to finally part ways but it’s not that easy.

  • John

    John

    June 10th, 2017 at 10:04 AM

    Que what ended up happening and are you a male or female?

  • pay

    pay

    April 12th, 2017 at 2:01 PM

    i dont know why i cant just let him go and he keeps trying but hurting me… so much

  • Amay

    Amay

    September 18th, 2017 at 12:46 PM

    I’m here cause i’m honestly working on moving. been dating this guy for two years. He hit me 4times in a period of 2years. I decided to end things about a week ago but it’s so hard. I keep crying myself to sleep. I feel so stupid. i did not leave when i had the chance. Been reading articles about moving on but nothiing really works. I’m an artist , i try to paint to keep myself busy but it seems everything reminds me about him. I’m honestly torn. I hide from my friends and family because most of them keep giving me the i told you so attitude. It honestly hurts me. I need help, i can’t do this on my own. This has been my longest relationship and i feel like i lost the love of my life, Only thing is he isnt worth crying over.

  • Jac

    Jac

    October 19th, 2017 at 10:40 PM

    I know the guy I’m in a relationship doesn’t deserve me and he will never change, I hope I can take these helpful tips and apply them to my journey of letting go. I know it’s time. I’m glad I finally see that I’m not the only person in the world experiencing these problems.

  • Al A.

    Al A.

    November 14th, 2017 at 11:20 AM

    I have the tools but I still look at only the good in the time I was there2zka

  • Ken

    Ken

    January 17th, 2018 at 3:26 PM

    i came across this site. im leaving my partner after 8 years. i always thought that i couldnt live without him but the thing is i cant live with a liar or a cheater. Clinging on to God is the only thing that took the pain away.. i would go in my room and scream to the top of my lungs for hours and cry untill i couldnt feel the pain anymore after that didnt work but so many times. i turned to God and begged him to take away the pain. I told him that i wouldnt put myself in another situation like this again. We broke up a week after my birthday its been almost 2months. im definitely not fully healed. i still have my days where i wanna just cry but i know there was nothing i did wrong. one thing ive learned is you cant change people. they have to want to change for themselves. Another thing is i had so much trust and faith inside this guy i had more faith in him then i had in myself. i built who i was around him. Biggest mistake we all make. we cant give people this much power and allow our identity to be lost in some jackasses hands. For everyone thats reading this i pray that you make it out of whatever you are going thru right now. God is undefeated. Lean on to him.

  • Anonymously Torn

    Anonymously Torn

    April 25th, 2018 at 1:22 PM

    Ken, I am so sorry you went through, what you went through. I hope you are healing, one day at a time. I have been feeling very used, and lied to, and I still stay, because this has by far, been the hardest relationship to date. I am praying for you.

  • lis l

    lis l

    January 23rd, 2018 at 10:56 AM

    its crazy to see how many people are in toxic relationships now days I to have been in toxic abusive relationships and its a no win game there all they do is take from you and disrespect you in every way possible.i spent ten years and had a child with him.we have been broken up for four years and i have completely let him go in my heart and all i feel is freedom from that era in my life.with that being said im in yet another toxic relationship yet again this one no physical or verbal abuse but a lot of emotional abandonment from him hes become cold as ice. He has an ex that he shares a child with that controls his every move and it has totally taken its toll on our relationship.I know its reached **** near its end but yet i don’t want to let go but i do have my own process of letting one go that works for me but takes some time.one thing i have learned though is it is definitely harder to hold onto something that no longer remains between the v two of you then it is to get go in the long run.still the struggle is real when matters of the heart are involved.

  • Anonymously Torn

    Anonymously Torn

    April 25th, 2018 at 11:32 AM

    Well, In my 38 years of life and doing all the ‘wrong’ in past relationships, I married a woman who has continuously tried me, and done me wrong. KARMA is a *****! She blames my attitude, on pushing her unhappiness, and reaching/seeking out other people from the past, but, she could have just left, and saved the drama. I am constantly internally fighting myself. I know what I bring to the table, however, am terrified of letting go. I feel lost. I don’t know how to put my foot down, and get my inner song back.

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    The GoodTherapy.org Team

    April 25th, 2018 at 11:54 AM

    Thank you for your comment. If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, http://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area. If you’re looking for a counselor that practices a specific type of therapy, or who deals with specific concerns, you can make an advanced search by clicking here: http://www.goodtherapy.org/advanced-search.html

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