5 Steps to Move On and Let Go of a Past Relationship

emotional life healthy relationships self-compassion Jun 04, 2021
woman who went through a breakup looking sad and looking into her phone


Moving on… it takes time. And yet it isn't simply a matter of time. It's a matter of coming to terms with the person and the relationship you shared. It's about no longer living in the mental prison of the coulda shoulda wouldas and memories of the past. It's about integrating the past experience into your self-identity, without forcing it to do so, so that you can welcome newer and richer experiences into your life.
Here are 5 steps to help yourself move on and let go with gentleness and without force.

1. Acknowledge and feel your feelings.


The 1st and most important step to moving on and letting go is to acknowledge and work with your feelings. This includes feelings from the beginning of the relationship, the middle of the relationship, and the end of the relationship. All of these feelings accumulate into what some call “baggage”. In your baggage, you might have hurt, you might have guilt, you might have anger, you might have regret, you might have hate, grief, and fear. Everyone’s baggage is a little different, but the thing that's true about baggage no matter who you are is that as long as you're tucking it away and pretending it's not there it will continue to rule your words, your actions, and your life.

That's what makes acknowledging and opening yourself up to your feelings the absolute most important step to moving on from a past relationship. Whatever your feelings are, they need to be felt. And if you haven't let yourself feel them yet, be careful not to assume that you're lacking in some way. Oftentimes the feelings we harbor from our closest relationships are really difficult to feel. They’re often rooted in present situations that have a basis in past experiences and they tend to be quite heavy- so it’s no surprise that you may not jump at the chance to feel them all.
There are many reasons why a relationship may not work out. From my experience with clients, here are a few feelings that tend to surface in relationships.
  • Hurt about a partner who cheated/ dishonesty/ trust issues in the relationship
  • Dealing with things from the past
  • Partners who are manipulative, controlling, or demanding
  • Partners who are unappreciative
  • Knowing the partner is “no good for me” but wanting to be with them anyway
  • Feeling confused about my partner… they’re a good match in some ways but not others
  • Unhealthy communication or a lack of communication in the relationship
  • The love in the relationship has faded/ we’ve grown apart
  • Conflict in values/desires
  • One partner doesn’t want to commit
  • Lack of intimacy or sexual chemistry
  • Conflict and arguments in the relationship that can’t be resolved
These are important life challenges, right? And it’s no wonder they can be quite heavy and difficult to feel and process on your own. That’s why I often say it's such a gift to talk to someone like a therapist or a coach during this time (and always, if you’re able), to cry if you need to cry endlessly for days, to take time off of work if you need to in order to process what you're feeling, and if you need to be a mess for a little while, letting yourself be a mess for a little while. Sometimes we need to be messy before we can find some semblance of “normal” again.

2. Get the answers you need.

Oftentimes we have trouble moving on from past relationships because we lack the closure that we hoped we’d get. There are things we wanted to say or things we wanted to ask and find out that we didn't quite have a chance to ask and find out. These unspoken words and unexpressed emotions can really carry themselves with us for a long period of time so it's important that we create an opportunity for ourselves to express what we want to express and to get the answers we need to get.
Depending on your situation this might take place in a number of different ways. You might start with journaling about the questions that you have for your previous partner. You might also vent to your friend about something that you really want to yet don't know about why your relationship ended, why your partner felt the way they did, or why things didn't work out when it looked like they were going to for a while.
Just as your emotions need to be expressed, your questions do too. So if your situation allows for you to have a conversation with your previous partner then consider when might be a good time to have a conversation based on how you're feeling and healing.
Keep in mind that the answer might come in many forms. When I think back to my former relationships, there have been answers that came in really beautiful back and forth conversations with a lot of care and love contained within them. There have also been answers in the form of silence. Either way, I gained a new understanding when I was ready to. I encourage you to do the same... seek the answers you need and be open to whatever form they may come to you in.
If it comes in the form of a conversation, then you have a specific response to your question that you can take with you and that will contribute to your understanding. If your previous partner avoids your request for answers, that too can contribute to your understanding of what happened in the relationship and perhaps what led to it ending. Our behavior says a lot about how we're feeling and it's no different when we're seeking answers and hoping that someone will provide them. We get answers from reaching out, we get answers from the response that's provided and how it's provided, and we also get answers from the journey that follows us seeking and making meaning from the answers that we wanted.
Which brings me to #3…

3. Take the journey inward.

I often say that relationships are the main form of personal development that we encounter in life. Relationships are our main training ground for love, care, understanding, conflict management, and all of the things that we really need to know to be apt humans. So when it comes to a failed relationship it's really important that part of our healing is to take a journey inward into ourselves. Now that we've asked questions of the other person it's time to ask questions of ourselves.
Relationships are our main training ground for love, care, understanding, conflict management, and all of the things that we really need to know to be apt humans.
What attracted you to your partner? What didn’t work out? What does this tell you about what you want more of and what you want less of in a future partner?
What qualities were you drawn to initially? What qualities and experiences caused you to stay?
What were the patterns that you brought into the relationship? What might you want to spend some time reflecting on before considering a new relationship?
What’s your self-esteem like? Were you able to set boundaries when needed? Were you able to be an individual within the couple?
What your answers to these questions will do is they will allow you to learn from the experience you just went through. They will allow you to come out of it better than you came into it. They will allow you to learn the lessons necessary to become the next best version of you that is able and ready to meet and connect with the next suitable person for you.
I know you must be curious about #s 4 and 5 after reading #s 1 - 3. So I invite you to join us in my virtual community, The Happiness Hub, for all 5 steps of moving on and letting go of a past relationship… that, and weekly lessons in a whole host of topics around creating happiness in ourselves and in our relationships.
I will see you there!

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