Ending a relationship isn’t easy or painless – even when you know it’s over. Here’s how to cope when you feel like you can’t say goodbye but you know you have to. I wrote this article for a reader who knows her relationship has no future, but is having trouble accepting the truth…
“I have strong feelings for a man – we’re not in a relationship anymore but we’re emotionally involved with each other,” says Liz on How to Emotionally Detach From Someone You Care About. “Recently I learned I’m living in denial. Since both of us know it’s not a good idea to stay emotionally involved, we decided to part ways a couple of times last year. But we keep getting back together, resuming contact. He wants to be friends with me – and he has a long distance relationship with a woman. I recently learned they are getting married. He didn’t tell me, a mutual friend spoke of their engagement. This is not a surprise to me but I’m hurt anyway. I realized I’ve been a fool all along. I’m not sure how to let go off this attachment and it makes me insecure about finding such a great connection again with a man. What do you do when you know it’s over but you can’t say goodbye?”
A season of your life has ended. Some seasons are harder to let go of than others – and all seasons have their joys and heartaches. In this article, I describe healthy ways to let go of a relationship that you know is over, but you’re having trouble releasing. I’m drawing on wisdom from the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and King Solomon.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” –Albert Camus.
When You Know It’s Over But You Can’t Say Goodbye
Acceptance of this season in your life is the healthiest and wisest path to healing after a relationship is over. Instead of focusing on the pain and difficulty of trying to say goodbye, I encourage you to focus on acceptance and surrender.
This may feel like a season of death, but it is also a season of healing and renewal.
Take a deep breath and look upwards
Take a moment to notice your body posture. Are you hunched over, frowning, tightened up and curled inside yourself? Are you wound up and tense, grieved and closed? If so, you are normal! This is a typical response to knowing that a relationship is over but not being able to say goodbye. You are holding on to something that is not yours. This relationship is no longer yours, and you need to let it go.
Take a deep breath and slowly let the air escape from your lips. Sit up straight and take another deep breath. lift your chin, looked upward towards the sky or the ceiling for the roof of a subway train you’re sitting on. Look around you. What you see? Who’s there? What is in front of you, and how you interact with it?
Now that you are in a new season of your life, you must of living and seeing. It’s time to find new breath, new life, and new growth. How will you do that? I’m glad you asked!
Look at the past seasons of your life – the people who have come and gone
This isn’t the first relationship that has ended for you, is it? Think back to all the hello’s and goodbye’s you’ve seen in your life. Write about them – tell me about them below, or describe them in your private journal. Take time to reflect on relationships that have ended in your life; look at them as seasons that have come and gone.
This is important, especially when you know a relationship is over but you can’t say goodbye. Your present grief is connected to your past relationships. All your current emotions – the grief, disappointment, denial, reluctance, anger, sadness – are part of the people, places, and experiences you’ve loved and lost in the past. Perhaps you had to say goodbye to your grandfather, mother, or your beloved family dog when you were younger. The losses you are experiencing now will hurt more – and it will be harder to say goodbye – if you did not deal with your past losses and grief in healthy ways.
So, if you’re struggling to say goodbye even though you know it’s over, consider the losses you experienced in your past. It’ll be painful, but ultimately healing. Those losses may be affecting you more than you realize, and it’s only by writing or talking about them that you will begin to understand what’s really going on.
Don’t ignore the signs he doesn’t love you when you know it’s over.
Behold! There is a time for every season, every hello and goodbye
One of my favorite books of the Bible is Ecclesiastes because it talks about the different seasons of life. It’s hard to let go of people we love and relationships that are important, that have become such a big part of our life. It hurts.
Letting go of a relationship is especially painful when we really connect with someone and wonder if we’ll ever feel understood, accepted, and loved again.
The reason you can’t say goodbye even when you know it’s over is because you are clinging to a season that no longer exists. You haven’t accepted that this season of your life is over, and that the time has come to let it go.
A Time for Everything
There is a season (a time appointed) for everything and a time for every delight and event or purpose under heaven –
A time to be born and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to keep silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.
– Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
In nature – and in life – every season is equally important: winter, spring, summer, and fall.
Right now you are in the cold lonely depths of the winter season. It’s when you know a relationship is over but you can’t say goodbye that you feel lonelier and colder than ever before. This is when you need to tell yourself that this season, too, shall pass.
Learn how happy, healthy people say goodbye
Happy people see the seasons of their lives – and finish their life stories – on a joyful note of gratitude and appreciation.
In What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better, psychologist Dan Baker says that instead of going over and over what they’ve lost, happy people focus on what they’ve gained. He recalls a woman who reminisced fondly about her deceased husband: “I said something along the lines of what a good man he must have been. ‘No way,’ she said. ‘He was a womanizer and a drunk. A real pain in the butt. But we had more love than most people ever dream of.’”
Baker adds that appreciation is the first and most fundamental tool of happiness. Appreciation is the purest, strongest form of love. It is the outward-bound kind of love that asks for nothing and gives everything. And, research shows that it is physiologically impossible to be in a state of gratitude and a state of fear at the same time.
Accept the end of this season
“Acceptance – whether we believe in God or not – allows us to move into the fullness of joy,” writes the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams in The Book of Joy – Lasting Happiness in a Changing World.
“Acceptance allows us to engage with life on its own terms rather than rail against the fact that life is not as we would wish. It allows us not to struggle against the day-to-day current.
The Dalai Lama had told us that stress and anxiety come from our expectations of how life should be. When we are able to accept that life is how it is, not as we think it should be, we are able to ease the ride, to go from that bumpy axle with all its suffering, stress, anxiety, and dissatisfaction, to the smooth axle with its greater ease, comfort, and happiness.”
When you know it’s over but you can’t say goodbye, remember the Dalai Lama’s words:
“So many of the causes of suffering come from our reacting to the people, places, things, and circumstances in our lives, rather than accepting them,” he says in The Book of Joy. “When we react, we stay locked in judgment and criticism, anxiety and despair, even denial and addiction. It is impossible to experience joy when we are stuck this way. Acceptance is the sword that cuts through all of this resistance, allowing us to relax, to see clearly, and to respond appropriately.”
If you aren’t sure if your relationship is over, you might find Is Your Marriage Over? 6 Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore helpful.
Say goodbye with love, forgiveness, and peace
The time has come for you to stop saying that you can’t say goodbye. It’s time for you to accept that this relationship is over. It had its joys and heartaches, its happiness and sadness, its ups and downs, its peaks and valleys. It was what it was, and it no longer is.
Yes, you can say goodbye with love, peace, and even joy – especially if you learn how to say goodbye in healthy ways. You can find forgiveness if you need to forgive. You can find compassionate if you need to go gentle on yourself or others. You can find love even as you end a relationship. And you can find life even in the depths of this winter season.
What say you, dear reader? Feel free to tell me your story in the comments section below. I can’t offer advice and I have no solutions, but you may feel better if you write about your experience. What does it feel like to know a relationship is over? Why do you think you can’t say goodbye?
Help When You Know It’s Over But Can’t Say Goodbye
In 3 Powerful Secrets and 75 Tips for Healing Your Heart, I share practical, helpful tips for healing after a breakup and saying goodbye even when you feel like you can’t let go of a relationship.
In this ebook, you’ll find:
- 3 powerful secrets for letting go of someone you love
- 75 tips for taking specific action towards healing your heart
To write this ebook, I interviewed life coaches, counselors, and grief coaches. I summarized everything I learned about letting go of someone you love, processing the pain of a breakup, and grieving the end of a relationship.
Most of this ebook consists of practical, helpful, effective tips from the counselors and life coaches I interviewed. I also included 15 stories of the actual struggles people face when letting go.
In Coming Apart- Why Relationships End and How to Live Through the Ending of Yours, Daphne Rose Kingma says that next to the death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship is the most painful experience most people will ever go through.
Coming Apart is a first-aid kit for getting through the loss when you know it’s over but you can’t say goodbye. This book will help you live through the end of your relationship with your self-esteem intact.
In this book, you’ll learn:
- Love myths – and why we’re in really in relationships
- The life span of love
- The emotional and unconscious processes of saying goodbye when it’s over
- How to get through the ending of a relationship
Originally published in 1987, and continuously in print since then, with more than half a million copies sold, Coming Apart has been an important resource for hundreds of thousands of readers experiencing the pain and stress of a breakup.
A Blessing for You
May you find hope and healing, life and light. May your goodbye be filled with acceptance and peace, and may you end this season of your life in healthy and even joyful ways.
And may you be filled with the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding.
Is your relationship in trouble? Get 7 Steps to Fixing Your Marriage from relationship coach Mort Fertel. It's free and helpful, no strings attached.
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