Letting go of someone you’ve loved can be exquisitely hard to do for many people. If you’ve been taken by surprise, if you’ve been misleading yourself about how they feel or if you’ve been lied to, full recovery can seem just out of reach. It’s so human to torture yourself wondering what happened, is there something wrong with you and what could you have done differently? The lingering mystery of “why me” can infiltrate and discourage the beginnings of new relationships. People can take years to untangle themselves from a lost love.

Life is about making loss bearable. Whether we lose our ability to be on the planet or our children grow up or we lose out on a relationship, we have to learn to cope with loss. While you may still feel the spark and you have to deal with the reality that the other person doesn’t.

There are a million reasons why people leave. You may never really understand why the other person left because they withhold the truth so as not to hurt you. The only part you can try to understand is yours. Did you ignore the subtle clues that the other person was ambivalent? Did you stop paying attention to what was important to the other person that you didn’t care about? Did you listen to their differences with respect? Were the two of you able to talk about hard things or did the unspoken pile up? When bad things happened did you share it and support each other? Did you take each other for granted? And last but far from least ask yourself did either of you lose respect for the other person? These are the questions you can try to answer with fearless honesty. When you grapple with the answers then you can bring what you learn to the next relationship.

One technique that can be helpful for closure is to write a goodbye letter. Actually, two letters might be useful. The first can be an unedited dump that you then shred, burn or destroy. The second letter can be thoughtful and explore both the good and bad parts of the relationship. Write your favorite memories. Write what you miss. Write about how you grew and changed from being in love. Acknowledge the differences. Then try to take responsibility for your part in the problems, because it always takes two to kill off a relationship. Include your hurt, sadness and sense of betrayal. Tell them what you wish for them in their next relationship. Try to cover anything that will help you to say goodbye and begin to move on. Then read it aloud to a really good friend who will be a witness and listen. Then you need to remove pictures and anything that will trigger your obsessing. For example, if they changed the brand of toothpaste you use, change back to what you used to brush with.

Wait a week or so, then decide if you want to send them the letter or not. Ask the friend who listened what they think of the idea. Ask yourself will the letter help you to recognize this is the end of the relationship or are you using the letter towards building false hope?

If you are obsessing, you must possess yourself with something else that truly matters. Obsessing is a way to hang on and pretend it could have been different. Finally, remember that Carl Whitaker said, “Hope is often disappointment deferred.” It is crucial to extinguish hope and to face the reality that they will not return.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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