Walking away from a meaningful relationship is always going to be difficult. When it wasn’t your decision, a break up can be even harder.
But no two situations are exactly the same. Sometimes, people are oblivious that their partner is unhappy in their relationship, whereas in other cases, there are tensions bubbling under the surface for a long time before things reach a breaking point.
If you’ve ever been through a break up, you’ll know it took a while to feel like yourself again. It’s one of the most traumatic things that can happen in our adult lives — but we still embark on new relationships, because the pay-off is worth it despite the risks.
When something threatens our connections, primal feelings can fire up, and a break up can feel so devastating thanks to how we’re wired both biologically and psychologically.
Here are reasons it’s so hard to let go, even if the relationship was totally wrong for you in the first place.
1. You’re lonely.
Put simply, one of the main reasons you’re not letting go of a past relationship is because you’re lonely right now, said Erika Ettin, a relationship coach and founder of A Little Nudge.
“Rather than pining over someone who wasn’t right for you, focus on yourself,” she said. “Get back into hobbies you used to do, treat yourself to something that makes you happy, and get back in touch with friends who you haven’t seen in a while. It’s much better to be single than to be with the wrong person.”
2. You see their social media.
Immediately after a break up, you’re likely to still be connected to each other on social media. Ettin said this isn’t a good idea.
“Unblock, unfriend, un-everything,” she said. “In this case, ignorance is bliss. Online stalking can get out of hand. Don’t do it.”
In time, you may be able to be friends. But don’t try to rush it. If you’re meant to be in each other’s lives, it will happen naturally. So don’t worry about burning bridges — look after yourself first.
3. You lost confidence during the relationship.
If you were with someone who was bad for you, your confidence may have taken quite a knock while you were together.
“Sometimes in the wrong relationship, your confidence can be taken down a step, especially if your partner put you down or otherwise didn’t appreciate the amazing person you are,” said Ettin. “Then, after taking you down, getting their validation was even more special. So you’re craving that validation. Now it’s time to look inward for that validation.”
4. You only remember the good times.
In the midst of a break up, you’re likely to only focus on the good times you and your ex had.
“Relationships are complicated, and sometimes when we’re sad, we want to forget about all of the issues and see the relationship through rose-colored glasses,” Ettin said. “Assuming you broke up for valid reasons, it won’t help to dwell on the good that was there.”
5. You haven’t learned to let go.
Niels Eek, a physiologist and cofounder of the mental wellbeing and personal development app Remente, said learning to let go is one of the most important steps to take in order to relieve yourself of a relationship, especially if it was toxic.
“You must accept that everyone makes mistakes and that these are now in the past,” he said. “Think instead about what you can take away from the situation. While it may be difficult at first, the more you practice compassion and understanding, the easier this process will become.”
6. Humans are a social species.
Humans are also a social species, said Eek, so you can find it hard to walk away from people, even if they’re wrong for you.
“Research by the London School of Economics found that the key to happiness wasn’t found in wealth, but rather in having good mental health and friendships,” he said. “Without relationships, we can start to feel lonely, which can then develop into depression and anxiety.”
7. You’re afraid of being alone.
Many people are scared of ever being alone, Eek said, which makes your attachment to a previous relationship even stronger.
“A study found that individuals who don’t like to be single, think with far greater intensity about their ex-partner than people who are better at handling being one their own,” he said.
8. You didn’t get closure.
People can obsess over their exes for various reasons, Eek said, including the fact you’re unlikely to ever get closure. This can give people “an inability to understand a situation, and the feeling of helplessness in not having any power to change it,” he said.
The truth is, when someone hurts you, you’re not going to like any of the reasons why it happened. So racking your mind for explanations isn’t going to help you in the long run. It’s best to try and let it go.
9. You can’t stop ruminating.
On a similar note, sometimes it’s hard not to replay the past over and over in your head.
“People keep ruminating over a situation to try and find a solution, or might be seeking validation from people around them if they feel victimised,” said Eek. “A study in 2008 found that rejection is often connected to rumination, or perpetually thinking about an ex-partner.”
Rumination is often associated with anxiety disorders and depression, he said, and can prevent people from acknowledging and dealing with their emotions, as they try fixate on the situation instead of trying to understand their feelings that the situation has caused.
10. You’re grieving the potential that was in that relationship.
Shannon Thomas, a licensed therapist and author, said people often grieve the potential that was in their past relationships.
“The unmet hopes we had for what could maybe have developed with that person,” she said. “All the plans we had together that never went anywhere. Our daydreams are fueled by the lingering thoughts of ‘if only…’ This takes place even if we are not consciously aware but the thoughts creep into our subconscious level.”
11. You’re mulling over regrets.
You might find yourself thinking about all the choices you made and things you said before the break up, essentially regretting every tiny mistake you both made.
“People find themselves mulling over regrets like, if only the other person had learned to manage their anger instead of raging or being passive-aggressive,” Thomas said. “If only we had wanted the same things out of the relationship. If only the good, fun times together had lasted longer. Frequently, unhealthy connections also include great moments that at that time gave us hope that all would be okay in the relationship. After the break up, it’s very easy to allow our thoughts to drift to regrets and unmet wishes.”
12. You’re going through repetition compulsion.
“You’re trying to fix something from your past,” she said. “Sometimes we feel compelled to fix a mistake in a relationship earlier in life. The problem is, we choose people who may not want to or cannot change. Even if we’re unaware of this compulsion. If we feel this need to fix that mistake, it’s hard to have closure over an ex.”