Why You Can't Let Go Of Your Ex (And How To Finally Do It)

Written by Shelly Bullard, MFT

A lovely woman recently emailed me with a question that I'd like to address on a larger scale. She asked, "Shelly, why am I painfully going back-and-forth with my ex-boyfriend? Why can't I just move on?! My heart aches when I think about the life I'm missing out on because I'm holding onto something that doesn't make me happy. Please help me understand why I just can't let go."

Wow. This is a big question. Ladies, you probably know what she's talking about. Many of us have been there before.

If you've ever had the experience of feeling caught in a relationship, then this article might be for you. I'm going to discuss why it can be hard for us to leave our partners (even when we know it's the right thing to do), and how to make it through to the other side.

To begin, we have to understand the heart.

The simple and complicated truth is this: Once your heart deeply connects with another person, it can be very difficult to let him go. So difficult, in fact, that even if you know he's not the right person for you, you still hang on because the depth of connection is so strong.

This connection may only be felt in moments. Or perhaps it was felt years ago and hasn't surfaced in awhile. Unfortunately, none of that matters. All that does is the fact that the heart connection existed, and because of this it's hard to say goodbye.

Women remain attached to the person they've experienced the deepest sense of love with so far. We accept this love, even if it comes with a ton of hardship. We accept it, even if the person doesn't feel like good fit.

I personally don't like to pathologize this process; I don't think it's a simple self-esteem issue. Yes, of course, when you love yourself you won't tolerate being treated less than magnificently. But I also know that it's more complicated than that.

I think in most cases this scenario exemplifies the strength and conviction of the heart.

We all have the capacity to feel deep love. When we exchange this deep love with others, we see them in an incredible light. This is called unconditional love.

If you've ever shared a moment of unconditional love with someone, then you know how powerful the bond is. Unconditional love allows you to overlook human flaws, which is part of the magnificence of the experience.

That perfect moment is bliss! And, this perfection is not the whole story of the relationship.

The other stuff — the flaws, the humanity, the reality of whether or not the relationship works — are important details, too. Ones that get overshadowed by moments of pure, deep love.

Yes, you may have loved your ex unconditionally.

Yes, you saw him at his best!

Yes, those moments were damn, f-ing good!

And, yes, it's true, he might not be the right man for you.

This is one of the most difficult learning experiences in relationships. Luckily, there's a way through to the other side. Follow these steps to finally let him go:

1. Find love within yourself.

The love within you will be your rock as you begin to separate from the love you felt outside of yourself, in him.

You will have moments of wanting to go back to him; in these moments you must call upon your strength within. Without it, it's going to be very difficult to say goodbye.

(For more information about self-love, check out my article: The One Thing All Relationships Need to Succeed)

2. Grieve.

I know you don't want to, but there's no skipping this step. Saying goodbye to someone you love is sad. It is. So cry. Cry a lot.

Luckily, if you feel unconditional love for your ex, that feeling never goes away. While the form of your relationship will change, your care for him will not. Remember that.

3. You have to know (it's called faith, sister) that you can feel a deep connection with another man, too.

You can love again! You can go further and deeper into love than you've ever been before. You just have to let go first, then the new love can come in.

I know you're scared that you may never feel a love that strong again. But trust me, you can and you will. Faith will take you a long way. Don't lose sight of what you want.

4. Feel your next man before he arrives.

While I think rebounds are dangerous (that's a whole other article), I also think there's a way to usher yourself out of a relationship that no longer serves you. And that's by imagining your next man before he arrives. It's much easier to leave a relationship when you have something better to look forward to (it sounds awful, but it's true).

Ask yourself, "What type of man do I want to be with? What does he feel like? How is the relationship different than this?"

Then, when you get a clear picture of him, fantasize! I'm serious!

Imagining how good your next relationship will be, will make it easier for you to leave your current situation. The (imaginary) next man is helpful in getting us out of situations that no longer feel right.

I know how hard this predicament is; I know you've struggled and you're ready to let go. Trust me, you can. We all deserve to be in relationships that feel good to us.

If you've outgrown your relationship, I highly recommend practicing self-love, allowing yourself to grieve, strengthening your faith and imagining your next man before he arrives. These steps will help you say goodbye to the man that you once loved, and say hello to the next love of your life.

If you have ever struggled with leaving an ex, please leave a comment below telling us how you made it through the process. Let's all support one another in finding the love that we really want.

Shelly Bullard, MFT
Shelly Bullard, MFT
Shelly Bullard, MFT, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, Love Coach and Spiritual Teacher. She's the...
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Shelly Bullard, MFT
Shelly Bullard, MFT
Shelly Bullard, MFT, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, Love Coach...
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