How To Finally Let Go Of Your Ex (And Why It's So Hard For Some People)

Marriage and Family Therapist By Shelly Bullard, MFT
Marriage and Family Therapist
Shelly Bullard, MFT, is a marriage and family therapist with a holistic and spiritual approach to relationships. She has worked with thousands of clients on improving their relationships with others and themselves.
An image of two people holding hands, letting go of each other.

Image by Danil Nevsky / Stocksy

Letting go of your ex following a painful breakup can be one of the most emotionally challenging, mysterious, and frustrating experiences.

To understand how to let go of your ex, you first need to understand why letting go is so hard for some people.

Why you can't let go of your ex.

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 them go. So difficult, in fact, that even if you know they're 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 a while. Unfortunately, none of that matters. All that does is say that the heart connection existed, and because of this, it's hard to say goodbye.

People 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 a good fit. As a therapist, 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.

In most cases, I think 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 them at their best!

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

And yes, it's true, they might not be the right person for you.

This is one of the most difficult learning experiences in relationships. Luckily, there's a way through to the other side.

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How to let go of your ex:

1. Find love within yourself.

You need to take the time to invest in learning how to love yourself again after your breakup. Even if you think this is silly and you have all the confidence in the world, don't overlook this step.

The love within you will be your rock as you begin to separate from the love you felt outside of yourself, in your ex. You will have moments of wanting to go back to them; in these moments you must call upon your strength within. Without it, it's going to be very difficult to say goodbye.

2. Grieve.

You may not want to, but really leaning in and feeling your emotions is integral to letting go of an ex.

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 them will not. Remember that.

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3. Recognize that you will love someone else this much again.

Yes, you can love again. You have to know (it's called faith, friend) that you can and will feel a deep connection with another person. You can go further and deeper into love than you've ever been before. You just have to let go first, so then the new love can come in.

It's normal to feel scared that you may never feel a love that strong again. But the truth is, we're capable of having many great loves. Faith will take you a long way. Don't lose sight of what you want.

4. Feel your next partner before they arrive.

One of the best ways to let go of an ex and a relationship that's over is to imagine your next partner before they arrive. It's much easier to leave behind a relationship and a memory when you have something better to look forward to. It might sound awful right now, but it's true.

Ask yourself:

  • What type of person do I want to be with?
  • What do they feel like?
  • How is the relationship different from this?

Then, when you get a clear picture of this person, fantasize! Imagining how good your next relationship will be will make it easier for you to let go of the past. We all deserve to be in relationships that feel good to us.

The process of letting go is hard, and you've likely struggled. You know you're ready to let go, and trust me, you can. There's no exact timeline for how long it takes to move on, so go easy on yourself and stay the course. Keep processing all of the above. These steps will help you say goodbye to the person you once loved and say hello to the next love of your life. And in addition to learning to let go of your ex, make sure you go through the whole process of getting over your breakup.

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Shelly Bullard, MFT
Shelly Bullard, MFT
Shelly Bullard, MFT, is a marriage and family therapist with a holistic and spiritual approach to...
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Shelly Bullard, MFT
Shelly Bullard, MFT
Shelly Bullard, MFT, is a marriage and family therapist with a...
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