There are few situations in life as disappointing as realizing that the person you're with is just not right for you. It's hard to wrap our heads around, but it's very common to feel emotionally attached to someone, strongly attracted to them, but also aware, deep in your gut, that the relationship isn't a net positive force in your life.
In my coaching work with couples, I've seen first-hand the very destructive power of hanging onto relationships that aren't ultimately right for those involved. When you feel emotionally tied to someone who brings more pain than goodness into your life, you create a vicious cycle: attachment breeding fear of separation, which then fuels further attachment and codependency.
In other words, you can feel completely tethered to someone, dependent on them for almost everything in your life, even if they are totally not right for you. For many, this is the hardest fact to accept in the process of realizing the need to let someone go.
Letting go of a partner is not an intellectual decision whatsoever. And yet we usually attempt to create this change by thinking our way around it. The challenge with this approach is that the vast majority of people who need to let go of someone stay stuck and suffer for far longer than they need to.
If you or a loved one is in a relationship with a partner who is unkind, competitive, codependent, or the relationship is just plain old incompatible, here are five proactive steps to prepare yourself to let go of the relationship and move on.
1. Get radically honest and raise your standards.
This is the hardest part. In order to break ties with someone to whom you are very attached, you'll need to get uncomfortably honest with yourself. You need to be willing to look clearly at the things in the relationship that aren't working, and also at the ways you've been justifying your partner's behavior, or the relationship generally.
Have you been lowering your standards and accepting far less than you deserve? Imagine you're helping your best friend gain perspective on his/her relationship. What would you be pointing out to them about your partner?
Take a heartfelt inventory of how much pain, anxiety, sadness and disappointment you've been experiencing (or suppressing). Accept that you are no longer willing to have as part of your daily experience.
Allow the pain of your reality to be fully experienced in your heart — as opposed to your head. This discomfort will start providing the necessary drive for the impending change that's to come. If you numb the pain now, it will only be exacerbated over time.
2. Separate the objective truth from your inner story.
When we experience extreme pain in relationships, we tend to make up stories that allow us to stay in the cocoon of the relationship. That way we can avoid feeling like we are betraying ourselves.
For example, we may think things like, "I've never experienced such intense emotion with someone, so he/she must be my soul mate. There are always difficulties with your soul mate, right?" Or, "If I let go of this relationship, I will never experience this depth of love with anyone again".
The truth is that the attachment and dependency you feel may be intensified because of the "myths" about your partner and/or the relationship that you've had to create unconsciously as a way of dealing with the difficulties. Ask yourself honestly if the "pros" of the relationship you think about are a way of justifying it, despite your pain.
3. Realize you want to meet your needs at a higher level.
Letting go of someone who's meeting several of your needs is virtually impossible to do unless you identify other essential needs that you have that are not being met, or that could be met at a higher level.
To get to a place where this feels easier, you may first want to examine the needs your current partner has been meeting in your life. From there, you can consider healthier alternatives. Is the relationship meeting your needs for security and safety? A sense of adventure and passion? Do you feel validated and unique by the way they treat you (some of the time), or perhaps it's more a sense of connecting with someone so you don't have to be alone?
If you can start figuring out how to own your needs that are not being met, and subsequently realize that you can find a relationship that will meet your needs, the change can happen with much less pain and fear.
4. Establish a support system.
Life changes in the world of romantic intimacy trigger deep fear and vulnerability in us. Asking someone or a small group of people to have your back and be there for you during this painful transition can be the difference between making it with strength and self-trust, or not.
This support group can include friends, family, coaches, therapists or anyone who can safely hold a higher vision for you as you navigate through this difficult change. It's important to be specific with them about what you need in terms of accountability, connection and heart-space.
5. Commit to a decision, and follow through.
If and when you realize that you've run out of options to improve your relationship, it's time to make a decision. If you take some time to brainstorm different solutions on paper for the logistical courses of action you need to take, you will feel significantly more empowered.
Do you need to move out? Do you need to hire a lawyer? If finances are involved, what might the transition look like? Often times we feel like we have to decide between two bad choices. But remember that there's always a middle third choice if you're willing to dig deep.
Moving forward doesn't have to wait until you have a perfect plan, because let's face it — there's no perfect plan nor a perfect time to do this. Breathe, move and connect to the vision of the future that you want. From this emotional space, you can then have a conversation with your partner.
Making the decision to leave someone you care about — but who's not good for you — is never easy. But it can be made simpler. All you need to do is honestly and deeply consider what your heart craves, needs and deserves.