How To Actually Let Go Of Someone & 14 Signs It's Time, From Therapists
When a relationship has run its course, we eventually have to let that person go. And since it can be difficult to know when it's time to let go, let alone how to actually do it, we asked relationship experts. Here's what they had to say.
What it means to let go of someone.
Letting go of someone means to sever the connection you have with them, according to marriage and family therapist Shelly Bullard, MFT. Even if you'll always have a place in your heart for them and love them unconditionally, when you realize this person isn't truly right for you, you have to accept it.
That acceptance is the letting go. It's understanding that you're better off without this person having immediate access to you, if any at all. And from this place of acceptance, you're able to free up the attention and energy you were giving this person and put it toward things that actually bring you peace and joy.
Whether you've just experienced a breakup, or you have a feeling you're about to, finally letting go of that person is never easy. Even when it's your decision, there's still an open wound there that will take time to heal, according to licensed marriage and family therapist Tiana Leeds, M.A., LMFT.
14 signs it's time to let go:
You don't feel safe, physically or emotionally.
Sometimes it can be hard to recognize abuse, or you may not feel like things are "that bad." When in doubt, Leeds says to look out for two things in particular: "If you feel like you're walking on eggshells when you're with your partner, it's time to consider leaving the relationship. And if you don't feel safe with your partner, both emotionally and physically, it's time to end the relationship."
You're always making excuses for them.
According to clinical psychologist Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, it's not uncommon to experience rose-colored glasses with the objects of our affection, and this can lead to constantly excusing inexcusable behavior.
"People will tell me things like, 'He's not a full-blown narcissist,' and I will then ask, 'Does he really need to be a full-blown narcissist before you're going to walk away? Because if you're waiting for that, then you're heading into full destruction,'" she explains.
Even on the less extreme end, Neo says, you may experience "selective memory" or "confirmation bias," seldom recalling the bad times and only focusing on the brief good moments. "And if this is happening and stopping you from having an objective view, then this is actually incredibly dangerous to you," she adds.
You don't like who you are around them.
Ask yourself if you actually like who you are around this person, or if you're truly being yourself. Neo notes that if you're trading your normal behavior for fawning behavior in order to keep the peace, that's a sign this person isn't good for you.
They drain your energy.
Along with how you act and behave around this person, it's also a good idea to take stock of how they make you feel. Leeds explains that feelings of general discomfort, or feeling drained after spending time with them, indicate that you're better off leaving the relationship.
And as Neo adds, if you dread their presence, or feel like you need ample time to recharge after you're around them, they're definitely draining you and your energy.
You've outgrown them.
Sometimes, even if a relationship isn't unhealthy or toxic, we simply outgrow it. This can be particularly difficult to walk away from because the relationship may be comfortable or otherwise "good." Neo says it takes a good amount of honesty with yourself here because there can be a lot of guilt in letting go.
"Some people choose not to grow or choose to calcify or devolve into something else. And if you seek growth—this is an inevitable thing that happens—we outgrow people, even those that we love, and sometimes other people watching us grow don't feel happy about that."
Whether this person is trying to sabotage your growth, or you simply don't feel you're headed in the same upward trajectory, you have to ask yourself if this person will be conducive to the life you're seeking long term. And if they're not, it's time to walk away.
There are more bad times than good.
Simply stated, if the relationship is causing more hardship than anything else, what's the point? "When you fight more often than not, it's time to consider leaving. And if even at its best the relationship was never really good, you'll likely be happier if you leave the relationship," Leeds tells mbg.
Your loved ones don't approve of them.
It's one thing if your one most protective friend has reservations about your partner. But if none of your friends and family like your partner, according to Leeds, "that's a big red flag that your partner may not be good for you."
You can't see a future with them.
This really depends on what you're looking for in a relationship, but if you are looking for something long term, Leeds says it's important to be able to visualize a future with them. If you really can't see it happening, "it's time to let go," Leeds notes.
There's an unequal give and take.
Receiving the bare minimum from someone isn't sustainable—at least not if you want to be in a happy and fulfilling relationship. So, if all you're getting is crumbs from your partner, Leeds says, "it's time to move on to someone who will be generous and kind to you." (Here's how to tell if you're in a one-sided relationship.)
They don't stay true to their word.
We all want someone who lives with integrity: They mean what they say, show effort and follow-through, and their words are aligned with their actions. According to Leeds, if these foundational things aren't present, that's a big red flag and a sign to walk away.
You don't trust them.
Trust is another foundational aspect of a healthy relationship, and Leeds says if you can't trust your partner, it's time to move on. Whether there's been infidelity, lying, or any kind of severing of trust, if it can't be worked through, it's only going to cause more problems down the line.
Your priorities and values aren't aligned.
This one ties back to the idea of being able to see a future with this person. It will only serve you to find a partner who has priorities and values that are aligned with yours, and Leeds says if that's not the case (such as one of you wants children and the other doesn't), you probably want to walk away.
There's a lack of respect.
Mutual respect is an important factor in any healthy relationship, and according to Leeds, if you don't feel respected in your relationship and/or you don't respect your partner, it's time to call it off. One of the easiest ways to spot a lack of respect is the presence of contempt, which is one of the so-called four horsemen of divorce.
You've been consistently thinking about letting them go.
And last but not least, Leeds says if you've been debating whether to leave for a while, this is your sign to end the relationship. No more excuses, rose-colored glasses, or staying in a toxic dynamic. Listen to your gut!
How to truly let go of someone you love:
Make sure you're safe.
As much as you might love this person, it's important to think realistically about the situation. If there's any abuse present in this relationship, the first thing to think about when letting this person go is your own safety.
"If you have any safety concerns, make sure you tell your partner in a public setting if you choose to break up face to face or consider letting them know by phone or text. Breakups can stir up big emotions, so if your partner is volatile, prioritize your safety above all else," Leeds says.
You might even have to be discreet in your getaway, Neo adds. You'll also want to make sure you have any necessary documents (if this will involve legal matters), a strong support system present, and even think about changing your passwords, she says. (Here's our full guide to leaving an abusive relationship.)
Open up a dialogue.
If you want to speak with this person about your decision, you can take steps to open up the dialogue. "Once you've come to the conclusion that it's time to move on, consider how you'd like to let your partner know. If no safety issues are present, communicating the news in person is best," Leeds tells mbg, adding, "Ideally, you will have already communicated your concerns to your partner well before choosing to break up."
Hold your boundaries firmly.
Leeds and Neo both note that having a script of sorts can help if you're worried you might back down in a face-to-face conversation. Stand firm in the breakup, and hold your boundaries. "Make sure that you stay rock solid like a mountain. Do not move," Neo adds.
Be direct but also compassionate.
During the breakup, Leeds advises clearly and compassionately explaining that you'd like to go your separate ways. If they ask you why, you can give a few concrete reasons as to what feels off to you. "Take ownership for what isn't working whenever possible using 'I' statements like, 'I feel on edge during our fights, and lately, we've been arguing so much that it's hard for me to feel at peace,' or 'I've realized I want to be with a partner who shares my vision of living abroad together.'"
This avoids drawing out the breakup or unnecessarily hurting your partner, she explains, and you don't have to go into excruciating detail about every little thing you don't like about them, instead sticking to the big picture.
Go no-contact if you can.
Once the breakup is said and done, the real work of letting go is maintaining it. In most cases, going no-contact will be the quickest and healthiest road to recovery, and you'll need to communicate that expectation to this person.
"Remember that it's not your job to get your partner through the pain of the breakup. Trying to help an ex-partner heal from the relationship is next to impossible because every time you're there for them, it gives a mixed signal and risks rehooking them into the relationship," Leeds explains.
And as Neo adds, they may very well try to reach out on holidays or your birthday, for example, but it's important you don't give in.
Know that you're worthy of love.
According to psychotherapist and relationship expert Ken Page, LCSW, reminding yourself of your own self-worth, and further, acknowledging that you're worthy of the love you desire, is so important when letting go of someone. He explains that we often convince ourselves that something about us is stopping us from receiving love, but "this myth that we hold dear to our hearts causes us to enact cycles of pain for ourselves and others," he says, adding, "And that gets terribly triggered by people who cannot accept us and love us for who we are."
Here are a few ways to learn to love yourself again after a breakup—it'll be important for being able to truly move on.
Reconnect to the other parts of your life.
Use the time post-breakup as an opportunity to focus on your own recovery and try to lean into the other relationships in your life, Leeds suggests, such as with friends and family. "Recommit to your hobbies and interests, and allow yourself time to heal and move forward in your life," she adds.
Remind yourself why it didn't work out.
Letting someone go is a process, and you may have moments when you start to romanticize the past. But as sex and relationship therapist Stephen Snyder, M.D., previously told mbg, it's important to remind yourself why things didn't work out when this happens. "Most often, we idealize the people we miss," he says, adding, "We overlook the fact that the meanings we attached to the relationship weren't always gratified as much as we would have liked."
Give yourself plenty of self-care.
Lastly, give yourself plenty of time and energy to focus on yourself. "Take time for yourself. When you spend a considerable amount of time with someone and that person leaves, that is a big change, and change is often uncomfortable," licensed therapist LeNaya Smith Crawford, LMFT, previously explained to mbg.
She notes you can look for joy in doing things without a significant other, like catching up with close friends, meditation, or therapy. "Do what you need to nourish your soul as you process the breakup and start the journey of getting over them," she adds.
The bottom line.
Our relationships are a huge part of our lives and our well-being, and letting go of a significant one can be heartbreaking, to say the least. But when we're caught up in dynamics that don't serve us, we're only limiting ourselves—and letting go is simply the best course of action.
If you are in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For anonymous and confidential help, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224) and speak with a trained advocate for free as many times as you need. They're available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also speak to them through a live private chat on their website.
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.