Breakup: How to let go of the past relationship

Letting go of someone we love(d) triggers our deepest attachment wounds. Even if you did all you could to save the relationship, including couples therapy, couples retreats, self-help books, etc., and leaving was the “right thing,” the separation still brings past moments of abandonment. It might be the moment of us being dropped off at school on the first day of the first grade, our parents being late picking us up from after-school practice, parental divorce, dad being depressed and emotionally absent, or mom leaving the marriage. These moments of abandonment and attachment trauma do not come up in our minds as memories of past events. They arise as a wave of emotion, as fear of abandonment, and as overall existential anxiety of being alone in the world.

In my Los Angeles-based online therapy clinic, my couples therapy clients are often faced with their fear of abandonment. It comes up in our relationship in the form of doubting our partner’s commitment to the relationship, fear of betrayal, testing the partner’s loyalty, mistrust, etc. As an LGBT therapist, my clients include gay men and same-sex couples among others. Interestingly, whether I am working with heterosexual or same-sex couples, fear of abandonment and attachment trauma are frequent guests in our sessions. Couples counseling helps clients connect their current relationship experience with their past attachment trauma and abandonment, in order to help them process and release the baggage of the past.

A colleague psychologist recently mentioned that heartbreak is not only a universal experience but also an essential one for our maturation and coming of age. We are forced to face the finality of things and the existential angst of being alone in the world. We also have to deal with and process powerful emotions and find our way back into balance.

When we are faced with the loss of a relationship and have a hard time letting go, one of the most important components of healing is social support. We might be inclined to hide away from the world and nurse our pain alone. However, keeping the door open to family and friends and allowing the important people in our life to be there to support us can make a tremendous difference in our ability to heal and recover.

Although the pain of loss can be overwhelming, it is important to make space for our feelings and to feel whatever we are feeling without judgment. Pushing against our emotions and trying to kick the heavy feelings out will only serve to magnify these feelings and prolong our healing. Making a non-judgmental space for our grief will help us walk through the darkness faster.

No relationship is a waste of time. Even if it did not turn out to be the “forever after” relationship, I invite you to take the learnings you have gained from this experience with you. There might be some things in the relationship you appreciated and would like to have more of in the next one. There might be things you definitely do not want to experience again. All of it serves to clarify to you your ideal relationship – the relationship you truly want. This is definitely a win.

Finally, it is paramount to remember and know that the pain we feel in this moment of loss is temporary, just like anything else in life. We can heal from the greatest losses, and the pain itself may become the greatest impetus to creating meaningful and powerful life after loss. Our scars can be the foundation for our wisdom and compassion we can carry as the new light into the world.

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