Real talk: Love is one of the best feelings in the world — particularly in terms of a romantic relationship. However, no matter how powerful your emotions are, sometimes love isn’t enough to make a partnership last. This is what makes letting go of someone you love, at times, necessary, even if it’s painful.
“When you have an attachment with someone, positive memories, and a shared history, it can be very hard to let go,” explains Janet Brito, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sex therapist and founder of the Hawaii Center for Sexual and Relationship Health. “And yet, sometimes you know that something is off. It’s an intuitive, gut feeling,” Brito says. Are you following?
That said, saying goodbye to someone when you’re still in love with them can be incredibly difficult. It’s not an easy process, which is why you might need guidance from an expert in order to better navigate your situation. In fact, you’re probably asking yourself: Can you ever stop loving someone, actually? How do you approach breaking up with someone you’re still in love with? How do you get over someone you still love?
These are all tough questions, but you can get through this. It’s totally possible to move past someone you love, even if it feels impossible at the time. Below, everything you need to know about letting go of someone you love, according to relationship experts.
Can You Ever Stop Loving Someone?
While it might be hard to believe when it’s fresh, it’s possible to stop loving someone in the same way you did while in a relationship with them, Brito says. One day, that love might dissipate entirely — even if that seems unthinkable.
“Love can fade when there's enough space and distance in a relationship, whether it’s a friendship, family member, or romantic partner,” explains Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., director of The Intimacy Institute. Plus, just because an intense love fades doesn’t mean you can’t still hold this person in your heart. Example: You’ve been married for 10 years, but you still consider past partners with warmth and love, Skyler says.
However, if you want to not love someone, that’s also possible, Skyler says. You just need to establish that boundary in your mind. “Two things can be true at once,” Skyler says. You can create a boundary during a breakup, prioritizing space and distance that helps love fade, while also still holding a person tenderly in your heart.
How To Break Up With Someone You Love
Ending a relationship is probably the most difficult part of letting go of someone you love — but also the most necessary. If you’re looking for a way to break up with someone you love, consider some of the following steps.
- Take the “two things can be true” approach. Tell them that your love for them isn’t in question, but that “what we're co-creating isn't the life I want to live,” Skyler explains. Perhaps one person wants polyamory and the other wants monogamy, or one wants to live in California and the other Colorado. “If the life you want to live doesn't overlap with what your partner wants, you can still love them, but also let them go,” Skyler explains.
- Acknowledge that something doesn’t feel right. “If you have a gut feeling like something's not right, let go of this person,” Brito says. Tell them that even though you love them and you have a shared history, your intuition is telling you to move on. It might feel like emotional reactivity, but sometimes following your gut is the most objective road you can take, Brito explains.
- Don’t break up in the middle of an argument. “If you’re arguing and yelling, it’s probably not the best time [to end the relationship]. Do this when you can be clear about why you want to break up,” Brito says. Set aside time to talk to this person in a controlled environment where you can discuss the relationship and hash things out in a calm manner.
- Once you’ve established that it’s over, set some boundaries. While they might be difficult to communicate and follow through on, boundaries are super important when breaking up, Skyler explains. Establish important tenets like how often you’ll contact each other after the breakup if at all, how you’ll divide your things if you share a home, if you’ll still run in the same friendship circles, and more.
How To Get Over Someone You Still Love
Once you’ve broken up with someone you love and decided that the relationship is over, it’s time to figure out how to “get over” them, per se. That said, these are a few ways you can think about doing so.
- Be honest with yourself. “This is painful. This is hard. You’re holding two very distinct emotions at once,” Skyler says. The grief of letting someone go while still loving them can be extremely difficult to grapple with mentally, but don’t fight through the emotions you’re feeling. Let yourself move through them naturally — it might help.
- Take the time and space you need to grieve. “Death can mean a lot of things; it’s not just the end of a life,” explains Anne Hodder-Shipp, ACS, CSE, a sex therapist and author of Speaking from the Heart: 18 Languages for Modern Love. With a breakup, “there's still a grieving process, and even though it was the [right] thing to do, you still get to feel sad and grieve what you thought could have been,” Hodder-Shipp. So grab that Ben & Jerry’s, queue up the rom-coms, take off work if you can, and let yourself wallow, if you need it.
- Find your support system. “Make sure you’re around people who won’t do the unhelpful placate-y stuff, telling you, ‘You’ll get over it. Let’s just go out tonight and you can sleep with a bunch of people,’” Hodder-Shipp says. That’s not helpful to you, and it won’t help you process your feelings. Instead, find the people you can text in the middle of the night when you’re sad and need to vent, or the ones who will talk you out of texting your ex when it’s tempting, Hodder-Shipp says.
- Try something new. “As you process this, curiosity might start to trickle in, and you might have the urge to try something new,” Hodder-Shipp says. Whether you want to take an art class, redecorate your home, [or] cook a new recipe … allow yourself the time to “light your brain up” with a new hobby, Hodder-Shipp says. The dopamine boost might help bring you to a “freeing place,” she explains.
- Overall, be patient. “This took a lot, and it's a big decision,” Brito says. “It comes with its pains, and it's challenging, so give yourself the time that you need,” she explains. Basically, don’t get stressed if you feel like it’s taking more than a few weeks (or even months) for you to heal from this breakup. This is emotional, and it takes time.
In short, letting go of someone you love isn’t easy. It will be a process — but in the end a worthwhile one, if it’s what’s best for you.
Janet Brito, Ph.D., licensed psychologist, AASECT-certified sex therapist, and founder of the Hawaii Center for Sexual and Relationship Health
Jenni Skyler, Ph.D., licensed therapist, AASECT-certified sex therapist, and director of The Intimacy Institute
Anne Hodder-Shipp, ACS, CSE, a sex therapist and author of Speaking from the Heart: 18 Languages for Modern Love