It may take time to fully process the end of a romantic relationship. Identifying what you want from a future relationship and acknowledging the importance of your past one are key steps in helping you move forward.
Most people would agree you generally can’t help who you fall in love with. But in some circumstances, you might wish that weren’t the case.
Maybe you love someone who doesn’t feel the same way about you.
“The longing that accompanies one-sided love can affect emotional well-being and cause a lot of discomfort,” explains Kim Egel, a marriage and family therapist in San Diego.
Or perhaps you love someone who continually demonstrates they don’t have your best interests at heart. Maybe you and a partner love each other intensely but have too many differences to sustain a lasting partnership.
Regardless of the situation, love is a complicated emotion. And even when it’s clear that a relationship isn’t doing you any favors, it can feel impossible to simply turn off your feelings.
These tips can help you start the process of moving forward.
Optimism isn’t a bad trait. In fact, the ability to hold on to hope in difficult or painful situations is typically considered a sign of personal strength.
But when it comes to struggling relationships, it’s more helpful to consider the present reality than the future you imagine.
The person you love may not feel the same way. Or maybe you feel wildly in love during intimate moments but spend the rest of your time together disagreeing over just about everything.
If you believe giving up on your relationship or love for someone means you’ve failed, think again. It takes courage and self-awareness to recognize this. You’ve taken a positive step toward self-growth.
Simply realizing your relationship isn’t going anywhere probably won’t make your feelings disappear overnight, but it’s a significant step.
Taking a careful look at what you want from a relationship, as well as what you absolutely don’t want, can help you pinpoint the ways a love interest may not be the best match.
Say you and your FWB have a great thing going. The more time you spend together, the more connected you feel. Eventually, you realize you’ve fallen in love with them.
But there’s one big issue: Days, sometimes a week or more, often pass without you hearing from them. You send them Facebook messages and notice they’ve been online, but there’s still no reply.
If you prioritize good communication in relationships, their inability to get back to you in a timely manner is a pretty good indicator that they’re not a good match.
When you recognize the ways someone you love doesn’t quite meet your needs, you might have an easier time getting over your feelings.
“Some loves might always scratch at your heart,” Egel says. “Some relationships, especially those that were an integral part of growth at pivotal times in our lives, thread through the inner makings of who we become.”
Letting go of a meaningful love can make you feel like you’re also letting go of everything it once was. But try to take the opportunity to acknowledge the good things about the relationship, including anything you might have learned from it. Validate those feelings. Give them space in your heart.
Denying your emotions or their significance can hold you back. Honoring your experience and letting those intense feelings become part of your past can help you begin to find peace and move forward.
What’s more, acknowledging the past importance of your love can help you see how it’s no longer serving you.
Love for an ex or someone who doesn’t return your feelings can limit you. If you stay stuck on someone you can’t have a relationship with, you’ll likely have a hard time finding happiness with anyone else.
Even if you don’t feel ready for anything serious, casual dating can help you realize there are plenty of great people out there.
Once you do want to date more seriously, finding the right partner might still prove challenging. It often takes some time. Dating frustrations can make it especially tempting to dwell on the person you already love.
But commit to looking forward, not back into your past, even if it’s difficult at first.
If no one feels quite right, you may still need time to work through your lingering attachment. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy casual relationships while doing this work. But handle these situations with integrity: Be open and honest about what you’re looking for and what you’re currently able to give.
Your friends and family members can offer support as you work to heal. They may even have some helpful insight or wisdom to share from their own experiences.
Loved ones can also provide strength and guidance if you’re trying to heal from the effects of a toxic relationship. Just be sure to pay attention to how your interactions make you feel.
If you feel someone is judging you or your choices, or making you feel bad in other ways, it may be wise to limit your time with them.
When you feel head over heels in love, you might make small (or not so small) changes to your appearance or personality to align with what you think they want in a partner.
Consider those parts of yourself you might have denied, pushed down, or altered. Maybe you dressed more snazzily than you’d prefer, started following a sport you had zero interest in, or gave up on your favorite hobby.
Or perhaps you avoided fully expressing your emotions and stopped asking for what you needed.
Do you feel comfortable with those changes? Thinking about the parts of yourself that you could have easily lost in the relationship may help diminish love for someone who didn’t truly love you for you.
This may seem like an obvious step, but it’s an important one.
When you’re ready to move on, distance can be your best friend. Even an occasional text, call, or Snapchat can rekindle those feelings you thought you’d already left behind.
You may want to avoid contacting the person unless you really need to, like if you share custody of children or work together.
If you’re friends who used to spend a lot of time hanging out, it may be wise to spend time with other friends for the time being.
You might want to maintain your friendship. That’s not a bad goal if the relationship was healthy. But consider waiting until the intensity of your love fades. Otherwise, you may end up causing yourself unnecessary pain.
Feelings of love can and do fade, but this generally isn’t a rapid process. And it’s very normal to feel a lot of discomfort in the meantime.
Here are some tips to help you through this period:
- Have patience with yourself.
- Practice self-compassion by telling yourself what you might tell a friend in the same situation.
- Accept that it’s natural to hurt.
- Remind yourself the pain won’t last forever.
Loving someone who’s not right for you, even someone who hurt you, doesn’t make you foolish or flawed. It’s easy to see the best in someone and hold out hope that they’ll change. It can take time to shift your perspective and realize they probably won’t change.
“Matters of the heart can get us where it really hurts,” Egel notes.
She recommends therapy as a helpful resource when you:
- have a hard time living your life as you typically would
- feel confused about your feelings
- find yourself in a dark place
- have trouble acknowledging or accepting your feelings
Therapy provides a safe, nonjudgmental space to explore emotions and talk through strategies for productively addressing them. A therapist can also teach you coping skills to manage these feelings until the intensity lessens.
It’s always best to seek professional help right away if you:
If you need help now
If you’re considering suicide or have thoughts of harming yourself, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The 24/7 hotline will connect you with mental health resources in your area. Trained specialists can also help you find your state’s resources for treatment if you don’t have health insurance.
Humans are unique beings with complex emotions. No matter how much you want to stop loving someone, it’s hard to simply flip a switch on your feelings.
You may always carry those feelings with you in some form. Love doesn’t always go away just because we want it to.
But even if you can’t entirely stop loving someone who doesn’t love you or who’s caused you harm, you can manage those feelings in positive, healthy ways so they don’t continue to cause you pain.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.