Many readers write to me asking how to let go of failed relationships. When a relationship ends, why do we find it so hard to let go? We think that we’re trying to let go of the other person. The reality is that we’re not clinging on to the other person, but to something else – the past, the future, or our ego.
A. Clinging on to the past
Letting go can be hard because of the memories we have. We refuse to accept that the beautiful togetherness we used to share is no more. We want to resurrect the past, to enjoy once again what we had.
Our fear is that if we let go of this person, all that we treasure in our shared past will be no more. The memories that used to bring us so much happiness would now only bring misery. Each memory brings with it the reminder that our partnership has ended. We want to hold on to the person that keeps this past alive for us.
B. Clinging on to the future
We also cling on to the hope we have for the future – our vision of the future as it would be with this other person. We think that our happiness lies with this other person. Or perhaps it’s financial, physical or emotional security we seek, and don’t know where else to find it.
Letting go in this case is scary because we are cutting our lifeline to that future we want so much. Once we let go of the person, all the dreams we shared would disappear as well. The only way we know to keep our dreams alive is to hold on to the person for dear life. We allow that person to be the sole keeper of our dreams.
C. Clinging on to our ego
Sometimes we can’t accept that our judgment of the other person’s character was wrong. Or we refuse to believe that we are less attractive than someone else our lover left us for. Our ego feels injured, and will only be salved by proving that we are not wrong. This proof requires us to hang on to the other person. Their staying will prove that we are indeed worthwhile.
How to let go
Realise that it is not really the other person you cannot let go of, but something else. What is it that you are clinging on to – your past, your future, your ego, or perhaps all the above? It is essential to be honest with yourself, even if you don’t want to admit the truth to anyone else.
A. Letting go of the past
In theory, we know that the past is past. In reality, we project the past onto our future. We want things to remain the way they were, or at least to re-play themselves in more or less similar variations. So how do we let go of the past?
Understand that every second in our life has been recorded in eternity. Once we have loved or been loved, that love is never really lost. That energy remains in the universe. So the past is never really past – it is always a part of the world and a part of you.
This acceptance brings a calmness because we can rest in the assurance that the ‘past’ is there for us anytime we want it. We can draw on our memories with pleasure instead of pain. Because the past is not gone but within us, even if the person we shared it with is elsewhere.
B. Letting go of the future
Your life holds infinite possibilities. Of all the paths your life could take, why do you think that only this one specific path will make you happy? Walking down that one path means you don’t take all other paths. What if other paths would have made you equally or more happy?
Learn to view life as an unfolding of possibilities. Nothing is really lost, because every path not taken means you are merely taking another path. You have infinite futures ahead of you, and all of them are equally good. In fact, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are merely your personal judgments of each possibility. As far as life is concerned, these are merely alternate realities that are all open to you.
When you stop judging this future as ‘good’, and that future as ‘bad’, and instead learn to treat every event as an adventure, you’ll find that there is nothing to let go of. Or rather, letting go of one possible future enables you to grasp another possible future.
C. Letting go of your ego
Gaining control over our ego instead of being controlled by it is one of the best things we could do. Accepting that we have an ego, that it will always be lurking within us, and coming to peace with it – all this is the work of a lifetime.
When a relationship ends, we tend to think that we have failed at it. This is because for some reason, society views longevity as the main criterion for a relationship’s success. If we could learn to define successful relationships differently, we could accept that an ended relationship is actually a successful one. Then ego wouldn’t get in the way of letting go as much as it does.
Final thoughts on how to let go
If we truly love a person, we want what is best for them. If someone wants to leave us because they are unhappy, why would we hold them back if we loved them? We would want them to find a better life for themselves. True love does not cling on. Love lets go.
So if you’ve having difficulty letting go, it’s probably not love but attachment that you’re experiencing – attachment to the past, to the future, or to your ego. Detach from these, and you will be able to let go of the person you love.