Can’t Let Go

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Last year, a three year relationship in which I was involved ended. I had never been more emotionally connected to someone as this person in my life. The relationship did not end well. For starters, the primary catalyst was that I had been married previously and had a child, she had not. Her family (particularly her mother with whom she was very close to), did not accept the idea of the two of us getting married. She impressed upon me throughout the relationship that we’d eventually overcome her family’s opposition and that we would spend our life together. Long story short, it didn’t happen. We began a break up last summer which was followed by three months of on-again and off-again patterns until eventually she found someone else. The someone else happened to have been a childhood friend and someone I had known well all of my life. I live in a small town where avoiding them is impossible and avoiding places and things that trigger memories is equally impossible. I have suffered from serious depression for over the past year. I have tried everything: counseling, focusing on my daughter and career, exercise, dating new people, and so forth. I have contemplated moving, but with my daughter’s circumstances, it would be difficult. I’ve had several relationships throughout the years, but NONE like this. I still love this person, as deeply as ever. I miss her every day. I think about her non-stop. It’s been over a year and I still can’t let go. Nothing I’ve done seems to help. I’ve stopped dating altogether because I started to realize how unfair it was to try and get emotionally involved with someone else when my mind and heart still focused so strongly on my ex. I’m tired of the pain. I’m tired of missing her. I’m tired of wanting her back every day. I realize how wrong it is for me to linger in this…but nothing I try takes away the thoughts. Honestly, had it not been for my family and daughter, I probably would have moved as far away as possible (or worse). I really need to get past this. I just don’t know how.

A: I know this is a very difficult time for you. Your powerful and moving description of this relationship highlights how difficult it can be when our love isn’t returned. Unrequited love leaves a vacancy that can be hard to understand, hard to fill, and emotionally burdensome.

But it also provides perspective and reevaluation of our emotional needs. When a good relationship has ended, one way to reframe the feelings around it is to recognize you were in love with that person’s potential. Not her reality. It was good up to a point — but it was limited and those limitations were real enough to cause it to end. The good features may have eclipsed the not-so-good ones in your memory and can dominate your thinking about the relationship. Use what was good as an indicator of what is possible. Seen through this lens, you can understand the relationship as a signpost of what you want more of in your life, not as something you have missed out on.

That having been said, and seeing as how you have tried so many ways to move through and past it, I would recommend learning something new — a new skill, a new language, a new sport. The shift now should be back to your own development and learning something new can help you absorb the transition out of this relationship.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Aug 2013

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2013). Can’t Let Go. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 2, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/08/01/cant-let-go/

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