No matter how lucky you are in love, everyone will reach a point in their life where they realize it’s time to move on from a relationship. Whether it’s with a romantic partner, a close friend, a colleague, or even a family member, making the decision is never easy.
Once you’ve decided that a relationship is unhealthy, taking the steps to move past it can be a difficult and painful process, particularly if you don’t have a plan. One study published by researchers in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that more than 70 percent of people took just under three months to recover from their break up.
Although that may seem like a significant amount of time, these same people reported that after that period they felt they experienced personal growth and were able to find positive aspects about that relationship coming to an end.
Even though everyone is different, and we all have different ways of handling situations and coping mechanisms, healing has common components for everyone.
Here, we will give you the tools to look at your individual situation from a compassionate perspective to determine if it’s time to let go. Then, we’ll give you proven steps that psychologists and relationship experts use that will help you heal, grow, and come out the other side better for your experience.
How to Know It’s Time
There is no rigid formula that will tell you when it’s time to move on from a relationship, but there are some red flags that can help make the decision easier.
Here are four factors that may be a sure sign that it’s time to let go. Any one of them may be reason enough to step away, but if you’re experiencing more than one in your situation, that is a strong indicator that there isn’t a way to make it work.
There’s More Bad Than Good
Lots of things make for a strong relationship, and aspects like chemistry and shared beliefs and values are important. However, being good to one another is at the crux of any solid foundation. If that starts to deteriorate, it can be difficult to salvage the situation.
When you look at your relationship, you should see things like respect, empathy, commitment, friendship, forgiveness, and kindness. If those feelings and actions are outweighed by the negative, like jealousy, irritability, anger, or meanness, it may be time to call it quits.
You Don’t Receive Respect
Respect is a cornerstone of every relationship, and without it, there is no trust or love. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to see when you’re being disrespected. Although blatant disrespect both looks and feels awful, smaller acts like lying, cheating, or veiled insults are just as painful but not always as obvious.
If you’ve talked with your partner about how these things make you feel and they haven’t changed, it’s likely they don’t respect you, and may not respect your relationship.
The Relationship Feels Like A Lot of Work
A relationship is an excellent case study of give and take, and good ones have a fairly even balance. Yes, having a strong bond can require work, but it should be even and enjoyable because you both have the same desired end result.
If you constantly feel like you have to try extremely hard to keep your partner happy and work at the relationship and don’t feel that they are putting in the same amount of effort, it’s disheartening. It can also eventually lead to feelings of resentment and complacency.
If you’ve communicated these feelings to your partner and they haven’t changed, it’s possible that you’re in a one-sided relationship that is merely convenient for your other half.
You Feel Like You Don’t Matter
Balanced, healthy relationships mean that both people can chase their dreams, enjoy their lives, share their opinions, and explore their self-worth with each other. Sometimes, in deteriorating relationships, this aspect becomes unbalanced, and the focus starts to revolve around one person.
Usually, the person who is the center of attention is content, but the other partner starts to feel like they don’t matter. This can lead to feelings of resentment, and if left unchecked could lead to a loss of personal identity.
Not only is this uncomfortable, but it makes it even more difficult to leave the situation in the long run. If this describes you, try to create space for yourself and your passions and see how your partner responds. If they aren’t receptive, this is an indication that the relationship may not work in the long run.
Tips for Moving On
Once you’ve decided that it's time to move on from a relationship that’s no longer serving you, you’ll need to take steps to make it happen. Sometimes, making the decision is the easy part and what comes next is significantly harder.
Although there is no one-size-fits-all strategy that will erase the pain and make it an easy process for everyone, there are things you can do to move on from your past, confront your fears, and find acceptance and closure so that you can start your next chapter.
Here are five tips to help with the process.
Look at the Big Picture
When a relationship ends, hearing cliche phrases like “everything happens for a reason” are sometimes not just unhelpful, but also irritating. That said, taking a step back from the hurt, pain, and whirlwind of emotions in the immediate situation and looking at the bigger picture can be extremely beneficial.
Start by letting yourself realize that your life is a story. It’s a journey that you alone can make, and understand that you’ve already overcome some incredible odds. Think for a moment about a time in the past when you did not believe you would heal and be all right, and let yourself reflect on that memory and discover that the pain has eased.
Not only will painful memories of your past help prove how strong you are and how resilient you are capable of being, but they will remind you that the end of a relationship does not mean it’s the end of your journey.
Looking at the larger landscape of your life may help you to find that some of the moments you thought were life-changing at the time weren’t and that your energy is better spent focusing forward and healing.
Shut Down Your Inner Critic
We all have voices in our heads. Some specialists call them cute names like Gremlins, others use the Freudian terminology and refer to them as your id and ego. Dr. Robert Firestone coined the phrase your “critical inner voice,” and we feel that it’s an excellent depiction of what many people hear during a difficult breakup.
This term symbolizes the negative thoughts that enter our mind when we are already hurting and down that work to undermine us and make our pain and suffering worse.
The dialogue usually sounds something like:
Not only are these thoughts unhelpful and damaging, but getting stuck in the loop of this internal dialogue makes it nearly impossible to heal and move on.
It’s not always easy to silence these types of thoughts and that voice, but activities like journaling or speaking with friend, counselor, or coach can help.
Take the time to listen to the voice, but then analyze why you’re thinking and feeling that way. You may quickly discover that these self-limiting beliefs and internal conversations are holding you back from living the life you want and deserve.
Look at Your Relationship Realistically
Regardless of how warranted your break up may have been, it’s very common to look back on your relationship through rose-colored glasses. If you find yourself reminiscing about the good times and going down a path of feeling sorrowful or regretful about moving on, give yourself a reality check to help keep things in perspective.
One of the stages of grief is denial, and it can sometimes manifest in idealizing and remembering only the best parts of the situation. When this happens, also force yourself to recognize the reality of the situation.
There were likely significant issues and struggles that lead to the split, and those likely outweighed the good exponentially. Remembering these concrete facts can help to ground you and shift your focus to bouncing back and moving on from the loss.
Be Kind to Yourself
One common mistake that people make when coping with moving forward after a relationship ends is not allowing themselves to feel and grieve the loss. There’s a stigma in society that being sad, angry, or fearful following a break up is weak-minded, and many people try to bury these emotions and push through.
This can make it more difficult to heal and move forward.
Instead, try being kind to yourself and allowing yourself to simply feel whatever feelings arise. Emotions come in waves, and it’s likely you’ll have dark moments followed by times of feeling like you’re going to be all right.
Let these ebb and flow, and use tools like journaling or talking to a trusted friend or loved one to help you make sense of them. Don’t bury them, and don’t chastise yourself for not “getting over it already.” If you take the time to emote and process, it will be easier to accept and forgive.
Ask for Support
Many people want to internalize everything they are feeling and going through when a relationship ends, but this can be counterproductive to finding your way through the emotional turmoil.
Experts like HelpGuide.org recommend that instead, you find someone you trust to talk to who can help you through the process. This will help you feel more connected, less alone, and may give you a unique perspective that you wouldn’t otherwise find.
If you’re not comfortable sharing your heart with a friend or family member, look for a therapist or coach you trust and who can give you a safe space to share your feelings.
Deciding it’s time to move on can be painful, but it’s different for everyone. The first step is making the decision, and then knowing you are strong enough to recover and come out on the other side better for your journey.