Are you having a hard time letting go of a past relationship? Do you think about it often? Very often? All the time?

Reflecting on a past relationship does have its advantages. There’s beauty in its ability to help you develop compassion for yourself. AND, you may experience a greater sense of empathy for the other person.

It can also provide an opportunity for insight about your feelings. Heighten awareness around your and your ex’s behavior. Offer a better understanding of why things went the way they did.

When successful, it can lead you to the peace of genuinely accepting life as it is today.

This process is important.

It’s necessary.

It’s healthy.

And above all, it’s completely normal.

Psychologically speaking, you need to do this in order to successfully grow forth. To move forward in a healthy and functional way, and to be wiser about decisions you’ll face in the future.

But challenges moving on can be as real and as timeless as love itself.

So, if you find yourself wondering if you’re having a hard time letting go, you may want to ask yourself:

  • How much time do I spend reflecting?
  • How long have I been reflecting for?
  • Has my reflecting become dysfunctional overthinking?
  • Am I ruminating?

Here are 7 reasons why it might feel hard for you to let go…

1. Even if it was traumatic, the past can actually feel less scary than the present.

A story from our past can feel less scary than what’s happening now. Why? Because the old story is more familiar. You’ve had and continue to take more time with the old story.

When you retell others and yourself about a past relationship, it becomes that much more familiar to you. It actually keeps the relationship alive. Well, the ghost of it anyway.

When something feels familiar, you tend to feel like it is safe because you know your way around it.

You’ve been over it backward, forwards, leftways, rightways, diagonally.

You not only know the map, but you understand the territory.

When you understand the territory, you know what you’re in for. You can predict what’s going to happen.

And as painful as it is, you tend to feel safer because you are “in the know.”

The trouble is, all of this mental and emotional energy serves you about a time that is no longer. You know all about a dynamic that has since passed.

The present is a time that is new to you. The present offers much less information about what’s going to happen next. That means a lack of familiarity. This can make you feel much less safe. Much more scared. And, much more inclined to go back to the story you already know.

2. The past holds memories of a time you felt like you were happier.

If there’s a connection to your past relationship that represents a time that felt like unparalleled happiness, then it could be that you’re holding onto the nostalgia of those feelings more than you are working to will those feelings into your present life and current relationships.

You need to be careful with how rosy your glasses become for the past.

You may be closed to the possibility that you can feel that happiness again OR you may miss it if it doesn’t come wrapped in the same package as before.

Happiness is an ever-evolving state of being.

As you grow, so should the things that make you happy.

And also as you grow, so should the idea that happiness ultimately comes from within one’s own self.

When you look to other people, or things, or to a relationship or a marriage to make you happy, you send a message to yourself. That message sounds like, “I am not enough.” And you support a very false, very dangerous idea that you need others in order to feel good about yourself.

3. You are unresolved about the facts related to the past relationship and/or your perspective does not line up with your ex’s.

Breaking up is hard to do, but when you and your ex disagree about what the “reality” is, it’s even harder.

Having a difficult time letting go can be hinged upon the fact that there might be major differences in the way you and your ex perceived each other and the relationship.

It’s human and natural to want to defend your ideas and attempt to get the other person to see it the way you do. When someone important to you doesn’t see things the way you do, you may feel invalidated, unseen, and unimportant.

It’s hard to reconcile the notion that peace and love can exist in a space of disagreement – but it can.

Coming to terms with the fact that the perspectives are different. Even if you think you’re right. Even if your ex’s stance causes you doubt about your own stance. Just accepting this as it creates a climate much more conducive to letting go.

4. The relationship might not have been that healthy.

Eek. Not something many people like to admit, huh?

I remember a talk with one of my mentors in the very beginning of my career. She shared that her physician had recently lost his wife and was talking with my mentor about feeling ready to date but being concerned that others would think it was too soon.

I’ll never forget her perspective: the healthier the relationship, the easier it is to move on.

I believe this to be true.

When a relationship is founded upon and exists with genuine love, trust, safety, security, consistency, and true empathy for each other, there’s less hang-up when it’s over. There’s no doubt, no mistrust, no confusion; it just completes itself.

When a relationship is devoid of some (or all) of those things, it’s much easier to feel preoccupied and harder to genuinely move forward.

5. You have a family history that includes people who also have a hard time letting go.

It is often the case that people who have a hard time letting go of relationships have come from broken homes, unhappily divorced families, or even intact families that have had a difficult time dealing with conflict in healthy and effective ways.

Many of the ways you deal with your thoughts and feelings have been learned from the people you grew up with. Those you spent considerable time around.

Without realizing it, you may have inherited a pattern of being unable to work your way through a past relationship. Maybe it wasn’t modeled for you. Maybe you observed your family harboring long-term feelings of resentment, bitterness, and/or a refusal to forgive and move forward.

You may be responding automatically in predisposed ways that are surprisingly similar to even older stories from your and your family’s past.

6. You don’t know how to deal with something that is happening in your life TODAY.

Thinking about the past can be a distraction!

Spending a lot of time thinking about something from the past is often a distraction from dealing with the challenges that stand before you today.

However, this process can be very unconscious, meaning, you are not aware of it.

Sometimes it is the case that you can be in a new relationship and you are re-experiencing a similar type of struggle that you experienced in the old relationship.

This can cause a PTSD-like effect, whereby old thoughts and feelings become triggered.

Alternatively, a current relationship could be presenting new challenges and limitations that you feel scared of. Unprepared to deal with. Or, hopeless about because you don’t recognize them as familiar.

Other times, it can be that you are single and are feeling unsuccessful about “finding someone new” to be in a relationship with.

When this happens, you may want to put those rosy glasses back on and choose to believe that no one will compare to the person that you used to be with.

This distracts you from the opportunity to give and receive from future people and relationships. What’s more, it can even cause you to doubt the mere possibility that another person or relationship can offer us something above and beyond what you think you had in the past.

7. Plain and simple — sometimes it’s hard as hell to say goodbye.

Wilted Roses

Love is love. But sometimes, it’s just not the right fit, time, or place.

Love. Connection. Intimacy. Sex. These are some of the most powerful constructs known to humans.

But, it doesn’t always mean that the relationship had the potential or the level of functionality that you needed to sustain health and balance in your life.

Saying goodbye to a relationship, another person, un-lived dreams for the future, and parts of ourselves is painful.

It’s a kind of death.

If you’re having trouble letting go, ask yourself if you have truly taken the proper time to grieve, to cry, to brood, and to be just plain sad.

It is frequently the case that we work very hard to avoid these more vulnerable feelings. Because of that, we don’t genuinely work through this aspect of the process. Thus, we continue to feel like we can’t let go.