Letting a Past Love Go

Dear Toni--

After an 8 year long relationship, my husband and I got a divorce. I tried giving him his space, thinking he would realize I was the one for him. He is now with one of my "close friends," and will soon be having a baby. We didn't have any children because we felt we weren't ready for them yet.

I have since moved away in the two years we've been apart. I've done everything I could think of to get over him. I've followed advice in books, and tried to keep busy. Every night I still see him in my dreams. My feelings are so strong that I am overwhelmed by them and don't know how to go on anymore. Every time I get the urge to call him, I stop myself. We only talk to clear up old financial and legal business.

I keep saying that I'm happy as long as he is happy. I KNOW it's really over. I know I can never really get over him, but how do I stop thinking of him so much and move on? Please help. I know it's all in my mind, but it's just that I can't stop. --Broken Hearted

Dear Broken Hearted--

I have been getting some heart-wretching and difficult questions related to moving on and healing from a broken heart (relationship). I think this letter hits to the heart of many of the feelings that have been expressed to me. Therefore, I hope it offers some advice to everyone who wrote to me on this topic.

First of all, let me extend my sympathy. You've suffered a terrible loss, not unlike that of a death of a loved one. You are grieving, yet not really allowing yourself to grieve.

I don't know all the details of what went wrong and what the relationship was like when it was new, but it sounds as though there were problems for a while. It also appears that your primary way of dealing with these was to do what you believed was best for him and that this would then benefit you both.

You have been supportive, understanding, and patient with him. However, it appears that you have completely sacrificed your own feelings and needs in the process. Now, two years post-divorce, you continue on as though everything is OK and tell yourself that you are "happy if he is happy."

I would recommend that you begin with telling yourself that you are not okay. Also remind yourself that this is not "all in your mind." It's physical, emotional, spiritual and mental. You lost your life partner, to a "close friend" at that. Your feelings probably cover the whole range from denial and anger to sadness and fear.

You need to grieve. There are some good books that discuss the grief process in its many stages. Acquaint yourself with these. Start to allow yourself to feel the feelings that you have been blocking for so long. I promise they won't kill you. Many have been where you are now, and have healed and gone on to find new and fulfilling love relationships. Think of all the references to lost love in films, art and poetry. It is a human condition that has existed as long as we have existed. To deny the feelings and bottle them up is the best way to prolong the misery and grief and the healing that moving on brings.

Talking with a therapist may help. Someone to affirm your feeling and help you express them appropriately may be just what you need now. Do not fear that you will loose it if you let this long-contained grief monster out. You need to cry, talk, vent, label the feelings, and laugh and scream through the tears. Once you do, you will have the firsthand experience that life does go on, that feelings heal and that you can be renewed and begin again.

After you have done some of this healing, it will be important to look at what was wrong in this relationship and how the problems may have been handled differently. It would also be useful to look at what attracted you to your ex in the first place, and whether this attraction was a healthy one for you. You may also come to the realization that this relationship was not meeting your needs, but you held on to it for some reasons that you need to explore more fully.

Once you have a better understanding and acceptance of your own needs and feelings and can use these as a guide in your search for the right relationship. You will truly have healed and will be able to move on to the promise of a happy, lasting, intimate relationship.

(from September 2003)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

This is the first "Grieving Lost Love" column.

List of more
"Grieving Lost Love"

"How do You Know What to Believe?"


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


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