How to Stop Clinging to Failed Relationships

Sophie and Max broke up three months ago but her friends would never say so. ‘Max is all she talks about,’ sighs Omeshnie, who has been close to 25-year-old Sophie since the three studied interior design at the University of Technology. ‘She keeps rehashing what went wrong and going on about how great things were and how she can’t live without him. She’s got this idea he’s going to wake up and realize he needs her too, and come trotting back. But he’s with someone else, for goodness sake. I love Sophie but sometimes I’d like to shake her and make her let go’.

Clinging to dead relationships is surprisingly common among even otherwise liberated young women, say relationship counselors. Some simply can’t accept that a relationship has come full circle.

Why you Cling

The need to cling can be caused by many different issues. Sometimes it’s to do with having a dependent personality, possibly connected to issues from your past. Fearing rejection or abandonment, or struggling to cope with these usually starts in the home, although it’s not always to do with parents, and it becomes a pattern.

Clinging can also stem from perfectionism. There’s often a feeling of ‘I’m not good enough but if he’ll just give me more time I’ll show him my better side and he’ll learn to love me’. Perfectionists see letting go as a sign of personal failure, rather than of a particular relationship not working because one partner has discovered the other simply isn’t suitable, and they can fear looking bad.

Holding on to relationships, emotions, jobs or anything else is generally rooted in issues of security and fear of change. Sometimes we cling to people and things even when we know they’re holding us back from something better. It’s a way of protecting ourselves from the risk of failure and disappointment that can come with aiming higher.

Clingers can also be reluctant to give up the sheer comfort and convenience of what they’ve had with someone, irrespective of such core issues as emotional compatibility. As Sophie once tearfully told Omeshnie, ‘It’s not like I just lost Max – I lost my friend, my lover, my movie and theatre date, my design sounding board, my support system.’

‘Except he wasn’t really much of one,’ observes Omeshnie dryly, ‘or he wouldn’t have dropped her for a model just out of school’.

It’s called a break-up because it’s broken. People don’t quit loving, healthy relationships – only relationships that aren’t working on some level, even if one partner doesn’t recognize it yet.

Learning not to cling starts with reviewing your understanding of dating and relationships. When someone breaks up with you, you need to accept that it’s not because there’s something wrong with you but that you’re just not what they want at this stage of their life. Seen this way, no damage is done and you can move on and find a better fit. The trouble is that today young people move too quickly into relationships and they invest too much. It becomes a case of ‘I shared my body and life story with him. How can he do this to me?’

Dating is about looking at another person and liking something about them – their physique, perhaps, the way they dress, the way they listen – then going out and getting to know them. This used to take weeks, months or even years but today it may take only one or two nights. It’s far better to wait and take things one step at a time.

Relationships are about the mutual fulfillment of needs. For that, you need to know each other really well, and to give each other space and have space for yourself. This allows you to share common interests and values while continuing to grow as individuals, winning increasing respect.

If you have only a few points of difference, or they are minor ones, it makes sense to try to resolve them. But if they’re major differences you are better off cutting your losses and quitting before you commit too far and feel trapped. You can’t change who you are for someone else. You can try, but bitterness and resentment will set in and you risk losing your sense of self.

How to Peel Free

It’s vital to realize when a relationship has reached a dead end, and to bless the other person and let them go. While that may sound easier said than done, it’s doable.

Here’s how:

Make some Quiet Time and ask Yourself why you still Can’t let go.

What are you really trying to avoid – being left on your own and not managing to make it? Being embarrassed by others thinking you can’t keep a man and make a relationship work? Then ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen if he left? How likely is it to happen? How would you feel? Would it really be worse than the way you feel now?

Examine your Feelings.

Chances are you’re hurt, frightened or angry. If you keep holding on to the source of those feelings you can’t hope to change them. If you accept that your relationship is over and move on, they will lessen with distance and time. When you let yourself experience the pain of losing someone, the pain soon loses its power and so does your need to cling. To the extent you let go, you become free inside. You restore your sense of being alive and your peace of mind. You see your situation clearly and you can see what needs to be done.

Ask Yourself what you still want from this Man

An apology, especially if he cheated on you? An explanation? A sign that he too is hurting, at least a little? Are you hoping for reassurance that you’re still a great person? That he really did love you, once? Or that he still cares about you as a friend? Even if he gives you all this, and perhaps a session of old-times sex on the side, understand he’s simply trying to let you down lightly – either because of what you once had together or because it makes him feel better about himself and less guilty. Or maybe he just wants to score.

In any event, it won’t make you feel better in the long term, and will simply keep you dangling longer in limbo, instead of breaking free. By the time a man says he wants out, he’s already weighed his options and made up his mind. He’s looking to put distance between you and if you try to crawl or claw your way back he’ll retreat further and become more defensive. Hard as it may be to acknowledge, there’s always a degree of fault on both sides when a relationship breaks down, and pointing his out will only alienate him more. So will saying potentially self-serving things such as, ‘What about the cats/our parents/our declarations of love?’ This can come across as emotional blackmail and won’t save a relationship.

Review your Relationship

With retrospect you should be able to spot some warning signs of a break-up. Noting them could help you recognize them in future relationships and address them if they are related to your own behavior, or get out quickly if they centre on his.

Rally your Friends and Supporters

Swapping break-up stories can help you unburden as well as restore your confidence (these women survived alone, right?), and even your sense of humor (if you have the right friends). You can’t hurry healing, and everyone must work through a break-up at their own rate, but if friends tell you you’re obsessing like Sophie, you may benefit from professional counseling.

Find Resolution through a Healing Ritual

There’s no tomorrow without forgiveness. Much as it may stick in your throat, tell your man, ‘I’m sorry for the pain I caused you.’ He too will have suffered to some extent, even if he initiated the break-up. Then ask, ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’ If you manage to see the hurt in the other person instead of focusing solely on your own, you will feel better faster and move forwards.

Do Controlled Grieving

Rather than falling apart, buy a journal and write in it for 20 minutes every day. Think back on the good times and journal those as well as the bad – you need to mourn them too to let go. If you like, you can eventually bury the journal in a balcony pot or the garden, and plant a favorite flower or tree over it. It can be liberating to see something grow out of your experience. Take therapeutic showers. Get under a warm shower and tell yourself, ‘I’m letting go of the anger and pain’, and feel the water cleanse you, washing your feelings down the drainpipe. Now tell yourself you’re done with it, and move on.