On “Letting it Be”: Managing Feelings for Former Partners
“It’s not a matter of letting go- you would if you could. Instead of “Let it go” we should probably say “Let it be.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
If only we could just “let it go.” If only we could control our feelings in a such a manner that we could ask them to disappear. How wonderful it would be to let go of what does not serve us, on command.
So many times in my personal life I have wished away feelings, from wishing I could stop having feelings for the wrong person, to wishing I could not care about difficult situations I have no control over, to wishing away my grief over losing people I love. Unfortunately that’s not the way I, or most of us, work.
In my office, specifically in regards to dating and relationships, I often hear questions like, “I’m happy and in love with my new partner, but I still have some feelings for an ex. Is this normal?” or “I’m really glad to be done with my ex, but I still can’t stop thinking about him/her. How do I just let the feelings go?” I almost always tell my clients that their conflicting feelings are completely normal, and that unfortunately they can not force their feelings to go away.
Most of us can not simply shut off our feelings. We can choose to end a relationship. We can choose a new partner. We can choose to accept love and give love to a new partner. But we can not force ourselves to get rid of feelings for an ex- if only we could! ….Love is a choice. It is possible to have lingering feelings for former partners for the rest of our lives, but who we choose to give love to, and accept love from is what matters the most. Love is more than a feeling: it is an active choice.
In addition to normalizing, I help my clients understand that we are made up of many parts. Part of us may be grateful that a relationship is over, while the other part may hold on to feelings that won’t disappear, regardless of how much we wanted the relationship to end. Part of us may love our new partner, while the other part may be holding onto grief over the loss of the past one. Much of my work with clients focuses on allowing both parts to exist, and knowing that both parts can be present at the same time.
Whether you are single and thinking about a former partner, or dating someone new, having lingering feelings for an ex can be painful and frustrating. So how do you manage the part that still holds on to these unwanted feelings?
First, “Let it be.” Don’t fight that part, and don’t beat yourself up for having that part. Don’t force yourself to let those feelings go. Instead, accept that that part is there. Accept that it’s ok to have those feelings. You may have cared deeply about this person at one point, so having remaining feelings makes sense.
Second, allow all parts to have a voice, including the part holding on to feelings you’d rather not have. Sit with the uncomfortable feelings and understand them. Remember that feelings are temporary. A year from now your feelings may be quite different, and this part may not be present anymore. Also, remember, if you’re in a new relationship with a partner you are choosing, and you are genuinely happy, having some feelings for a past partner does not take away from or change your current relationship.
Third, after accepting this part and these feelings, sitting with and understanding them, it is important to find ways to cope with them. These feelings can be highly uncomfortable and even painful. Whether or not you are in a new relationship, sitting with feelings you have for an ex is not pleasant, and can be highly frustrating. If your level of discomfort is high, finding activities to help you cope is important. For example, finding friends, family members, or a therapist to talk to, journaling, exercising, taking walks, meditating, listening to music, and any means of self-care that will enable you to feel good in a productive/healthy manner.
“Letting it be” is not easy, but by allowing yourself to truly let your feelings be- by accepting them, understanding them, and coping with them, you are likely to be able to manage the difficult feelings, with time. Of course, if I can be of help in any way during this process, please reach out to me!
Wishing you all well!