One common, but infrequently discussed, reason that people come to see a psychologist is when a unhealthy relationship ends but they are stuck feeling like they can’t move on orlet it go. It’s normal to want a somewhat peaceful resolution – like agreeing to disagree, an apology or some acknowledgment of your point of view. Unfortunately, when things end badly, it’s unlikely that you will ever hear the words, “I’m sorry,” or “I made some really poor life choices that affected you terribly and I’m going to make it up to you if it’s the last thing I do.”
The stress and anxiety of thinking about someone out there who is potentially bad-mouthing you or moving on and having a happy, consequence free life without you can be pretty hard to take. Tossing and turning in bed, replaying the things you wish you had said to them over and over again. Worrying that you might bump into them at the grocery store. Every restaurant you ate at or thing you enjoyed together feels like it should have a trigger warning on it .
The images and thoughts can be all consuming and life draining. It’s also a bit like having OCD – where you’re brain gets stuck on an obsession and wants resolution. If the other person is unwilling or unable to make peace, then it can feel like you’ll be stuck in the emotional muck forever.
The good news is that you can learn to move forward without anything from the person who hurt you. You don’t need their apology or their permission in order to move on and live a happy life. Here are some tips to help get you started:
1. Remember it’s not just you who is stuck – it’s your brain. The brain doesn’t like it when things aren’t neatly resolved – and this extends to our relationships. It probably stems back from when we lived in small tribes and had to get along or die. Those who felt the most uncomfortable with conflict lived to pass their genes on to future generations. Just because we can now move away and join another tribe doesn’t mean that conflict bothers our brains any less.
2. Refocus on fun activities. Help your brain move on by refocusing your attention on to other activities. Brains can only do so many things at once. You can help it move forward by doing things you enjoy and meeting new people.
3. It takes two. Remind yourself that it takes two people to fix a relationship when you start beating yourself up about what you could’ve or should’ve done. Your not the only one who is responsible for trying to sort out disagreements. Everyone makes mistakes in relationships and relationships only last when both parties are forgiving and are committed to working things through.
4. Focus on the future. When someone keeps hurting you or isn’t willing to work things through, it’s important to focus on cultivating new, supportive relationships. If you have some good friends or family in your life already, put your energy into further strengthening those ties. If you are coming out of a relationship where you were kept isolated and have lost touch with others, you can learn to trust the right people and protect yourself through therapy and make new, healthier connections going forward.
5. Meditate. Meditation is a great way to train your mind to focus in the right direction – and pull yourself out of an endless loop of blame, anger and doubt. It is good to learn from an experienced meditation teacher who can help you cope if any strong feelings emerge in meditation – as they often do – but with time you can learn to skillfully stay with whatever feelings may come and go.
There are many situations where people have had to leave relationships without resolution – from an angry falling out with a good friend to being shunned from your family for having different religious or political beliefs and everything in between. People tend not to talk openly about these experiences out of shame and stigma – but therapists know that it is an all too common experience. Despite the pain, there is hope for a brighter future where you surround yourself with like-minded people who love and support you.