"If you love someone, set them free. If they come back to you, it was meant to be." –Unknown
Content Warning: Please be advised that the following article discusses topics related to grief, loss, trauma, abuse, and other potentially triggering topics. Read with discretion.
You may have heard the quote about setting someone free if you love them. Although it may not be applicable in every relationship, deciding when to let go of a connection can be essential in maintaining healthy dynamics in your life. Studies show that healthy relationships can improve mental health and mood overall.
When a relationship feels unhealthy or has become challenging, you might decide to end your connection or work through the difficulties. People may not end relationships only because they love someone. The quote could be instead discussing the idea that loving someone might not be enough to make a relationship healthy for both individuals. In some cases, you might love someone and still choose to let them go.
What Does It Mean To "Let Someone Go"
For example, to let someone go, you may first accept that you've decided to end the relationship.
Letting someone go might be done in a romantic, platonic, or familial sense. You could end a relationship with anyone in your life, which may feel challenging. Accepting that the loss is happening or that you've made a decision could feel confusing, but it is often necessary to move forward fully.
When "letting someone go," you might also do the following:
Cut off contact
End the relationship indefinitely
Get rid of items from the relationship
End other relationships connected to them, such as connections with their family
Attend therapy to discuss your emotions
Process your feelings healthily
Ignore attempts to reconnect until you've made a decision
Ending a relationship solely because you want someone to feel remorse or to come back to you might not be a healthy action. A cycle of breaking up and making up can be typical in unhealthy relationships. Instead of breaking up to find out if someone cares about you, you might consider couples or family therapy or a long in-depth conversation about feelings.
Will They Come Back To Me?
Although the above quote mentions that an individual might return if they were meant to be, this might not apply to all situations. In the case of moving away for college and leaving a long-term healthy partner due to life circumstances, you might find that you reconnect in the future, which could be an example of a "right place, wrong time" situation. However, if you leave a partner who was unhealthy or unkind to you and they return to apologize or attempt to achieve forgiveness, it may not be a healthy situation.
Regardless of whether someone comes back to you, it may be beneficial to remember you have free will and personal choice in the situation. The person who returns or doesn't return also has a right to their boundaries. If either of you feels the situation is unhealthy, it might be. A quote may not fully estimate the intricacies of relationships.
Reasons Why It Might Be Time To Let Go
There are several reasons why someone might let go of a relationship or connection with another person, including the following.
The Relationship Has Become Unhealthy
Relationships may become unhealthy for various reasons. Not all unhealthy relationships are necessarily abusive. However, abuse can be a reason for letting go of a connection. Examples of unhealthy and abusive behaviors include the following:
A lack of empathy
A lack of communication
Differing goals, morals, or values
Sexual harassment, assault, or abuse
A lack of trust
A lack of intimacy
Yelling or raising one's voice
Unhealthy expressions of anger, such as slamming doors
A lack of fairness in household chores or finances
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
You Are No Longer In Love
In the case of a romantic relationship, individuals might decide to break up if one or both no longer feels in love. Continuing a relationship without love or connection could be painful or challenging. Often, people choose to break up to avoid future pains. In the future, these feelings could change, or they may not.
You Lost The Person To A Breakup Or Outside Circumstance
At times, letting go of someone may be forced upon you, as you might have experienced a breakup or lost them due to death, illness, or an unexpected circumstance, like moving long-distance. Acceptance may be a healthy way to move forward if you've recently lost someone. It is also the final stage of grief. If you struggle to let go after a loss, consider speaking to a grief or relationship therapist.
You Want To Focus On Yourself
If you want to focus on yourself or feel suffocated or stressed by the fact that you're in a relationship, you might decide to end the connection to spend more time independently and learn more about yourself before you commit to someone. Although this can be a healthy choice, it may feel difficult if you still love the person or had hopes and goals with them.
You Aren't Sure If The Relationship Is Right For You
At times, you may feel unsure if a relationship is right for you or healthy. In these cases, you might decide to let go to take some time alone to discover what you want. Although the person might not be available anymore when you make a decision, it could offer some clarity overall, and you may find more decisiveness in future relationships.
Love May Not Be "Enough"
Sometimes, people who love each other decide to end a relationship despite the love they feel. They may feel that love is not enough to keep the relationship healthy. Despite many efforts, they might experience conflict, challenges, and stress. In these cases, it could be a healthy choice to let go. However, many couples try couples therapy before making the decision, and 70% find it effective.
How To Practice Radical Acceptance
Radical acceptance is a skill from dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) that outlines how to accept circumstances you may not be able to change. It can help reduce emotional distress based on grief, loss, breakups, or difficult decisions. You can practice it through the following steps:
Determine what you want to accept. Is it a loss? A breakup? A stressor in your life?
Remind yourself why this situation cannot be changed or why you do not want to change it.
Remind yourself of the situation's causes and why those causes led to it.
Practice accepting your reality openly. If you feel judged or hear unkind thoughts in your head, let them pass without judging or refuting them. Then, go back to accepting.
Imagine a scenario where you fully accept the situation and what it might look like. How would you act, feel, and think?
Be empathetic to your bodily sensations and emotions. Accepting doesn't necessarily mean not feeling hurt or upset about the situation. You can feel your emotions.
If you struggle with acceptance, do a pros and cons chart of accepting the situation.
Many individuals who decide to let go of a connection may struggle with grief, upset, confusion, and other distressing emotions. During these times, it could be beneficial to speak to a professional. Additionally, if you're in a relationship or marriage, you might benefit from speaking to a couples counselor before deciding on the fate of your relationship.
Couples and individual counseling can be done in person or online. Online therapy is an often popular alternative to traditional counseling because it can be done on your schedule and is often more flexible. Additionally, it can be accessible to those unable to meet an in-person therapist due to disabilities, finances, distance, or availability. Studies show that internet-based modalities can be more effective than traditional therapy for many issues, including depression and anxiety.
If you're interested in trying online counseling, consider signing up through a platform like BetterHelp for individuals or ReGain for couples. Both platforms offers to phone, video, or live chat sessions with a licensed therapist.
"I've worked with Jamie for a number of months and he's helped me with everything that life has thrown my way. Difficulty in work, my relationship, and other stresses that I've struggled to navigate by myself. He listens and he helps. I always feel validated and supported. He gives me tools and perspectives that have made a big difference in my overall happiness."
"I've never been to therapy and so was really hesitant about opening up at first. But Whitney has just been so great! I signed up for BetterHelp because I was going through a breakup with problems I knew stemmed from problems with myself. I knew I felt unhappy in my relationship but could not for certain say why. Therapy with Whitney has been so great in helping me become more self aware and reflective. And, of course, the break up was hard at first. But every day, with Whitney, I was able to feel a little bit better than the day before."
Other Commonly Asked Questions
Below are a few commonly asked questions regarding letting someone go.
Is It True If You Love Something, You Should Let It Go?
Letting go of someone solely because you love them might be unhealthy and unnecessary. Often, people choose to let go of someone they love if the relationship is unhealthy or isn't working out. At times, they might let go due to unrequited love. It can be a personal decision, and you may benefit from discussing the choice with a professional.
Who Said The "If You Love Something, Let It Go" Quote?
The quote has been attributed to multiple authors and sources, so many websites list the author as "unknown."
Does True Love Return After A Breakup?
If you break up with someone, there may be a reason for it. Although you and your ex-partner might still feel love for each other, love might not be a solid reason for you to continue a relationship. The issues in the relationship may remain if the person returns to you in the future. Couples therapy may be a valuable option if you decide to get back together.
Will He Come Back If I Leave Him Alone?
Respecting someone's boundaries or deciding to go no contact may not necessarily make them come back. If someone else has decided to leave your life, that is their choice. In these cases, it can be beneficial to practice radical acceptance or talk to a therapist about how you feel. If you decide to leave the person's life, they might be open to a connection with you again. However, cutting contact with someone as a form of changing their actions can be a manipulative behavior.
How Do You Let Go Of Someone You Love But Can't Have?
Unrequited love can be challenging to deal with. Moving on from romantic feelings for someone who does not feel the same can involve:
Talking to a counselor
Making new friends or connections
Taking a break from the relationship until you lose feelings for the individual
Although it might feel tempting to wait until the person might form feelings for you, it could be that they do not. Waiting may cause you more challenging emotions. Confronting your emotions and working to move on may be beneficial in the meantime. If the person eventually feels the same, they might tell you. Unless that happens, it may be best to act out of the assumption that they do not and won't.