How To Stop Loving Someone You Can’t Have

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated March 10, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Many people can identify with the feeling of wanting to be in a romantic relationship with someone but not being able to. This could be because the person is already in a monogamous relationship with someone else, lives too far away, or is fundamentally incompatible with them somehow. Whatever the reason, this situation can be painful and sometimes difficult to move past.

Tips For Moving On From Loving Someone You Can’t Have

Matters of the heart don’t always follow the rules of logic. Even if you know, without a doubt, that a relationship between you and this person is impossible, it can be hard for your emotions to align with that truth at first. If you’re having trouble with a situation like this, there are a few strategies you can try to help yourself move on.

1.    Grieve What You Lost

The University of Washington Counseling Center says that grieving is important because “it allows us to ‘free-up’ energy that is bound to the lost person, object, or experience—so that we might re-invest that energy elsewhere.” This description fits the experience of grieving the loss of a relationship you wanted to have quite accurately. Understanding that it’s impossible means accepting that your hopes, dreams, and expectations for what it could have been must be laid to rest. It’s a form of loss, and grieving is a process that often accompanies loss.

As the quote above reminds us, grief can describe the process of letting go of one thing to make room for another. Give yourself time and space to feel your feelings—especially since research suggests that avoiding negative emotions can actually prolong the grieving process. Remind yourself, though, that you can get something incredibly valuable out of it. By releasing the desire and energy you had wrapped up in the idea of what a relationship with that person could be like, you can make room for something new and perhaps even more wonderful in your life.

2.    Monitor Your Self-Talk

The way you speak to yourself, also known as your internal monologue or self-talk, can be an incredibly powerful thing. When you’re feeling down about not being able to be with the person you want, taking control of your self-talk may have the power to help you feel better. One pattern to watch out for especially in a time like this is a cognitive distortion called overgeneralization. According to Harvard Health, cognitive distortions are “internal mental filters or biases that increase our misery, fuel our anxiety, and make us feel bad about ourselves.” Specifically, overgeneralization is when we falsely predict the outcome of all future situations based on how one situation went. It’s sometimes referred to as “taking a button and sewing a vest on it.”

In the case of wanting someone you can’t have, this may take the form of a thought that says, “They’re the only person for me, and I’ll never find anyone else I love this much.” Try to recognize that this is the distortion talking, and to see behind the emotionally charged thought to the truth of it. There are billions of people in the world, and none of us know who we’ll meet or even who we’ll become in the future. We can be compatible with many different types of people in many different ways, and not getting to be with one person we love does not mean that we’ll never find another. Distorted thoughts are powerful, but recognizing when they appear can help you stand up to them and acknowledge them as untrue.

3.    Build Your Self-Confidence

Some people interpret their inability to have a relationship with the person they want as a reflection on themselves. More overgeneralization can ensue, such as “I’ll never find someone who cares for me.” Building confidence in yourself can help you get out of this self-defeating cycle. Once you’re able to realize just how much you have to offer, it may be easier to see how you have the potential to eventually enter into a relationship with someone who appreciates who you are and chooses you.

To help build confidence in who you are, you might try:

  • Listing your best qualities or your proudest accomplishments
  • Asking friends and family to express what they appreciate about you
  • Building a new skill
  • Setting a realistic personal goal and working toward achieving it

A therapist can also help you learn strategies for building or rebuilding confidence in yourself. See point five on this list to learn more about how a mental health professional can be useful to someone who is experiencing the pain of loving someone they can’t have.

4.    Pursue Healthy Distractions

When you come to terms with the fact that you can’t have a relationship with the person you want, the emotions you feel usually aren’t too dissimilar from those people experience after a breakup. That means that the classic post-breakup advice can apply here, too. While research shows that reflecting on a breakup may help speed up the healing process, ruminating on an event like this for too long can keep you from progressing. Once you’ve given yourself some time to mourn the loss, try taking action to enrich your life in new ways. Put yourself out there to form new social connections of all kinds, like by joining a book club, a sports league, or by volunteering. Pick up hobbies, rekindle relationships with family and friends, and focus on filling your life with new and interesting experiences. These are all positive ways to show yourself that you can feel fulfilled and connected even without being in a relationship with the person you desire right now.


In a situation like this, some people choose to seek out the guidance of a therapist. They can help you unpack your attachment to this person and guide you toward strategies for working through those feelings. If there’s an underlying cause that’s making this experience more difficult for you, such as depression or anxiety, they can assist you in identifying tools to manage or improve your symptoms.

If you decide to seek out a counselor, know that you have plenty of options. Given that research suggests that online therapy offers similar benefits to the in-person variety, it’s worth expanding your search for a therapist to include virtual providers. With online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a mental health professional that you can speak with remotely. Whatever you choose, remember that one of the most important elements in seeking therapy is finding the counselor that works best for you so you can get the help you need.

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