How Do I Cope With And Move Forward From Unrequited Love?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated February 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Studies showcase that humans are social beings, having a fundamental need to belong in their communities and foster healthy interpersonal attachments. Many people desire to experience relationships that are fulfilling, joyous, and reflected in love. For this reason, it can be challenging when you have intense feelings for someone who doesn't feel the same way about you.  

Unrequited love occurs when your love or attraction for someone else is not reciprocated. Movies, books, and social media have perpetuated the notion that if you love someone long enough, deeply enough, and stubbornly enough, they may eventually love you back. However, these messages may not reflect reality. 

Looking at your current relationship with this person and recognizing the reality of your connection can be beneficial. If you're looking to move on from these feelings, understanding how unrequited love might impact you and how to cope healthily may help you begin the process of moving forward. 

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Steps for moving forward from unrequited love

Below are a few steps to move forward from unrequited love and learn to cope with these feelings. 

Understand the mental health impact of unrequited love

According to research conducted by psychologists at Appalachian State University, unrequited love can include a crush founded in a passing acquaintance to someone close to you who has previously loved you but no longer does. 

In the study, one person felt or found out that their love was unreciprocated or unequally balanced, leaving that person yearning for a more complete love. The researchers in the study also found that unrequited love was associated with significant emotional turmoil. In contrast, consummate romantic love can be reciprocal, fulfilling, and often characterized by trust, care, and intimacy. 

Loving someone who doesn't return the feelings may lead to depression, anxiety, and distressing euphoria. Even if you're not experiencing challenges with mood, focusing all your attention on another person can cause you to neglect your friends, family, and job. It might also keep you from dating around or finding a partner that feels the same way about you. 

When unrequited love continues long-term, it can begin to affect the quality of your life. You may cling to the hope that the individual will see you and start loving you if you show them enough affection or are patient. However, waiting for someone can lead to feeling inadequacy, insecurity, and fear, which may contribute to chronic stress. 

When the other individual is aware of your feelings, they might take advantage of you or joke about how you feel. Being used or joked with in this way can take a toll on your emotions, potentially leaving you sad or unfulfilled. Some resources show that turning toward self-love can be one of the most fundamental ways to love others. 

Look for evidence that they don't feel the same

Many people seeking love in a one-sided relationship spend time and effort trying to find evidence that the person they love reciprocates their feelings. They might cling to any possibility of hope and ignore signs that the person does not love them. These attempts to find meaning can be human, but they may also cause mental health challenges.  

If you are committed to moving on from your desire for the other person, try to take the opposite route. Rather than looking for signs they love you, search for indications they do not. Your fascination with them may subside if you understand their actions don't necessarily indicate love.  

Try radical acceptance 

For some individuals, facing the truth of unrequited love can be difficult. However, recognizing the truth and accepting it using strategies like radical acceptance might allow you to better recognize your situation's reality. Once you feel you have closure, you might be able to move forward, even if you still love the person.

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To practice radical acceptance, use the following steps from the dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) handout: 

  1. Observe how you might be questioning or fighting your reality. 
  2. Remind yourself that your reality cannot be changed in this situation. 
  3. Try to note any causes for the reality. Acknowledge how many people do not have control over who they fall in love with, but you can control how you proceed. 
  4. Practice acceptance with your mind, body, and spirit. Use positive self-talk to tell yourself you are willing to accept this situation, even if it is difficult. 
  5. List all the behaviors you'd partake in if you already accepted this situation. Then act this way until you find it aligns with your reality.
  6. Cope ahead by thinking of ways to accept the situation if it worsens. 
  7. Attend to your body sensations using mindfulness or meditation to connect with yourself. 
  8. Allow disappointment, sadness, grief, or anger to arise if they do. Note them and do not act on them. Give them the space to exist. 
  9. Acknowledge that life can be worth living, even when there is pain. 
  10. Create a pros and cons list if you are resisting acceptance further.

Get the opinion of someone you trust

You might also find it valuable to ask for the opinion of someone you trust who is an objective party in the situation. Tell them you're experiencing unrequited love and ask for advice or support. They may help you see a logical side to the situation you might not have considered before due to your emotional pain. 

Focus on self-care and self-compassion

It may seem romantic to live for someone else. However, living for yourself first can be healthier. Even in healthy relationships, those with secure attachments often practice self-care and assert boundaries. Attend to your life rather than leaving it for someone else to fix. As you concentrate on being the hero of your own story, you might notice your feelings for the other individual subsiding. 

When looking for a relationship, it can be beneficial to focus on what you have to offer to others. Many people use the phrase, "You can't pour from an empty cup," to explain how it feels to love someone without loving yourself or caring for your needs. Taking time to focus on yourself, establish your needs, and get to an emotionally safe place may enable you to have lasting and fulfilling relationships in the future.

Take time away from the idea of a relationship

As mentioned in the above study by psychologists at Appalachian State University, unrequited love is often less founded on trust, honesty, and passion than reciprocated love. Researchers found that unrequited love is often founded on the desire for a relationship. If you struggle to be alone or stop trying to connect with others, consider the reasons you feel so strongly toward this person. 

When you struggle with the idea of being single, consider taking time away from your ideals for a relationship. Spend time with friends when you can and focus on the activities that bring you joy. If you have hobbies, try to enjoy your spare time by focusing on how they make you feel. When you're ready for a relationship, you may notice that you are seeking people who feel the same as you and are better able to move on when they don't. 

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Counseling options 

Unrequited love is unreciprocated love that can be challenging to cope with. You may find that you feel powerless to change your feelings despite your efforts to move on. Talking to a therapist may offer you the skills to move forward, accept your situation, and cope with your feelings. However, it can be challenging to find a therapist when barriers are present, such as cost, distance, or availability of providers. In these cases, you might benefit from online counseling. 

Online therapy has been found as effective in the medium and long term as face-to-face therapy. One study reviewed 373 other studies exploring the efficacy of online cognitive-behavioral therapy. Their results found the therapeutic intervention as effective, and sometimes more so, as in-person therapy for treating depression, anxiety, relationship challenges, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mood disorders, and specific phobias. 

Furthermore, participants in the study reported that online therapy removed many barriers they experienced with face-to-face therapists. For example, online therapy can be readily available to those living in rural areas and those with busy, non-conventional schedules. These sessions can be conducted anytime from anywhere with an internet connection, including your home. If you're interested in getting started, a platform like BetterHelp can match you with a unique provider, often within 48 hours of signing up. 

Counselor reviews

“Missy has truly been a God-sent angel! Through our many conversations over the last several months, she has been so kind, encouraging, and transparent, and has truly been such a positive light in my life. After becoming a young widow and then losing my mother to cancer, I had thought I would never experience healing. Missy has helped me develop many skills to be able to better cope with my grief, depression, and anxiety. Through her challenging me and her insightful perspective, I have felt better than I have in 4 years and embracing the new version of myself that has blossomed after experiencing great traumatic loss. Missy, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all of your kindness. I praise God for this new exciting chapter, and I am so thankful for you helping me turn the page. ❤”

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“In the last 7 months or so, Lois has really helped me in reshaping my perspectives on my relationships and my involvement in them. I have seen a great deal of personal growth occur through her attention and guidance. I have been able to understand where my struggles had come from and deal with difficult ideas like blame and guilt. I'm very grateful for her time and attention and I'm confident that my personal relationships will be stronger and healthier as a result of working with Lois.”

Takeaway

It can feel like moving on is an impossible hurdle when you are experiencing unrequited love. However, although it can be painful, moving on is possible. If you're looking for further advice and compassion during this time, consider contacting a therapist for support and resources.

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