You Can Love Someone And Still Need To Let Them Go.

By Danielle Carney, LMHC

Relationships can be hard.

We’ve all been there. That place teetering on the edge of telling ourselves “all relationships go through hard times” and truly questioning if the relationship has any chance of surviving.


When relationships take a turn for the worse, it can be really hard to call out what you’re seeing without falling into an endless cycle of heated, fruitless arguments with your partner. You might struggle to voice your concerns in a way that your partner hears, and you might back down when you’re met with resistance or defensiveness. You might have a hard time drawing hard lines because you don’t want the relationship to end. 


Some people feel like they should be the ones to fix things, to shoulder the load in the relationship, and to bridge the gap between what they need and what their partner is currently doing. They might struggle to feel like their needs are valid, or they feel like because their partner is unwilling to change, it’s them who needs to bend and swallow what they’re feeling.


It is super difficult when you’re in a relationship with a person you deeply care for, and now you’re arguing all the time, feeling lost and disconnected, and like they’re not hearing what you’re saying to them. 


The thing is, you can care for someone deeply and still need to set limits, to speak up about what is okay and not okay with, tell them certain behaviors are unacceptable to you, and even end the relationship if necessary.


While conflicts are inevitable in relationships, we are all deserving of a relationship with a partner who is willing to take responsibility for where they’ve misstepped, collaborate on solutions, and commit to making the changes needed (side note: we should also aim to be these types of partners, but that’s a topic for another post). We also need to be willing to walk away from a relationship if it’s no longer aligning with what we want. 


It’s hard to know if a relationship is just going through a rough patch, or if it’s time to call it quitsHere are some points to explore that might help to clarify your decision:

1. Identify what the issues are.

Have you ever found yourself in a position in a relationship where you’re arguing about the smallest, relatively insignificant things? Like who your partner just followed on social media, or whose turn it is to walk the dog? 


Spoiler alert, it’s never actually about the person your partner followed or the dog. It’s usually about a bunch of other unresolved stuff boiling just underneath the surface. For instance, maybe you’re having a hard time trusting your partner, or you feel like you’re carrying an unfair share of the responsibilities at home. 


As a general statement, people are terrible at noticing what they’re actually upset about as it’s happening. They can notice they’re angry or upset, but it’s tough to get in touch with why. It’s important to first understand your own reactions before bringing it to your partner. Slow down, assess what’s bothering you and why, and get specific about what the issue is you want to resolve with your partner.

What is it about them coming home late from work that frustrates you? Why does the amount of time they spend on their phone bother you? Explore your own reasoning, what beliefs and values support how you feel, and then bring it up to your partner.

2. Communicate your concern effectively.

Once you’ve understood what the core problem is, you need to make sure you’re communicating it in a healthy way. 

Go in with a clear and open mind.

We all have a bad habit of taking things personally in relationships and drawing conclusions preemptively. We can start conversations with it already cemented in our mind that our partners did the thing that upset us on purpose, and so we go into these discussions already in a defensive stance. If this is the case, you can fall into making judgments and attacking your partner’s character. Things are just going to escalate from there, and it ruins the likelihood of being heard and getting your needs met. 


You also need to give your partner a fair chance to explain their side of things. There are always two sides to every story, and often, your partner might not know that something is wrong before you tell them. They might also have a totally different perspective on the same situation. We need to drop the defenses in order to have an effective discussion. We need to focus on listening, understanding our partner’s perspectives, and responding rather than reacting.

Keep it solution-oriented.

It’s easy to get caught up in specific, minute details of who said what, or the order of events, but it isn’t always the most productive use of time or energy in our relationships. It can also be a trap to bring up any past issues while trying to solve a current issue, even if it seems relevant. It almost never matters whose “fault” it is, who was the bigger jerk to who, or who started what. Ultimately, it takes two to tango, and we do much better when we focus on our own role in conflict, rather than pointing the finger at our partners. Again, we need to keep focused on the core problem you identified. Be okay with setting limits and redirecting if your partner falls into these traps, too. 


If at this point, you and your partner are on the same page, and they’re willing to work on the issues at hand, then great! I say go for it, and see what happens.


I find a lot of people at this stage might give up prematurely, or get frustrated if their partners revert to old behaviors as time goes on. That takes us to our next steps.

3. Where are you willing to compromise?

You absolutely don’t need to compromise if an issue is important to you, but it’s helpful to consider if the conflict at hand is a dealbreaker for you, or if it’s more an issue of preference. 

Issues of preference relate to a favored way of doing things, like going to your favorite restaurant, who drives when you leave the house, or how soon after you text or call, they get back to you. While these things can feel really significant in the moment, they don’t actually say a lot about two people’s ability to be in a relationship and can usually be reassessed. If it’s an issue of preference, there could be room to compromise in a way that doesn’t compromise your values. See if you and your partner are able to meet in the middle and collaborate on a solution that works best for both of you. Working through issues by compromising might actually strengthen your relationship and increase your own flexibility in thinking and problem-solving.

Dealbreakers, on the other hand, are usually conflicts of values. They are when there is a lack of alignment on a core level about how you would like to live your life versus how your partner lives theirs – finances, career goals, substance use, getting married, having children or not, religion, just to name a few. Is who they are as a person in conflict with who you are as a person? If yes, it’ll be extremely difficult to have a healthy and long-lasting relationship with this person, and you might need to let them go. It’s important to realize it isn’t anyone’s fault, it just is. Though it might be hard, ending things will lead you to a path that’s better aligned with what you actually want.

4. Be willing to enforce your boundaries.

It can be really annoying when you’ve spoken about something already, and your partner goes back to doing whatever it was that first contributed to the conflict. If this happens, I’d like to first encourage giving the benefit of the doubt. Human beings are hard-wired to seek out what’s familiar, and so we all can fall back into old behaviors, even when we’re trying really hard to be different. This is particularly true if we’re stressed, fatigued, or spread too thin. That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t get to address it. It’s going to be critical to gently confront and remind your partner of your boundaries and if there were compromises, what you agreed upon.


If you’ve given them a fair chance to address the issues in question and you feel like they’re dismissing your concerns, or not following through on agreed-upon changes, it might be time to leave.


Enforcing boundaries can be tough! We can say we don’t tolerate certain things, but putting it into action feels so much harder, especially when feelings are involved. If you say you don’t tolerate liars, as an example, then your actions need to support you not tolerating liars. So, if you’ve set this limit, and your partner lies, you need to be willing to walk away.


This might sound like a harsh way of thinking about it, but words without action truly mean nothing. That goes on both sides – whether it’s your partner promising they’ll change, and then they consistently don’t put forth the effort to, or if you say you’re going to leave if they do something again, and then you don’t.


People respond to consequences. You walking away will not guarantee change, and you also need to be okay if your partner chooses not to. However, how seriously you take your boundaries sets the tone for how seriously your partner takes them, and it could encourage them to reassess their actions, too.

5. If you decide you need to end it…

Breakups are so, so hard, and like the title of this post, you can love someone, and realize that the best thing for you is to let them go. People negotiate against breakups in so many ways. They stay in relationships too long, take too much of the responsibility for what’s not working, try to soften the blow by not being direct, or feel like ending the relationship conflicts with who they are as a “nice” person. While all of these things might feel valid at the time, they’re very unhelpful perspectives to operate from. 


You deserve a healthy, collaborative, reciprocal relationship. You deserve to walk away from whatever is no longer serving you. You deserve to put yourself first.


I have good news and bad news for you. The bad news is – breakups are just going to suck. I wish there was a way around this, but it is just the reality of things. The good news is that you are going to be okay. It’s going to suck for however long it does, but life continues to move forward, new doors open, and one day, the way you feel right now will be a relatively small blip in the radar of your life. Be gentle with yourself, and lean into the trust that you’re doing the right thing yourself.


If you’re navigating a rough patch or considering a breakup and could use a little extra support from a therapist, you can reach out to me here.

%d bloggers like this: