01/22/2014 05:36 pm ET Updated Mar 24, 2014

Why Is It So Hard to Let Go of Your Ex?

The end of an intimate relationship is an inevitable landmark in most of our lives, yet we don't learn to let go in the same way we learn to attach. Instead, when loss happens, we often don't know how to deal with it.

One of our greatest fears about ending a relationship is that we will have to experience overwhelming feelings from which we will never recover. Many of us would rather continue living in a lifeless relationship than go through the painful grief of ending it.

Grieving the loss of a partnership is not like getting over the flu. It can take much longer than a few weeks to recover your balance and feel normal again. Why? Because love is our security blanket and we want it to last forever. Therefore, when it is threatened, we tend to do whatever we need to do to hold on.

Who Am I Without My Partner?

Managing the letting go process will be easier the more autonomous and independent we are in our relationship. For those who looked to their partner to define them, losing that partner will be tantamount to losing themselves.

Consider the following as a barometer of how whole you felt in your partnership:

  1. You looked to your partner to figure out what you wanted or needed.
  2. You felt powerless to make changes in your life and were dependent on your spouse to succeed.
  3. You found it hard to be alone with yourself.
  4. You did things to please your spouse even when you didn't want to.
  5. You believed you were not good enough.

Moving On

Grief: It is tempting to use unhealthy and distracting ways of coping with a loss, such as abusing alcohol or quickly seeking out a new partner to anesthetize the loneliness. Instead, look at loss as an opportunity to embrace the pain with a willingness to allow what you are feeling to be a powerful vehicle for personal transformation.

Develop your SELF: We often begin partnerships essentially uninformed about ourselves. We have a tendency to look to our partner to make up for the deficits of our past. Thus, a primary step in recovering from the loss of a partner is to choose to do the hard work of building your identity and taking responsibility for your own life.

Define a healthy relationship: It is only after you have completed the grieving process and redeveloped your SELF that you can effectively define what a healthy relationship looks like for you.


Author of the recently released book, "Who Am I Without My Partner? Post-Divorce Healing and Rediscovering Your SELF," Deborah Hecker, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist with over 35 years of private practice experience. She received her Master's Degree from Columbia University and her Ph.D. from The Union Institute. In addition, she is certified as a psychoanalyst and has extensive training in the following areas: addiction counseling, grief counseling, collaborative practice and mediation. For more information, please visit