It’s rarely easy, yet often necessary.

It’s difficult to know exactly when a relationship or situation has run its course. We go back and forth between whether or not we should keep fighting, and whether there remains anything worth fighting for. Sometimes we let go but don’t move on, remaining physically present even after we’ve checked out mentally and emotionally. Just the same, we’ll move on without letting go. Yet, both are equally important for a clean break.

Recognizing when it’s time to let go of someone or something to which we have developed emotional ties is very hard. Even tougher is knowing how to let go. We can’t figure out how to walk away, or what to do with the love and other remnants of a broken bond in attempting to do so.

There are three reasons that we move on.

We need to. Things aren’t getting better. Our spirit has been broken. The toxicity of the situation has caused unimaginable pain and we know that nothing positive can come of it. As much as we may want to hang in there and work things out, too much has been said and done for that to be possible. Not having reasons to stay is a great reason to go.

We want to. Sometimes we’re simply unhappy and no one is at fault. We outgrow people, get bored with jobs and find ourselves in situations that no longer serve us. These are the times where we want to explore what else is out there. We want to go in search of fulfillment, and can’t settle for existence when there remains the possibility of actually living.

We have no choice. Perhaps the person we’re holding on to has already let go of us. We had no say in the decision but it has been made nonetheless. So, we must adapt. We have to force ourselves to pick up and move on likely before we’re prepared to do so.

Then comes the “how?”

I don’t get attached often or easily, but it happens. When it does and I later feel that it is time to sever that connection, the struggle is real. It’s a process, but I’ve discovered some actions that help me along the way.

One important thing that I’ve learned to do is communicate openly and honestly, even if it makes me feel uncomfortably vulnerable. I tell people how I’m feeling before it gets to the point of needing to completely let go. This way, I have no regrets about what I didn’t say. I don’t have to wonder if things would have been different had the other person known how I felt. It’s one less notion to contemplate when inevitably replaying the failed scenario in your mind.

After my initial wave of acceptance and then sadness has passed, I set a hard deadline for how much longer I’ll allow myself to wallow, obsess over the situation or feel sorry for myself. Let’s say that every day I’ve checked the person’s social media, read old text messages, reminisced over photos and skipped the gym in favor of hugging my pillow. I’ll tell myself that once the week has ended, I’m not doing it again.

Speaking of social media, I rarely remain “friends” with exes — online or otherwise. Though I may be open to re-friending them later in life. Seeing what a person is doing all the time, where they are or who they are with only makes it more difficult to move on. The old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind” exists for a reason. It’s like deciding that you’re not eating sweets anymore but going to look at a piece of chocolate cake every day. It’s torture.

I set deadlines for when I’ll block or unfollow a person on social networks, delete things from my phone and whatever else I feel I need to do in order to aid my ability to progress. Sometimes it’s all of these things. Sometimes it’s none.

On occasion, a relationship has actually mended before I reached my limit. For instance, if someone hasn’t responded to my text or call, I’ll set a deadline that if I don’t hear from them by Friday I’m deleting their phone number — and they’ll respond on Thursday. When this is not the case, my deadline is strictly enforced. The purpose of the cutoff date is not to be petty or rigid, but to hold myself accountable for doing what is necessary and taking tangible steps toward moving forward once I know that there is no going back.

We have to control what we can control. Some things require the passage of time and we just have to wait it out, such as being sad or missing someone. Yet, there are other things fully within our power that can help, and conversely keep us in that space longer than we have to be — like constantly looking through old photos. Sadness is weird. One day we can feel completely fine, as though we’ve turned the corner, and then the next day find it difficult to even get out of bed. The emotional component of letting go is tricky, but we aren’t doing ourselves any favors by continuing to engage in counterproductive behavior.

Holding on to situations that have come to an obvious end and people who have left you is supremely unhealthy. I’ll do whatever is necessary for my healing. As should you.

Author of the critically acclaimed book on women and relationship status, “Single That.”

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