We are wired to connect. We long for closeness. Research shows that most of us are happiest if we are in close loving relationships with others. But what happens if we’re connected to someone who is not right for us? How do we let go? When should we let go? Here are five reasons to let go of a lover.
As an example, let’s suppose your lover tells you that you are too fat.
Reason number one to let go: Your job is to be real, not someone’s fantasy.
Your lover is right. You are too fat to fit his or her fantasy. Most of us are too fat to fit the Photoshopped pictures we see on the magazines in the checkout line. Those magazines offer fantasy bodies we are encouraged to shrink ourselves into.
But your job is not to fit a fantasy of an ideal body or ideal lover. Your job is to be you. It’s easy to forget that idealized pictures are just that: ideas about how reality should be. Then there is reality. Only one of those is true. You are real; fantasies are not.
Reason number two: When someone tells you that you should be some other way, that person loves a fantasy—not you.
When we go around “shoulding” on each other, we don’t relate to the partner we have; we interact with the fantasy partner we wish we had. Then we wonder why our real partner keeps showing up instead of our fantasy. Or we go around shoulding on ourselves, relating to the fantasy self we wish we were. Then we get angry or depressed because our fantasy body doesn’t appear in the mirror. We keep showing up instead.
If your partner prefers a fantasy and you hold on to the relationship, you are holding on to that same fantasy. Let go of the fantasy.
Reason number three: By refusing to let go of the fantasy, your partner has already separated from you.
If the person you love cannot love you as you are in reality, you should be free to find someone who can. And you should free your partner to keep living in a fantasy world. You’re not divorcing your lover; you’re divorcing the fantasy. Since your lover is married to a fantasy, he or she already divorced you! Let your partner continue having an affair with a fantasy. Then you can look for someone else who in is touch with reality and can love you as you are.
Reason number four: When you let go of the wish for your partner’s approval, you are free to be yourself.
Other people may think there is something wrong with us when we don’t fit their fantasy. Sometimes we even mistakenly believe there is something wrong with us when we don’t fit others’ fantasies of how they wish we were. But there is nothing wrong with you. There is something wrong with fantasies: they don’t fit reality.
Your job is not to be unreal. Your job is to be real: as you are in this moment. If you are fat, you should be fat now. If you are skinny, you should be skinny. We never say the oak tree is too oaky. Nor do we say that the water is too wet. Yet every day we make crazy comments about each other and ourselves.
When people cannot love us as we are, they may engage in a renovation project, trying to change us: “You would be so much happier if you went on a diet.” “You shouldn’t go out in that dress.” “Why are you having that glass of wine?” But you don’t need renovating. You need to approve of yourself as you are in reality.
Reason number five: You should not have to change yourself for your lover to love you.
Trying to change ourselves to fit into someone else’s fantasy is an act of violence. We can try to reduce ourselves to an anorectic stick or dress ourselves up in our partner’s favorite way, but then we are just trying to fit into a fantasy. We love the image in our partner’s mind and hate ourselves in reality. This can never be the solution since it is really the problem.
If someone critiques you for being too fat, too loud, or too whatever, agree with that person. You are too much to fit into that person’s fantasy. And that makes sense! After all, you are too much to fit into your own fantasy. That’s the way reality is: it never fits into fantasies. Your job is not to fit into anybody’s fantasy. Your job is to be you. The sooner your partner lets go of the search for a fantasy that doesn’t exist, the sooner he or she will find reality. The sooner you let go of your fantasy of the ideal you, the sooner you will find yourself. And the sooner you look for someone who loves you as you are, the sooner you will find love. After all, love doesn’t reject reality—love embraces reality.
JON FREDERICKSON, MSW is co-chair of the ISTDP Training Program at the Washington School of Psychiatry where he has been on the faculty since 1988. He currently teaches mental health professionals around the world. He is the author of The Lies We Tell Ourselves: How to Face the Truth, Accept Yourself, and Create a Better Life. For more info, please visit http://istdpinstitute.com.
Jon’s book will be available in January of 2017. Find out more about the book and order it. Click here.