Here are some research-based strategies you may not have considered before for ending it for good and getting on with your life. By Juliana Breines, Ph.D. in In Love and War
1. Don't mistake addiction for love. If you are trying to break free from a relationship that feels more like an addiction than a loving bond,one strategy is to reframe your thoughts and emotions about that person as if they are cold, clinical biological processes in order to gain a healthy distance from them.
2. Give yourself a break. One way to give yourself both comfort and encouragement without either deluding yourself or berating yourself is to be more self-compassionate. Self-compassion involves reassuring yourself that you're not a horrible person, that it's understandable to be attached to someone against your better judgment, and that a lot of other people go through this kind of thing too. Self-compassion also involves caring for yourself and wanting to do what's best for yourself, as a parent would a child. Which means not staying in a relationship that's hurting you. For more information about how to increase self-compassion, see Dr. Kristin Neff's Psychology Today blog.
3. Lock yourself into a plan. Research suggests that people are best at making lasting changes when they come up with specific implementation intentions, or "if-then" plans. These plans have been shown to help people avoid temptations, meet health goals, and even avoid stereotyping outgroup members. You may currently
have a lot of default "if-then" connections that are not working in your favor, such as "if I feel lonely and miss [name of partner], then call him/her and ask him/her to come over." Instead, you could replace this default "then" with a behavior that is likely to make you feel better in the long run, such as calling a good friend or listening to a fun, empowering song. The more you practice making a different decision whenever the "if" stimulus arises, the more automatic the link will become, and the easier it will be to resist the old pattern.
4. Defy cognitive dissonance. Our minds have a sneaky way of justifying our actions so that we never have to feel like we did something stupid or made a mistake, a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance. This is the reason why we tend to be more loyal to groups that we suffered to get into (e.g., a fraternity with intense hazing) and the reason why we find ourselves derogating the job we turned down once we make the final decision to go with another (post-decision dissonance). It's also one of the reasons it's so hard to break free of bad relationships, especially when we've been in them for a long time. Unless a relationship suddenly takes a turn for the worst when it was smooth sailing before, ending it often means coming to terms with the fact that for a long time we didn't end it, and that was a mistake. If we can't come to terms with this,we might find ourselves continuing to justify our present commitment to the
relationship, which in turn justifies our past decision to stay in the relationship. Being aware of the way your mind can play tricks on you can help you avoid this trap.
5. Own your decision. Ending a relationship can be a long and painful struggle, and it's not easy to do it alone. You will need a good support team to keep you on track and help you fill your life with healthy, positive activities. But ultimately the decision to end a relationship is yours, and succumbing to pressure from those around you is
unlikely to last very long.
When all else fails, sometimes it helps to step back and ask yourself, point blank, what do you really want? Only you know the answer.