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How to Fall out of Love

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Seth Gillihgan, PhD - Blogs
By Seth J. Gillihan, PhDClinical psychologistSeptember 17, 2018

Love can be downright inconvenient. Maybe you’ve found yourself in love with someone who doesn’t love you back, or you still have strong feelings for an ex even though you ended the relationship. Or perhaps you’re happily partnered but struggling with attraction to someone else.

What can you do if your heart is pulled in a very counterproductive direction?

First, let me state the obvious: Our hearts have minds of their own, so we can’t decide exactly when to start or stop loving someone.

That said, we may have more control over our feelings than we realize. Emotions, thoughts, and actions are closely linked, as I emphasize in my “Think Act Be” approach. We can influence our feelings by addressing our thinking patterns and behaviors, which are more directly under our control.

Here are some techniques that can help you fall out of love.

Avoid contact with the person if at all possible. Romantic attraction is very similar to addiction in a lot of ways, and you might need a detox period to flush the person out of your system. The withdrawal may be painful at first; over time you’ll thank yourself for creating the space you needed to break the addiction.

Stop checking the person’s social media accounts. “Contact” with the person includes checking their latest posts. I know, you just want to see what they’ve been up to or if they’ve found somebody new. Resist the temptation.

Practice mindful awareness of your emotions. Part of mindfulness is taking a step back and observing our feelings, rather than getting lost in them. Recognize that the emotions don’t define you, and in a real sense aren’t you—they’re experiences you’re having, and you certainly don’t have to act on them.  

Be mindful of your music choices. Notice if the music you listen to encourages you to let go or keeps pulling you back in. Resist the urge to listen to music that reinforces your emotional attachment.

Be curious about your attraction. Was it really about the other person? Or about a need they seemed to satisfy in you? Or perhaps about the person you imagined you’d be with them? Often we’re attracted to people because we like who we are around them. Consider that your attraction has at least as much to do with you as with the other person.

Take off your rose-colored glasses. Pay attention to your thoughts about this person, which most likely are unrealistically positive. Whether you hadn’t gotten to know them well enough to discover their faults or you’ve just temporarily forgotten their shortcomings, explore the possibility that the idealized person you’re pining for may be in large part a fantasy.

And finally, have compassion on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up if you give into urges to check the person’s Facebook page, for example. It’s hard when you can’t be with someone you really care about. Just remember that the greatest kindness to yourself may be practicing the thoughts and actions that enable you to let go.

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About the Author
Seth J. Gillihan, PhD

Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor of psychology in the Psychiatry Department at the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author with Janet Singer of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery and author of Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Made Simple. Dr. Gillihan maintains a private practice in Haverford, PA, where he specializes in treating OCD, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

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