What’s the Difference Between Moving On and Letting Go?

Almost everyone has at least 1 failed relationship behind them. While we often hear people tell us to move on or let go, I’ve wondered what’s the difference between moving on and letting go?

Here’s what I figured out:

Moving on is the physical act of removing yourself from the relationship after it ends. Whereas letting go is the emotional release of the intense feelings you had for them; love, sadness, anger, disappointment, or a combination of those.

But there’s a lot more to say about the end of a relationship and the best way to proceed.

So in this article, we’re diving deep into relationships and how they end. We’ll get into both what it means to move on after a relationship ends, but also what it means to let go.

So let’s jump in!

What does letting go mean?

In a relationship, letting go means letting go of the feelings you once had for your ex. Almost all of us have at least 1 failed relationship in our history.

I actually have 1 ex-wife, and 2 significant relationships behind me, in addition to 3 other shorter-lived relationships. Luckily now, I’m happily married and have been since 2006.

But when a relationship ends, especially if we weren’t the one who ended it, it’s not uncommon for us to hold onto feelings for our ex. If they wronged us, sometimes those feelings are negative feelings like anger, disappointment, or frustration.

But feelings are feelings, even if they aren’t positive.

When we learn to let go, we learn to stop holding onto feelings for the other, good or bad. That doesn’t mean forgetting them, necessarily. But when we think of them, they no longer hold any power over our emotions.

Learning to let go doesn’t happen instantly, and it’s not always easy. That’s especially true for relationships that lasted a long time. Sometimes learning to let go is simply a matter of practicing daily until it clicks.

The biggest issue in NOT letting go is that we can’t really go 100% into a new relationship when our ex still has some level of control over our feelings. Even if all you are holding onto is anger, you’re still holding onto it.

And that’s not fair to the person you enter into a new relationship with.

If your relationship had been serious, and especially if you were married for years, the letting go will take a long time. That’s even truer if you were dumped. But even if it was mutual or you decided to end things, the letting go, the emotional release can take quite a while.

What does moving on really mean?

Moving on literally means getting up and moving on with your life. You still feel an emotional connection, and could still be hoping for reconciliation, but you’ve recognized the need to take the action to end things and moving forward with your life.

Letting go is the emotional side of things; the release of the negative energy and feelings you have towards someone. Moving on, which often happens first, is the physical ending of the relationship.

You see when we (or our partner) reach the point where we know the relationship is dead, the first step is the moving on. If you live together, that literally means one of you moving out. But it also means getting on with your life and establishing yourself without that person.

When a relationship is failing, initially most of us try and work to fix it and save it.

But when we realize it can’t be saved, that’s where we go through a series of 3 steps:

  1. Giving Up – Resigning all hope of fixing things
  2. Moving On – Physically ending things and moving forward with your life without them
  3. Letting Go – Releasing the emotional hold your partner has on you

So moving on is the 2nd stage of the end of the relationship, and it’s a crucial one.

I once had a serious girlfriend. Technically we were engaged, but we had been for years and I knew she was never going to actually go through with it.

When we broke up it was sort of mutual, but I later found out she had acted on feelings she had for my best friend’s brother (who was married at the time). But it took her 6 months to actually move out of the house we owned together!

She was no longer paying for it with me, but couldn’t afford it on her own and agreed to move out. But she took her sweet time about it, which made everything take longer, including the eventual letting go.

How do you move on and let go?

I won’t lie, it’s tough.

It’s easy to get obsessive after a break-up, frantically checking your phone to see if they’ve texted or stalking their social media. That’s even truer if you were dumped (been there, done that).

But to really let go after a breakup, it’s essential to not have those feelings (love, regret, anger, or all of those) constantly brought to the surface. And the only way to do that is to not be reminded of the person regularly.

So a 100% clean break is best. For me, that means:

  • Blocking their number in my phone
  • Deleting them from my contacts
  • Blocking them on social media
  • Avoiding going to places they are likely to be

You see if you don’t do those things, you’ll always have temptation.

You’ll tell yourself you just want to make sure they are OK or happy. And then that ends up happening 10 times a day. I’m not saying deleting & blocking them makes them instantly get out of your thoughts.

But I am saying it’s the first step in cleansing yourself. Once you get to a place of zero contact or connection, you’ll be less distracted and less anxious.

I’m also not saying to block them as some sort of punishment. No, this is about your own self-preservation and mental well-being.

Then the next step is finding something healthy to do instead of being with them or stalking their social pages. Ideally, that’s NOT just jumping into another relationship right away.

Focus on being the best version of you that you can be.

Don’t think about the relationship, but do think about the things you contributed to the failure of the relationship (everybody contributes something). Work on that.

When you work on yourself (through therapy, reiki, meditation, yoga, etc) it will not only give you something healthy to do, but it will make you a better partner the next time around.

Does letting go mean giving up?

Letting go doesn’t mean completely giving up on the relationship. But it does mean creating space and giving up on this particular person, at least temporarily, for your own mental health benefit.

That doesn’t mean it will be easy though.

No one ever enters a relationship with the intent of it ending. We just don’t know. But we know there’s enough there to roll the dice. I’m not talking one night stands or casual dating.

But by the time you say boyfriend/girlfriend, there’s a level of commitment there, and both people want to see where it goes.

But there’s a lot of factors that make a successful relationship:

  • Communication
  • Maturity
  • Honesty
  • Working through our own issues
  • Confidence and self-esteem in both people

Let’s be honest. Not every relationship is going to have all of those things. And when a relationship is missing one or more of those things, it gets challenging.

That’s when many relationships will fall apart.

Of course, there are also a lot of things that can cause an unsuccessful relationship beyond just the absence of those things. Things like addiction, jealousy & insecurity.

And when you reach the breaking point and decide letting go is the best option for your path in life, that does mean giving up on that person and the relationship.

Now if both people are aware of the issues destroying their relationship and take the necessary steps to work on them after the breakup, that doesn’t mean they can’t reconcile.

My wife and I broke up at least twice while we were dating.

But if a relationship has grown to an intolerable level of unhealthy, letting go (for now) is the best option for your own mental health. Ironically, it’s also the best option if the relationship is ever going to work in the future.

After all, it’s a lot harder to work on yourself when you’re in the trenches.

So a break allows us to step back, see the big picture, acknowledge the issues we brought to the table, and work on those things.

Statistically, 37% of couples who break up later reconcile

That’s according to Kansas State University in a recent study. So while there’s almost a 60% chance of that not happening, it could.

I dive much deeper into how often do couples get back together in a recent article. I even get into the 1 thing that almost guarantees a relationship can work even better the 2nd time around.

Just click that link to read it on my site.

How do you let go of someone you can’t be with?

To let go of someone you feel a connection with but who obviously isn’t good for you, take the following steps:

  • Communicate your feelings simply and clearly
  • Be willing to listen
  • Don’t fall into the trap of repeatedly trying something that clearly isn’t working
  • Be kind (to yourself and to them)
  • Don’t feed into their drama (they may want to use it to pull you back in)
  • Set clear boundaries about future communication
  • Stick to those boundaries even if they don’t

I once dated a woman I was crazy about.

At the time, I thought we were destined to be together. I even thought maybe we were soulmates. Instead, I came to later realize that we were really more twin flames.

Twin flames are in the same category as a soul mate, but it’s often hard to maintain a healthy relationship with twin flame soulmates.

Luckily, I go into the key differences between the two in a recent article. Just click that link to read it on my site.

As her twin flame, I developed an unhealthy obsession with her instead of deepening the feelings I had. But the more I wanted from her, the more she pulled away. I later came to realize that there was such a layer of damage in her from her childhood, that there was a strong subconscious fear of relationships.

So the closer we got, the more freaked out she got. 

Then after I moved on to someone else, guess what? She wanted me back. She never wanted me more than when I was with someone else. That’s because there was no danger of me getting too close if I was (in theory) committed to someone else.

I too had my own issues with insecurity that I didn’t uncover until later. Those issues made me clingy and needy due to my childhood. I ended up writing about how to be less clingy in relationships in a recent article.

So check that out on my site if you have that tendency too.

The 1st step in learning to let go of an unhealthy relationship is accepting that there’s no way to make the relationship work.

Next, we have to have the will and the discipline latest article to admit it to ourselves and to them. Then we have to make a clean break and avoid the temptation to go back.

What is the difference between giving up and having enough?

Giving up refers to giving up hope and realizing that despite the love, there is too much damage done to continue in the relationship. Often this is a failure of both parties. Having enough refers to becoming fed up with the poor or inappropriate behavior of another and is often more a failure of 1 person.

We no longer believe the relationship can be saved.

Then we prepare for the moving on and the letting go.  But when you’ve reached the point where you’ve had enough, you’ve hit your breaking point.

Often when we’ve “had enough” there’s been an angry struggle we’ve been dealing with and our partner finally did something that was the last straw. Maybe they cheated again or went back to drugs. But they did something that made you say “F&^$  it! I’m done!”

But having finally had enough is usually angry. Giving up is usually a lot more sad than angry.

Giving up is more passive and less emotional. Or at least not volatile emotion. It’s the painful acknowledgment that this just isn’t working and that as much as we love them, we don’t see a way to make this work.

The woman I referenced in the section just above was someone I dated in 2005.

Despite how volatile our relationship became, we never reached a point where we had had enough. Instead, we gave up. We knew we were both good people, but we recognized that we both had unresolved issues we needed to work on (separately).

The parting was sad at the time, but absolutely necessary.

She went her way and me mine but in both our cases it led us exactly where we were supposed to be. We’re both happily married to other people and have kids.

And that would have never happened had we kept trying in vain to make our relationship work.

Final Thoughts

In this article, we took a look at the end of the line for relationships.

Some end badly. Others drag out for a long period of time. Other times they end amicably. But no matter how they end, it’s not uncommon for our friends and family to tell us we need to let go or move on.

So specifically, we addressed what both of those are and how they differ.

How did you move on from your last relationship?

My wife and I were actively discussing divorce in 2013. But by late 2017, we had our 3rd child and our marriage was (and still is) better than ever!

Jeff Campbell

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