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Why Can’t I Stop Loving You?

Most relationships do not end by mutual agreement.

Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
Source: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

Most relationships do not end by mutual agreement. More often than not, one partner falls out of love, while the other is still attached. If you are one of those people who thought your love was mutual, but ended up abandoned, you are not alone.

Living with the grief of unexpected loss is hard enough. But if you are still in love with your ex, you will have a harder time letting go. Your leftover feelings of affection and connection can fuel the hope that the relationship will resume someday.

Like so many left-behind partners, you may not even know why you cannot stop loving your ex or get past the loss of the relationship. You may not be able to understand why you keep hurting when you want to feel better. You know that you have to let go of the past, but it seems to have imprisoned you.

During the last four decades, I have listened to many of these stories, and helped saddened people make sense of the reasons why they continue to love without reciprocity. I hope that sharing some of their experiences might help you identify why you are having such a hard time letting go of someone who no longer wants to be with you.

Following are the six most common reasons that you may have been unable to stop loving a partner who has abandoned the relationship. These examples may not exactly match what you are enduring, or have endured, but they could help you realize that you are neither alone nor emotionally inadequate. It is only when you understand why you keep loving after a relationship is over that you will be able to change your behavior the next time you love.

1. Believing Your Ex Was "The One"

After a long period of searching, did you truly believe that you had found the partner who was supposed to share your life forever? Everything checked out, and you trusted that it wasn’t just a fantasy. Your partner continually reassured you that he or she felt the same way.

Now, in retrospect, you wonder if you were too optimistic and didn’t notice that you were the only one who didn’t see any red flags. Perhaps you’re a natural cheerleader, and your partner seemed to like you that way.

So, of course, you let yourself love that person with more and more of you. You joyously gave everything you had, holding nothing back as you invested in your forever love.

When that partner left you, you were understandably confused and heartbroken. Did your partner simply let you write the script and memorize the lines you offered? Were they as attached and invested as you, or did they just seem to be? Maybe in your exultation, you didn’t see that you were more committed and didn’t realize it was no longer as mutual.

If that partner left without warning or explanation, how could you all of a sudden stop loving them? It feels like they symbolically "died,” leaving you empty, bereft, broken, and alone to process the loss. You can’t just pretend your own feelings are gone.

2. Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket

Are you the kind of person who commits too fully, too completely, or too soon in a new relationship? When you fall in love, do you put aside all other commitments, social ties, individual dreams, and work issues, focusing totally on the relationship?

Have your relationships exploded into lustful joy rapidly and blotted out everything else in your life when you were newly connected? Are you a lover who makes your relationship the most important thing in your life? If you’ve sought that kind of magical and insular intensity, you’ve probably attracted partners who do the same.

If you’ve had friends who have told you that you go MIA when you find a new partner, you may be one of those kinds of lovers. Your good friends care for you despite it and wait for you to re-emerge if the relationship doesn’t work out. But when it does end, you may have to grieve in isolation until your social network becomes available again.

3. Interim Reinforcement

If you had a parent who showed up and disappeared at whim, you may be unconsciously attracted to partners who do the same thing. Because you were trained to tolerate that powerlessness, you are nevertheless well able to keep your love intact when they are gone.

Your loyalty does have a price. You may find yourself watching your partner’s every move, trying to piece together his or her agenda. Do you make excuses for your partner when you powerlessly wait for each “reconnect” to happen? When he or she does return, seemingly glad to see you, do you assume that everything is okay?

Deep inside, though, you may unconsciously be feeling childhood triggers and wondering if your partner is going to come back this time. You do everything you can to let go without complaint, welcome them back without blame, and tell yourself that you have nothing to worry about.

If that partner eventually leaves for good, your cumulative, unrequited availability and devotion will make it difficult for you to let go. As you did as a child, you will try to wait as long as it might take for the miracle to happen again.

4. When Your Past Defines Your Future

If you’ve dated for a while, and the right person has just not yet come along, you can easily become pessimistic, cynical, or even bitter. All of those feelings will cast a shadow on any of your future hopes. Even if you do not realize it, you will behave as if there is no one who can truly love you the way you want to be loved.

You might unconsciously broadcast that belief to any new partner, warning that they could be held responsible for those who have hurt you in the past. If you have enough going for you, you may still have interested takers who might be willing to swim the “shark-infested waters." But you may be unwittingly and continually testing them to see if they’ll stick around until you finally drop your armor.

If you test too long before opening your heart again, that person might give up, because the cost begins to outweigh the gain. How terrible that would be if you have begun opening up the floodgates at the same time your partner finally has had it and leaves. Now you are sitting with all of your suppressed love bursting out, and no one to share it with. Do you plunge back into the safety of your closed self to escape the torture or choose again to give that love where it will be reciprocated?

5. When You Make It Your Fault

In the throes of feelings of abandonment and broken trust, you may feel as though your pain will never go away, and that you will never be able to love again. It is natural and understandable that you would feel that way for a while, but you will find yourself in extended grief if you take all of the blame.

If you’ve been left behind before, you may be unconsciously creating that pattern and need some professional guidance to help you. Pathological grief can leave you unable to accept the ending of relationships. You may be in danger of holding on to your sorrow as a substitute for the relationship, fearful of being even more hurt if you accepted the finality.

But if you know that you are a reasonably balanced person who truly believed you conducted yourself with authenticity, integrity, and honest love in the relationship, its loss may not have been your fault. Looking back, you are certain that you had every reason to expect that it would continue. After all, the two of you were an acknowledged “item” in your social network and your families, and your partner talked about a mutual future as if it was a guaranteed outcome.

What if your continuing distress and confusion are normal considering what has just happened? What if you truly don’t understand why your partner left or what you could have done to cause him or her to walk out?

You’re not a self-centered wacko. You’re just trying to make it through while being publicly observed. And in the back of your mind, you might hope that the social family the two of you have created will somehow end up getting your partner to change their mind, ending the nightmare. You are simultaneously holding your heart open while trying to face what might be a painful and inevitable outcome.

6. Fantasy Love

Think of all the things about your partner that you desired and those that you were afraid to lose. Those attachments are the tethers that keep relationships intact. Even after a relationship ends, you might not be able to let go of those attachments. They made you feel alive, valuable, and wanted. And you had reason to believe that your partner felt the same way about you.

Now your partner is gone, and you still remember the relationship as though it were reciprocally satisfying and perfect. If it was, why can’t you just toss it off to experience and let it go? If you can’t stop loving your ex long after the relationship has ended, you may be feeding a fantasy that was not representative of the relationship. You may be eulogizing each magnetic moment while minimizing the aspects that were not working.

If you allow your fantasies to substitute for what actually happened, you may try to keep those delusions alive. Do you find yourself buying love potions, sending metaphysical messages, pleading with mutual friends to intervene, posting pictures to get a reaction, praying, or asking psychics for possibilities? If you have no indication that your ex is still interested, you may be keeping a fantasy alive to avoid the reality that truly exists.

* * * * * * *

If you have been unable to stop loving far beyond a relationship’s end, you mustn’t judge yourself negatively. It is a human frailty to love too much, and no one has escaped the pain of unreciprocated commitment.

The capability to love deeply is a blessing for the lover and loved. But loving unequally, blindly, or beyond reciprocity is a painfully predictable pathway to grieving alone when the other partner is done before you are.

If you have faced this pattern before, it is important for you to understand why you find yourself doing it again and to work at changing those behaviors in future relationships. If you don’t make assumptions, stay open and authentic, face fear with courage, and check in frequently with your partner, you might have to give up unchallenged bliss, but you’ll know whether the love you feel is mutual and current.