Breakups are usually heartbreaking, with inevitable feelings of pain and loss. We often want to hold on, even if it’s not good for us. Being with the person can look more appealing than being alone.

When a couple shares love, respect and kindness born out of a strong sense of self-worth, it can be easier to let go. But in that case, there’s probably less desire to leave in the first place.

I sometimes tell my husband, who’s from Amsterdam, that he might be better off if he’d married a young Dutch woman instead of choosing our bicultural blend. If Ron had married within his own country and culture, he’d probably be having a photo-op family experience right now. Instead of the ideal, our children are spread throughout three countries over two continents, so someone’s always missing someone.

After 29 years together, I tell him that he could still make the jump, if he wants, which he dismisses as nonsense. If he were to change his mind though and go toward that other option, I believe that I love him enough to support his choice for love and happiness.

Love is never a prison.  

In a loving relationship, no one feels held captive, because requirements aren’t being made. Love says, “I’m willing to help you change if you want that. And I’ll keep loving you whether you change or not. Because I accept you exactly as you are, even if you don’t want to be with me anymore.”

Naturally, we expect our partners to keep their commitments with us while we’re together. But if at some point they want to change the agreements, it doesn’t work to bind them – to hang onto them against their wishes, clinging to them for our fulfillment.

What works is to support them in finding happiness somewhere else, if that’s what they want. Tough stuff. But why settle for a relationship that’s less than we deserve?

“But I have a marriage license!”

If a signed contract means, “You’re obligated to love me and stay with me,” it’s a piece of paper supported by the government and the church, but it’s not love. We don’t own our partners, and relationship doesn’t equal entitlement. And if we’re willing to embrace that, we can enjoy each other. “I want you to enjoy the moments that you’re not with me, because I support your happiness. And I want us to enjoy being together because it’s what we want, not because we’re obligated.”

“But I don’t want to end up alone!”

If we’re in a relationship that lacks love, we’re already alone.

One of my friends believes that his wife doesn’t love him enough, and he keeps looking for evidence to prove it. Then he feels lonely for her, even though they’re together every day. And in spite of her efforts, she can’t give him the love he wants – not because she doesn’t love him enough, but because he believes that she doesn’t. And all of it points back to his challenge with self-love.

If we’re convinced that we’re not lovable, our personal love-needs become like gaping holes that we desperately want someone to fill. And we place insatiable demands on people, needing them to assure us that we’re all right. We’re likely to enter relationships thinking: “If she ever finds out what I’m like, she may not want me.” “When he really gets to know me, he’ll dump me.”

If we believe that we’re unlovable, we’ll make our partners jump through hoops to test whether they love us. And testing people for whether they love us can become a bigger focus than enjoying their love.

“But I can’t go on!”

We sometimes confuse love with need, and we end up trying to possess our partners. We expect them to meet our requirements, and we become manipulative to get what we want. “If you really care about me, you won’t go to those places. And you’ll be interested in the things I like. If you really love me, you won’t see that person anymore.”

We even want to be the sole reason for their happiness. “If you love me, you won’t have fun without me.” Then we’re in a relationship with fear, and it will override our ability to be happy.

Here’s the good news. The only way we can lack love is if we believe we lack love. And when we stop making other people responsible for making us feel loved, all our relationships can improve.

We have to fall in love with ourselves.

When we enter relationships already feeling good about ourselves and already feeling confident of our value, we’re more likely to trust that we’ll be all right, no matter what. “I don’t require you to change, or to meet my expectations. And even if you don’t love me, I’ll still care for you.”

When we already feel loved, we get it that other people’s inability to love us has nothing to do with us. It has to do with something they believe they saw in us, especially when they’ve stopped looking at us through a romance filter.

Whatever they’re seeing now is probably something they don’t like in themselves, or that they’re afraid of finding inside themselves. And we’re just mirroring it with a phrase or a gesture.

Whatever people experience always has to do with their relationships with themselves and how they view life. So it’s not appropriate to feel offended or hurt when they’re not able to recognize who we truly are.

So how do we find true love? 

Love keeps relationships alive and fresh, and allows us to grow together as a couple. It’s the positive, creative energy that gives us vitality and propels us through life. It always serves everyone’s best interest. It’s supportive of our abilities and our worth, and makes us feel good.

If our relationships aren’t doing that, change is probably necessary. And the first step is to end our patterns that aren’t working for us.

We all have something to contribute.

We all have something beautiful to give to relationships, and we can give it without expecting people to respond a certain way. Its value is not dependent on whether people grasp how precious it is.

We’re all looking for love. Whether we’re creating a special dinner or starting an argument, love is what we’re after. And when we figure out that it’s an inside job, changes will take place.

By generating love within ourselves, for ourselves, we’ll feel more comfortable, secure and satisfied. We’ll even develop a glow that’s attractive to others.

We’ll find ourselves showered by the external love that we were originally seeking. And then we can’t “end up alone,” because being with ourselves will be a rich, meaningful and love-filled experience.

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  • Grace de Rond

    Author, Blogger, Contributor

    Grace de Rond writes about effective living through focused thought, at and for sites including The Good Men Project and HuffPost. Her inspiration comes from a lifelong study of the mind-body-spirit connection and her coaching and teaching with professionals and families. Her latest book is called Thoughts Worth Thinking on Life, Career, Lovers and Children.