How to get over the hidden pain of unrequited love and prepare for a new healthy relationship

Category: Better Endings | Author: Elly Prior | First published: 31-10-2017 | Modified: 05-12-2017

Unrequited love is a love that - for some reason - isn't returned. The intensity of the feeling is usually less than that of the love felt in reciprocal relationships (1). Although I’m willing to bet that it probably doesn’t feel that way to you!

I suspect something has happened that’s made you feel heartbroken and/or concerned that you're not able to move on for whatever reason. Otherwise you probably wouldn’t have found yourself on this page! But don’t worry - you're not alone. You're safe here, I'm not judging you; you just need a little helping hand right now.

Let's look first at what counts as unrequited love - because there are several types. Then I’ll give you tips and advice to help you get over this current hurdle and be able to move on with your life again.

A missing heart

6 possible situations you may have found yourself in

  1. You have a crush on someone totally unavailable, for example a celebrity or someone else way out of your league
  2. You have a crush on someone unavailable in your own surroundings
  3. You're pursuing someone who’s already spoken for (e.g. married or in a committed relationship)
  4. You've proclaimed your love, but have been rejected
  5. You're having an intimate online relationship and you know it’ll never lead to anything in the physical world
  6. You suffer from what’s known as limerence - an obsessive type of love  (an obsessive type of love) or erotomania (delusions that make someone believe another person is in love with them)

Maybe there's a good reason you can never have a relationship with the other person, because they...

... are too young or too old
... are not culturally compatible and/or have a different religion
… have never shown you any sign that they could be interested in you
... are spoken for or even married
… are living too far away with no chance the two of you will ever meet (online relationship) due to the distance or an existing committed relationship
… are in any other way clearly unavailable.

Equally, it's possible that you appeared on the outside to be a good match and you’ve fallen head over heels for that person, but they’ve told you they don’t feel the same way.

Whatever the circumstances, you're hurting because you've invested emotionally in this (unrequited) relationship. Let's therefore take a look at what that might mean for you...

Symptoms of unrequited love

I want to reassure you again: you're not alone. Research has shown that for every equal romantic love partnership, there are four unrequited lovers pining over the objects of their affections. 1

Also, know that emotional pain can appear to be more difficult to bear than physical pain. Unfortunately, no hot-water bottle or cold compress will ease your mental anguish :-(

But, realising that you have recognisable symptoms can help to normalise your feelings.  So, depending on the type of your unrequited love and the level of your emotional investment, you might feel any or all of the following...

10 Signs that you’re completely bewitched (addicted!) by this unrequited love

  1. You go to bed imagining that person right beside you, you just can't stop thinking about that person
  2. You fantasise about making love to them, perhaps even whilst making love to someone else
  3. You dream about that person and wake up thinking about him/her
  4. You think of any reason under the sun to be/get in touch
  5. You think of every excuse in the book so you can contact that person for 'legitimate' reasons
  6. You find yourself making a virtual or real detour in the hope that you’ll bump into him or her 
  7. You go over every single word they’ve ever spoken or written in an attempt to identify the 'hidden' meaning
  8. You desperately try to interpret every touch, every look, every action
  9. You constantly check your emails, mobile, social media accounts
  10. You've hit the gym, updated your wardrobe, skimped on meals to lose that extra fat

I could go on of course - so many of my clients have told me all of those things and more. During the early stages of developing a reciprocal relationship, these feelings are completely normal and grow in intensity. But when the love is unrequited, I’m afraid it’s a different story.

You may have been holding out for quite some time, hoping that your romantic feelings would be returned in the end. So...

How long do you keep holding out - just in case?

No matter what your heart tells you, now is the time to face reality. You wouldn't be here otherwise, would you?

Brace yourself: your love isn't going to be returned and you're going to have to move on. I wouldn't be surprised if your family and friends have already said the same.

But how do you move on?

That’s where I come in! Let's get cracking...

How do you deal with the rejection

Slowly, is the answer. There is no magic pill, I'm afraid. It does also depend on the type of unrequited love and/or how you were rejected and whether or not you see them every single day.

On one end of the scale, rejection can be done kindly. The other person takes the time and trouble to have a decent, honest conversation with you. And on the other end, rejection can be really cruel. You get ghosted - no texts, no calls, no emails, nothing. They might block you on their phone and social media accounts too. No contact possible.

Or perhaps there was no outright rejection. Instead, you yourself came to the realisation that your romantic love is one-sided.

However your rejection happened, the very best thing you can do for yourself now is simply to accept that it’s over. Holding on any further will only hurt you more.

So it's time to take responsibility for the choices you made up to this point. Your falling in love might have been an unconscious process, but it was a choice to invest in that love. You chose to nurture these feelings, and to take all the actions that maintained your belief  in a positive outcome..

The sooner you can own your role - without judgement (!) - the sooner you can move on. Instead of being a victim, become the hero! You can survive, you can overcome, and you can let go and move on.

4 Ways to immediately deal with being rejected

  1. If you've been ghosted
    Accept that you're going to be all over the place for a bit. You probably won’t be able to make sense of it - not knowing what's happened, or what to feel do. This is a hugely painful way of being rejected. It can feel like you barely existed, and that the other person doesn’t think you’re worth a single word or gesture more.
  2. If you've been friendzoned
    Though you may be heartbroken, at least you do have clarity. Decide on whether remaining friends is what you really want. You may find it easier to avoid the object of your love - if you can. Keeping your distance may well make it a little easier for you to let go sooner.
  3. If you've been totally cut out
    Remaining friends isn't given to you as an option. This can sometimes be a blessing in disguise, and help you get over the ending sooner. It means your focus will be purely on grieving, getting over that person and moving on.
  4. If you’ve realised yourself that your love is not returned - it really is unrequited
    Coming to this conclusion is the best first step towards moving on with your life. The fact that your love isn’t returned will of course still hurt. But you’re obviously seeing more clearly now, and it’s time to put your happiness first.

All  you can do now is to accept that, very simply, the other person's needs, wants, situation and expectations just don't match what you offer. That doesn't make you or what you can offer any less worthy! 

If you’re giving yourself a hard time, that may be an indication that there's some healing to be done. Particularly if getting stuck in these situations is a familiar pattern for you, I highly recommend you get some professional help, ideally before starting another relationship. You'll discover why further down.

How to deal with unrequited love

4 Step plan to get over unrequited love

  1. Grieve, you've suffered a loss
  2. Make a list of the other person's flaws
  3. Reconsider your expectations
  4. Focus on other relationships

Step 1

Grieve! You've suffered a loss - no two ways about it. Research has shown that your brain registers the pain of social rejection much like it registers physical pain. Know that it's perfectly okay to cry yourself to sleep, to feel let down, alone, angry, depressed and heartbroken. Immediately after being rejected you'll probably feel miserable most of the time. There's a great downloadable hypnosis track specially for you, see my article Hypnosis FAQ and Downloads

Chances are that you have a digital record of your interactions with the other person. So you’ll probably find yourself reading old messages over and over again, and looking through photos. (And you've probably already spent a lot of time trying to find the ‘hidden meaning’ behind every word and emoji!) This is all okay during this time.

After about a week or so, you'll find that you’re a little more able to open up to the world around you. Remember the transition from victim to hero? Here we go...

Step 2

Make a list of the other person's flaws, the reasons why it could never have worked anyway, and how you're better off without them. You know - it’s all that stuff you were perhaps vaguely aware of but somehow managed to ignore. Write it all down, from the smallest observation to the major irritations and, if it fits your situation, the final blow of the rejection.

Step 3

Reconsider your expectations. You hoped for and imagined a future together. It takes time to first let go of those hopes and dreams. Only then can you imagine and work towards a new future.

Recreate in your mind the path you want to follow. Include in your thoughts your family and friends, your work, your dreams and ambitions. Develop your plans around meeting your essential emotional needs in balance and using your inborn resources. (Discover more about the Human Givens here.)

Step 4

Focus on other relationships - you're someone's child, sibling, aunt/uncle, friend, colleague, neighbour, etc.

Reach out and share your troubles. Celebrate other people's achievements and joys, and weep with them for their losses, disappointments, pain and sadness. Stand beside them when they're frustrated, angry and at a loss.

If those connections aren't immediately available to you, consider undertaking some voluntary work. One of the most effective ways to enable yourself to deal with your own struggles is by helping others to deal with theirs.

See also my articles:

You get as much from your losses as your victories, cause the losses are there to wake you up. -Oprah Winfrey

How to move after having fallen in love with someone you couldn't have

This too requires action. But this action will help you to move on so much quicker because it provides an opportunity for quiet reflection. Following the reflection, make informed decisions about your future and how you want it to look. And start taking steps in that direction. And always remember to take pride in your achievements (however small) along the way.

Here are the questions for you to reflect on...

(Btw, these are worth asking at the end of any relationship - they’re not restricted to unrequited love .)

  • Does the other person remind you of someone close to you in the past - a previous romantic relationship or an important relationship as a child?
  • What did you like and dislike about that person (in the past)?
  • What was that relationship like?
  • How did it end, or how is it now?
  • Is there any unfinished business?
  • Is there some healing to be done and what can you do about that now?

What have you learned from this (unrequited) relationship?

This is an opportunity to increase your self-awareness and understand yourself better.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What precisely were the characteristics and attributes of this person that I found so attractive?
  • What precisely did I find so exciting about this relationship?
  • At what point(s) did I make a choice against my better judgement?
  • How did that happen?
  • What assumptions did I make about the other person?
  • What assumptions did I make about myself?
  • Who else was affected by the choices I made?
  • What did that mean to them?
  • What made me adapt my values and beliefs (if indeed you did)?
  • Did I have any trust issues before this relationship?
  • On which relationships were these trust issues based?
  • How has that changed since this relationship with someone I couldn't have?
  • What positives are there to take away from this relationship?
  • What have I learned about the way you can love?
  • What can I take away from all of this into the next relationship?
  • What will I need to have done to be ready for another relationship?
  • How will I know when I'm ready to have another relationship?

Once you've done the grieving and the self-awareness stuff, it's time to tidy up your social media accounts. They may have been helpful to you during the grieving process, but they won’t be helpful now that you’re ready to move on.

Erase any reminders of the object of your affection. Don’t allow yourself to just take a peek at what they’re doing today… unless you want to send yourself spiralling back to square one again!

Free fillable and printable worksheet

Specially for you - to help you move forward. Click the link to download the Take Control of Your Emotions worksheet.

How to protect yourself

While we’re here, I just want to make sure you’re giving yourself the very best chance of having a fulfilling, reciprocal relationship. So...

  • Be sure to pay attention to your emotional and mental health. Are you resilient and relatively confident on your own? You need to be, because that ensures your best possible chance of developing a healthy relationship in which you can be an equal partner. In turn, that stops you from 'needing' another person and thereby becoming dependent rather than interdependent
  • When you're developing feelings for someone, compare that person to your previous partners. Look for patterns, particularly when you've had several long- or short-term relationships (hence all the questions above!) that have gone awry. What was your role in those? Are there some things you need to work on to prevent similar issues occurring in the future?
  • Don't frequent sites where people are looking for flings just to fill your time when what you really long for is a committed intimate relationship
  • Be sure to familiarise yourself with the signs of an abusive relationship (you might think of them as 'bad' relationships). That’s another trap you definitely don’t want to get caught in.

Finally...

I know how unrequited love hurts, and that it can cause you to feel helpless, hopeless and worthless. So my best advice to you is: don’t allow that to happen. Focus on what you can do, what you really want from life, and trust that you are worthy of reciprocal love.

Take all the time you need to heal, and promise yourself that you won’t torment yourself unnecessarily ever again. Life can be hard enough without adding another burden to your shoulders! Above all, learn to handle rejection - it's part of life. Be grateful for the lessons you’ve learnt, and move forwards with confidence. Remember: hero, not victim!

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Related articles

Hypnosis FAQ and Downloads
Getting over a Break-Up and Forget
How to Deal with Depression

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Elly Prior

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