Throughout your life, you may hear common sayings about love. One popular quote is "If you love something, set it free." This phrase has many variations in popular culture, but where did the notion of setting something free that you love come from? And what does it say about love and relationships? Like love, the meaning of this common phrase can be very personal and unique to person saying it, feeling it, or thinking it.
The Many Versions Of This Quote
Sometimes the quote “If you love something, set it free” is phrased differently, though the general meaning remains the same. For instance, there’s a famous 1980s song lyric by the singer Sting: “If you love somebody, set them free.” But even earlier, a similar but slightly longer quote was penned by early to mid-20th century writer Douglas Horton: “If you love something let it go free. If it doesn't come back, you never had it. If it comes back, love it forever.” A third similar quote by Richard Bach, who wrote some of the bestselling books of the 1970s, is “If you love somebody, set them free. If they return, they were always yours. If they don't, they never were.” Clearly, many people have explored this theme of letting go of a loved one, but what does it mean and how does it apply to relationships?
What is The Meaning Behind The Phrase “If You Love Something, Set it Free?”
When referring to relationships, a quote about setting someone or something free likely has a very personal meaning for those in the relationship. Like love and relationships, there’s no one-size-fits-all explanation for this quote. There are, though, some interpretations of what the phrase may mean.
It may refer to communicating to a partner that they’re free to leave the relationship because it might be in the best interest of one or both partners. It could be that one partner decides to break up so that the other person (or both partners) will be “free” of the relationship. Perhaps a partner senses that their significant other wants or needs to be free of a commitment. For instance, a person might not be their best self in the relationship—or they might not bring out the best in their partner. In some cases, one partner might not feel they’re meeting the other’s needs or might not feel that their own needs are being met, so they may feel being free from the relationship is the best path forward. Or perhaps the step of letting go of the relationship comes from having different ideas about commitment or readiness. The couple may have different goals or even logistical circumstances, like living or working in different geographic regions. If a loved one engages in unhealthy behaviors, such as substance abuse, a partner may decide breaking up is a healthy step. It’s probably safe to say that the quote refers to being at a crossroads in relationship, a time when a partner feels the need to decide that “freeing” their partner is the right thing to do, even if love is still present.
Considering the idea of “setting someone free” can be an important topic. In a healthy relationship, partners still have freedom to be themselves without controlling each other. They may agree to aspects of the relationship—such as dating exclusively or remaining faithful—but at the heart of the relationship, each person in a respectful relationship maintains their individuality while being part of the couple. A controlling relationship, however, may be based on an imbalance of power—a situation when one partner dominates another and the other does not feel free. This can be a form of abuse in a relationship.
If you or a loved one is experiencing or has experienced relationship abuse, please seek help. Free and confidential support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You can call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also text “START” to 88788 or use the live chat option online at TheHotline.org. The Hotline provides essential tools and support to help survivors of domestic abuse so they can live their lives free of abuse.
“If They Return, Were They Always Yours?”
What about the second part of the extended phrase? If a partner “comes back” to you after a breakup, is it true they were “always yours?” Was the relationship meant to be? And will it resume if the couple are “destined” to be together? The reasons why people reconcile or reunite after a breakup are as unique as the couple.
Reconciliation is actually quite common. Research shows that approximately 50 percent of couples get back together after breaking up. Research also shows that splitting with a partner can be harder on the person who has initiated the breakup because they may continue to have lingering doubts about whether ending the relationship was the right thing to do. The doubt may be what prompts some couples to get back together.
What about the other 50 percent of the couples—the ones who don’t reconcile? Does that mean that the partner was not “yours to begin with?” It’s probably not so simple. Partners can truly love each other, but perhaps they don’t reconcile for any number of personal reasons, some of which are common to breakups. For instance, they may not have the time to devote to a relationship; they may lack trust; they may have behaviors, opinions, or goals that aren’t compatible; or they may have different expectations or ideas about what the relationship should be. The reasons can be as personal as the individuals in the relationship are.
If a partner does “return”—and that motivates getting back together—the success of the relationship may depend on many factors. Learning from the past may help the couple navigate the future. Picking up where they left off—at the point before the breakup—without making changes might not lead to a different outcome the second time around. But working together to grow and to productively address what didn’t work in the past—and what both want from the present and the future—may result in a more positive relationship and a different outcome.
Letting Go Of A Relationship
Ending a relationship can be an emotional, challenging process. When you still love a partner, letting go can come with a range of feelings. While the time after a breakup may be difficult, there are some helpful suggestions for moving forward after splitting up with someone you love.
Advice for Coping with A Breakup:
Seek Support from a Professional
Letting go of a relationship with someone you love can be difficult. A licensed mental health professional can offer you support and helpful guidance regarding relationships, the emotions of ending them, and navigating life post-break up. They can offer you tools to help you feel better, manage feelings, develop your strengths, and have healthy, fulfilling relationships. At ReGain, you can connect online with licensed mental health professionals who specialize in relationship counseling and individual therapy and can offer you compassionate support.
“Sarah has been comforting to me through a very difficult transition . She has helped me to regain confidence and listen to my intuition. She is a great listener and has encouraged me to rediscover and use my voice.”
"My experience with Priscilla has been immensely helpful in better understanding myself and providing me with the tools to see my life and relationships with more clarity and compassion."
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Why Does Please Say Love Someone Set Them Free?
Often, this phrase is one of the ways to cope when a romantic love wants to leave the relationship. If you are not ready for the relationship to end, you can develop an anxious attachment that becomes an insecure attachment disorder. Some people try to replace a person with other things, like food, and you can end up with an eating disorder. Use caution when you start to use unhealthy measures as a coping mechanism. If you are struggling to let someone go and move on, you should find a therapist who can help you. Many tests therapy studies have conducted that time is the best cure for getting over a relationship.
Is It True If You Love Something Let It Go?
Letting someone you love go if they want to leave is a way to provide freedom to choose to your partner while you work on your own mental health. It is never healthy to hang onto someone who wants to leave the relationship. Anxious attachment or insecure attachment is a common occurrence when a relationship has ended. One way to cope is to find a therapist who can help you understand why the relationship ended and what you can do to begin moving on.
Will True Love Find Its Way Back?
Sometimes, someone would want to leave the relationship, even if there is still love between the two.
While anxious attachment to an ex is common, sometimes people need to separate and make sure that they are ready for a committed relationship.
While the phrase “If you let someone let them go” does occasionally ring true, more often than not, a separation will result in ending the relationship.
It is in your best interest to find a therapist to manage a separation. Just because you feel that there was true love in the relationship and the person will eventually find their way back, you should be prepared for the worst-case scenario. Find a therapist to discuss how you can cope with the realization that your relationship is, in fact, over.
Is Love Letting Go or Holding On?
Relationship attachment styles suggest that anxious attachment keeps people hanging onto something that is over.
If you are not sure if you should let go or hold on, you should find a therapist to discuss what has happened and manage the outcome best.
What Does It Mean If You Love Them Let Them Go?
There is an old saying that “if you love someone, set them free; if they come back to you, it was meant to be.” This phrase means that you should not make or guilt someone into staying in a relationship with you. If love and you are truly meant to be together, you shouldn’t have to force it.
It is often helpful to find a therapist and work through your emotions.
How Do You Say Goodbye to Someone You Love Forever?
While it is hard, you need to let the person who wants to leave the relationship go. Relationships end for a reason and hanging onto something or someone who is not equally vested in the partnership is unhealthy.
Anxious attachment is not a valid reason to stay in a relationship that has run its course.
You can often find a therapist that will help you manage your feelings and come to terms with saying goodbye to a loved one.
Why Is It So Hard to Let Go of Someone You Love?
When you fall in love, you give the relationship everything you have; however, it can be hard to let go of the other person if it falls apart. It is very easy to become dependent on your partner, and when they leave, it can be challenging to cope. If you find a therapist specializing in couples counseling, they can help you find a healthy path to moving on apart.
Should I Let Her Go or Fight for Her?
If your relationship has ended because she is battling an eating disorder, it is best to let her go and find a therapist who will help her through her needs.
People with eating disorders often have anxious attachment disorders where they supplement one addiction for another.
Where did if you love something let it go come from?
In 1969, an educator named Jess Lair published a book titled "I Ain't Much Baby - But I'm All I've Got," which included the sentence "If you want something very, very badly, let it go free. If it comes back to you, it's yours forever. If it doesn't, it was never yours, to begin with." This is often cited as the origin of the saying, "If you love something, let it go." Another common phrase about love is, "Love is patient, love is kind," which originates from Corinthians 13:4-7: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy; it does not boast; it is not proud. It does not dishonor others; it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hope, always perseveres."
Who said if you love something, let it go?
There are many variations of the phrase, "If you love something, let it go." In addition to the version published by Jess Lair, Douglas Horton is often credited for the saying "if you love something, let it go," with Horton's version of the quote reading: "If you love something, let it go free. If it doesn't come back, you never had it. If it comes back, love it forever."
Can someone leave you if they love you?
Yes, someone can leave you if they love you. Though it's a painful situation to be in, many reasons why a person might have to leave someone they feel is their true love. Even if it's mutual love, the relationship could be unhealthy, or in situations where it's not mutual love, that could be the reason for someone leaving.
Does letting go mean giving up?
In a sense, it can, but not necessarily in a way that's indicative of bitterness. Letting go typically means relinquishing control. When it comes to the saying, "if you love something, let it go" specifically, or when one relates the saying to romantic love, true love marriage, etc., it typically means that someone will no longer force, pleads for, or attach themselves to that romantic love true love marriage, etc. Instead, they'll let things happen, even if the outcome is initially painful and takes some processing. If that true love connection does stick around, that's great, but if it doesn't, they will let it go. This is a healthy mindset, as there are times when a relationship isn't meant to be or when the other person will need space. You can't control the actions of another person, and it won't help to try. In fact, that is likely to push them away further. You can respect their needs and meet yourself with care and compassion as you work to adjust to the situation.
Why is it so hard to let go of someone you love?
There are many reasons why it is so hard to let go of someone you love. If you feel that someone is your true love, you likely have strong feelings for them and see the connection as one that's special, unique, and potentially irreplaceable. That doesn't mean that you can't experience true love again, and possibly, you may experience true love that's far happier or healthier in the future. Instead, it means that you see the connection as special and are currently experiencing fear that you may not find it again. This isn't the only reason it can be hard to let go of a person or relationship. When you love someone, you often share many memories with them, making it hard to let go. You may also be connected to them legally through marriage, but even if this is the case, it's possible to be completely independent of the person. Seeing a counselor or therapist can be incredibly beneficial if you're finding it difficult to let go. Feelings of difficulty are extremely normal and common, but healing is possible.
How do I stop loving someone?
As hard as it may be, it is possible to heal from a relationship where you loved someone deeply, even if that someone was a person you considered to be your true love. The most important first step for many people is to get the person out of their peripheral. Block them on social media and do not continue speaking with them. It's tempting to try to jump into a friendship, but some people need space. With time and space away from them, focus on yourself and think about what you want in your own life, including outside relationships. Some people find it helpful to think about what they want in future relationships or what their non-negotiables will be moving forward in love, love, true love, or otherwise serious connections.
What to do when you love someone but can't be with them?
Even for those with a deep understanding of the sentence, "if you love something, let it go," letting go isn't always easy, especially if you feel that they are your true love. There are a couple of important things to do if you feel that someone is your true love and you're struggling to let go. The first thing is to distance yourself from the person. Block or mute their social media profiles, and do not reach out to the person, no matter how tempting it is. Take some time to give yourself space, and make sure that you are using self-care. Nurture your social relationships, such as those with friends and family, and nurture other areas of your life as well, such as your passions, hobbies, and overall happiness and wellbeing. Consider seeing a therapist or counselor that you can talk to as well. This is advantageous for many people overcoming a situation where you love someone but can't be with them.