What's The Idea Behind “If You Love Something, Set it Free?”
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 that you love free come from? Further, 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? How can it set you free to let go of someone that you love?
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 healthiest self in the relationship—or they might not bring out the best traits 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 right path to take to move forward.
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 misuse, a partner may decide breaking up is a healthy step. This quote could refer to being at a crossroads in a 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 the 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 in which 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. 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. TheHotline 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? Will it resume if the couple is “destined” to be together? The reasons why people reconcile or reunite after a breakup can be as unique as the couple.
Reconciliation is quite common. Research shows that approximately 50% of couples get back together after breaking up. Further, 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. This doubt may be what prompts some couples to get back together.
What about the other 50% of the couples—the ones who don’t reconcile? Does that mean that the partner was not “yours to begin with?” It may not be 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 motivate them to get back together—the success of the relationship may depend on several factors. Learning from the past may help the couple navigate the future. Picking up where they left off without making any changes might not lead to a different outcome the second time around. However, working together to grow and 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 and challenging process, especially if the reasons why you love someone still linger in your heart and soul. 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 you can keep in mind when trying to move forward after splitting up with someone you love. Here’s some advice for coping with a breakup:
Acknowledge the reality of the relationship. Sometimes love may not be enough for a healthy or sustainable relationship. Accepting the reality of what didn’t work in the relationship can help you recognize that though the breakup is hard, it may be what’s healthiest.
Give yourself credit for your strengths. Breaking up with someone is almost always an emotional decision but breaking up with someone you love may come with even more heartbreak. Knowing that you were strong enough to take the step to end what wasn’t working can be a sign of courage and self-awareness.
Practice acceptance and gratitude. Your partner may have been very meaningful to you. Instead of trying to ignore those feelings or pondering the negative, you might try accepting what the love meant to you. You can try consciously and purposefully accepting what did and did not work in the relationship. You might also practice gratitude for the positive experiences of the relationship and how you grew from it.
Consider what you learned from the relationship. For instance, you may have learned more about yourself and your needs, wants, and expectations from a relationship—as well as those of a partner. You may have learned about communication styles, which can be important in any relationship. This self-awareness might help you grow and move forward.
Prioritize other relationships. Spending time with people you have a positive connection with can help you heal from a breakup. The uplifting emotional support friends or family give you can help you move through the post-breakup period. You might find talking to them about how you’re feeling helps. Alternatively, if you find yourself dwelling on the breakup, spending time with people you enjoy and giving yourself a break from talking about or thinking about the relationship might boost your mood. Laughter and fun can be healing.
Spend time on yourself. When you’ve ended a relationship, you may feel like your identity as part of a couple is gone. Taking care of yourself and focusing on your interests or goals may help you move forward.
Understand that it may take time to heal. Love is a strong emotion. It is not usually quick to fade, but feelings of heartbreak can mend with time. You might help yourself through this process by accepting the hurt or sadness, having patience, and reminding yourself that you won’t feel this way forever. Try to be compassionate with yourself and practice self-care. Love can’t be flipped off with a switch, but with acceptance and time, heartbreak may mend.
Online Counseling With ReGain
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-breakup. They can offer you tools to help you feel better, manage your 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. They can offer you compassionate support regardless of what you’re going through. You can connect through video calls, phone calls, or in-app messaging according to your needs, allowing you to get care from anywhere at any time.
The Efficacy Of Online Counseling
Online counseling can be a viable resource for those experiencing problems in their relationship. One study assessed the efficacy of an online program for couples and individuals. Researchers found that this intervention was effective in improving relationship satisfaction and reducing distress. It also improved participants’ symptoms of anxiety and depression.
“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."
Some people find comfort in the saying, “If you love something, set it free.” Many times, relationships carry a lot of pressure, and it can be difficult to make decisions that may be hurtful to you or another person. However, staying true to yourself and your values can be important to your health and happiness. Connecting with an online therapist may be helpful to individuals or couples who are processing relationship woes or unsure where to turn next. With the right support, tools, and healing, a satisfying, healthy relationship is possible.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What does “if you love someone set them free” mean?
This phrase is often used in romantic relationships. It may mean different things to different people. Often, though, it’s used when someone has decided to leave a relationship even though they love their partner. There are times when two people love each other but cannot be in a relationship. In these cases, it can be healthier to let go and set each other free rather than causing more pain by holding on.
Is it true if you love something you should let it go?
For many people, this idea may be true. If you need to work on yourself or find that you and your partner have conflicting values, letting them go out of love may be what’s healthiest for both of you. Additionally, if you are in a one-sided relationship in which you’re chasing someone’s love, it could be the right choice to let them go in order to care for yourself. This being said, letting someone you love go is rarely easy.
Will true love find its way back?
Even when two individuals have genuine, true love, they may not end up in a relationship with one another. There are many reasons why these people might not be able to be together. Life circumstances, location, financial troubles, habits, and more can all determine whether a relationship is possible. If you’ve parted ways with someone you believe you had true love with, they could come back. However, it can also be important to make peace with the idea that they might not.
Is love letting go or holding on?
Love can look different depending on those involved in the relationship. In general, though, love means letting go when it would serve one or both partners’ health and best interests. This doesn’t mean you’re giving up on love, but rather that you love the other person enough to let them go find what is it they need in life. 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, speaking with a therapist can help you move toward the outcome that’s right for you.
What does it mean if you love them let them go?
There is a saying that goes, “If you love someone, set them free; if they come back to you, it was meant to be.” This phrase implies that relationships should not be forced or a product of guilt or manipulation. If you and another person are meant to be together, according to this logic, you’ll naturally gravitate toward one another.
How do you say goodbye to someone you love forever?
While it can be very difficult, saying goodbye to someone you’ll always love can be necessary. If you’ve tried to maintain a relationship and discovered that you have too many non-negotiable needs, it may be time to end the relationship out of respect for all parties involved. It can be unhealthy to hang on to a relationship that has run its course. A therapist can 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 often give the relationship everything you have; however, it can be hard to let go of the other person if it falls apart. It can be easy to become dependent on your partner, and when they leave, it can be challenging to cope. Letting go of someone you love may be the healthiest decision for you and the other individual. A therapist specializing in relationships can help you find a healthy way to move on from your significant other.
Should I let her go or fight for her?
Letting go doesn’t have to mean breaking up with her or ending the relationship altogether. Rather, it can mean releasing your tight grip on the relationship itself. Sometimes, giving up control can help resolve issues and repair the connection you have with her. In general, if you feel more negative feelings than positive ones the majority of the time, it may be time to let her go rather than fight for the relationship.
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."
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, there are 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. Sometimes someone may leave you because they feel it’s the right decision for their own mental health or they have needs you cannot fulfill. In any case, as hard as this can be, it can be important to respect their decision.
Does letting go mean giving up?
Rather than giving up, letting go typically means relinquishing control. When it comes to the saying, "if you love something, let it go" specifically, it typically means that someone will no longer force, plead for, or attach themselves to a relationship. Instead, they'll let things happen, even if the outcome is initially painful and takes some processing. This can be a healthy mindset, as there are times when a relationship simply isn’t meant to be. Letting go allows both parties to decide what they need and want.
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. However, that doesn't mean that you can't experience true love again, and you may even experience true love that's far happier or healthier in the future. When you’re having difficulties letting go of someone you love, you may be fearful you’ll never find that type of bond again. Seeing a counselor or therapist can be beneficial if you're finding it difficult to let go.
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. For starters, it can be healthy not to have any contact with this individual, if and when possible. With time, space, and a focus on your own healing, you may be able to stop loving someone as you once did. Working with a therapist can help you process your feelings and move forward.
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 you might choose to do if you feel that someone is your true love and you're struggling to let go. The first thing can be to distance yourself from the person. Take some time to give yourself space, and practice using self-care. Nurture your social relationships, such as those with friends and family, and lean into other areas of your life as well, such as your passions, hobbies, and overall happiness and well-being. Consider seeing a therapist that you can talk to as well. This can be advantageous for people overcoming situations in which they love someone but can't be with them.
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