How and Why to “Detach with Love”

Author and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Jose Toledo

Sad couple breakup relationship after argument and infidelity

Detaching with love refers to the act of emotionally stepping back from a person while still maintaining a sense of care and compassion. It does not mean abandoning or cutting off love and empathy.

Instead, it means setting healthy boundaries. It is about allowing another person (or people) to take responsibility for their decisions and behavior – and learn from their own mistakes.

Detaching with love can be particularly useful when dealing with someone who is struggling with addiction, codependency, or any other harmful behaviors. By detaching, we avoid enabling, which is often mistaken for being helpful.

So when detaching with love, we allow the person to face the natural consequences of their choices and actions. This can be the most loving thing to do as it is most likely to lead them to make the changes and seek the help they need.

Detaching with love can help us navigate challenging situations with compassion and creates much healthier dynamics in a relationship.

How did the phrase “detach with love” come about?

The phrase “detach with love” has its origins in Al-Anon, a worldwide support group for families and friends of individuals struggling with alcoholism. Al-Anon was founded in 1951 by Lois Wilson, the wife of Bill Wilson who was the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

Lois Wilson and other partners of the recovering alcoholics in AA recognized the need to establish healthy boundaries. They needed to detach emotionally from the destructive behaviors of their loved ones struggling with addiction.

This was certainly the case while their alcoholic loved one was drinking. But even in recovery, especially during the early days, it was needed.

“Detach with love” was the phrase they used as it perfectly encapsulated the idea of disengaging emotionally from the consequences of someone else’s behavior while still maintaining compassion, care and support for them. It emphasized the importance of setting boundaries, allowing individuals to face the natural consequences of their actions, and promoting personal responsibility and growth.

Over time, the concept of detaching with love gained recognition beyond the Al-Anon community. Swiftly, it became a widely used phrase and method in the field of addiction recovery, as well as around healing from codependency.

Now it has been embraced as a useful and often essential guiding principle in many support groups, therapy sessions, self-help literature, and in our culture at large.

Why would we need to detach with love?

Six warning signs of codependency in relationships

While the phrase came from the Al-Anon community, its principles align with self-help concepts such as practicing self-care, preventing burnout, setting healthy boundaries, and developing loving relationships.

Detaching with love is vital in certain relationships because it preserves our mental, spiritual, physical and emotional well-being. By setting boundaries and taking care of ourselves, we avoid being consumed by the dysfunctional behaviors and negative emotions of another person.

If we continually try to rescue or control another person, it does not allow for or encourage self-responsibility. We should, of course, in a loving manner still support their growth and accountability.

It really is an act of love and compassion, as well as self-preservation. By detaching with love, we can have healthier and more fulfilling relationships with the other person – and we avoid the anxiety, stress, and sometimes depression that often otherwise arises.

When would we need to detach with love? 

Detaching with love gives us a sense of self-worth and personal empowerment. We can see that our value is not solely dependent on fixing or rescuing another person, but on nurturing our own personal growth, meaning and happiness.

So, detaching with love is vital when facing various challenging situations. These include:

Substance abuse or addiction

Detaching helps us avoid enabling someone’s destructive behaviors – and allows them to face the consequences of their decisions and actions. By creating this space, they are more likely to recognize the need for change and seek the help that they need.

A codependent relationship

The Codependent

When one person excessively depends on another, detaching with love is essential. It breaks the cycle of enabling harmful behaviors and encourages personal responsibility and growth.

Over-involvement in other people’s problems

Detaching with love reminds us that we cannot control or solve everything for others. We are largely powerless over other people. Additionally, it gives us the emotional space we need to focus on our own personal growth, well-being, and responsibilities.

Toxic relationships

If we ever have someone in our life who seems to consistently abuse, insult, try guilt-tripping, controlling, manipulating or gaslighting us, detaching with love is needed for our well-being. Establishing boundaries to stop further toxic behavior is something that must be done to protect ourselves from harm as well as make space for our own personal growth and healing.

How to detach with love

Detaching with love often needs conscious effort and practice. It can be helpful to look inside ourselves through talking therapy – to see why we might have found ourselves in the situation we are in with the particular person we need to detach from.

Following these steps will help:

Make self-care a priority

Mental health mindfullness wellbeing and balance concept. Sounds therapy. Women health. Tank drum

Do this by taking part in activities that rejuvenate and restore your overall well-being. So, make time for hobbies, practice mindfulness and meditation, and spend quality time with supportive friends.

Establish clear boundaries

Learn how to communicate your boundaries and your expectations. Let the person or people in question know what you see as acceptable (and what is not) in your interactions with them. Then, ensure that your needs and your well-being are both respected.

Maintain empathy and compassion while detaching

Detaching with love does not mean lacking care, compassion or understanding. It does not mean that you are never there for someone – and if you are, that you are cold. You can maintain empathy towards them while also knowing the importance of making sure they own their personal responsibility.

Engage in self-reflection

Practice reflection and self-awareness to understand your own needs, feelings, emotions, and boundaries. Learn to become aware of when you might be starting to get too involved or enmeshed in someone else’s life and their problems.

Seek support

blurred image of man in therapy

This can be from support groups, a therapist, or trusted friends who can provide guidance and understanding. Frequently, there is so much inside someone who has the need to detach with love, that professional help is the best way to move forward. It can be a period of great personal growth.

Treatment at Tikvah Lake Recovery Center

Consider reaching out for support and assistance. With excellent treatment and support, you or someone you care about can start their journey towards healing and growth.

For mental health, emotional well-being, and addiction treatment programs, Tikvah Lake Recovery is here to help. Nestled in beautiful serene surroundings, as a family-run center we offer a tranquil environment that is ideal for recovery, relaxation and well-being.

You or your loved one will be welcomed as our guest here and our specialized team of experienced experts are always on hand to help. We are completely dedicated to guiding you towards becoming the best version of yourself.

We provide tailored treatment programs that will enable you to live a fulfilling and happy life. Contact one of our friendly team specialists today.

David Hurst - Tikvah Lake Recovery

About David Hurst

David Hurst has four books published on mental health recovery, including 12 Steps To 1 Hero, The Anxiety Conversation and Words To Change Your Life. He has written for national newspapers and magazines around the world for 30 years including The Guardian, Psychologies, GQ, Esquire, Marie Claire and The Times. He has been in successful continual recovery since January 2002.

Reader Interactions

Leave a comment