I was with my boyfriend for 3.5 years and we lived together for much of that time. We had built a home and a family (albeit a two-person family), but two months ago he left me. On paper, I'm doing really well. But I still struggle with blame and attachment. Can you offer advice that will help me let go? (Lot's more detail inside. Hope it's not too
posted by pantheON to human relations (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
He left me suddenly, the morning we were supposed to leave for a camping trip with friends. Later he told me that he had made the decision the night before. It was a surprise at the time, but in retrospect, things had not been working for a very long time. I think I've made it through the worst of it. For a few weeks after the left, the only feelings I could feel were panic, despair, loneliness, rejection, regret, and sometimes anger (usually at myself). I've been fortunate to have the support of many good friends and the breakup itself was the impetus for changing therapists (from a therapeutic relationship that wasn't working to one that is) and making other positive changes in my life (exercising regularly, eating healthier, and getting out into the world and meeting new people). On paper, I'm doing really well. But I know I haven't come close to letting go of him or the idea of 'us'. There are a few things in particular that I can't seem to get past, and that's where I'm hoping the community might have some helpful advice.
I was in my late 20s when we met and this was my first real relationship with another man. I only started dating about six months before I met my boyfriend. Prior to that, I was just coasting through life, numbing myself however I could and having casual sex with mostly anonymous men. I finally started seeing a therapist and taking steps to explore the real world and after dating for just a few months I met my boyfriend and we quickly fell in love. You should know that he left me once before for a short while last summer. At that time, it became clear after just a few days that he was willing to give it another try and we were together again after ten days. Shortly afterward, we started seeing a couples counsellor (who was really terrible) right up until the more recent breakup. This time, it's a different beast. It was clear almost right away that this was final. It's also the first real loss I've suffered. In addition to having never lost a relationship, I've never had the misfortunate of losing someone to death or, frankly, losing anything at all.
I'm still struggling with a number of things ...
1. Blame and regret. Everyone tells me that there were two people in this relationship and that it is no one's fault that things didn't work out. I still can't accept that. I blame myself.
I have a serious anxiety disorder and after the first breakup, I started group cognitive behavioural therapy. It was helping, but my worries and anxieties still took up a lot of space in our relationship. In addition to turning to my boyfriend for reassurance regarding each of my irrational worries, he was also the subject of many of my health-related anxieties and he resented this. My anxiety interfered with sex and intimacy and made something as simple as visiting with close friends something to fret and be tense about. My boyfriend was ceaselessly supportive of me in my attempts to deal with my anxiety, but at the same time he resented how much space and energy my worries took up and how little space was left for him and 'us'.
On top of this, I have a lot of attachment issues. I was so attached to my boyfriend that I constantly worried about him leaving me and never trusted that he wouldn't. I also often sought reassurance that he would love me forever, etc. Again, exhausting for him. I don't have a very strong sense-of-self nor do I really value myself (that's changing now, with therapy). And I looked to him as a substitute for those things. I also have trust issues and, as attached to him as I was, I refused to ever let myself be entirely vulnerable.
I had been in counselling for 4 or 5 years, with the same therapist, but my relationship with my therapist had become stagnant and unhealthy. I knew I needed a change, but wouldn't end up taking the initiative to find a new therapist until after my boyfriend left me the second time. So I spent several years just spinning my wheels, therapeutically, because I didn't want to take the difficult step of leaving my therapist. I feel like my work with the new therapist has opened up an entirely new chapter in my life. It's going really well.
My boyfriend has his own baggage and has also been in therapy for years, but he spent much of his early twenties confronting his demons and working through his shit. Though he could hold back sometimes, over the course of our relationship there were several times when he was clearly ready to be vulnerable and intimate and try to create deeper connections. That's when he would start talking about marriage, for example. When he felt this way, I would often pull back and he'd feel rejected and get hurt.
So, in this context, I feel like I had a boyfriend who tried everything he could to be with me, to love me, and to be intimate with me, and I rejected him. I wanted everything he was offering, but I chose to remain anxious, not make important changes (like changing therapists or finding a new couples counsellor), and not taking care of myself physically or emotionally. So, now he is hurt and angry and has given up, which is why he left me. So when people tell me not to blame myself or that there are two people in any relationship, all I can think of is all the ways I let him (and myself) down and how my choices and behaviour led to the inevitable conclusion of him leaving me. On top of that, I'm full of regret at not being able to get past my shit in order to be with the man I love. And regret for waiting until now to start working on myself. I think, great, I'm taking care of myself now, but when I'm 'better' in a year or two, he won't be here and I'll have lost the love of my life. I also feel guilty for having hurt him … repeatedly.
So, how am I not to blame? How can I come to terms with having let this amazing person slip through my fingers (thus having let myself down) and for hurting him along the way (letting him down)?
2. Contact and moving on. AskMeFi is full of posts telling people who have recently broken up to stop all contact. Delete him from Facebook. Don't email him. Don't' respond to his texts. Definitely don't call him.
Well, our lives were pretty intertwined. From rent, to splitting up our stuff, to making sure he got his mail, there were plenty of reasons to communicate and to see each other (which we've only done once or twice since the breakup). A few weeks after we broke up, he also asked me if we could get together to chat about the relationship and what happened. He thought it would help both of us move on. I couldn't at the time, but I said I might want to in the future. Now, he's moved all of his stuff to his new place and I'm moving to my own place at the end of the month. There's little reason for us to have any contact anymore, other than to show that we are thinking of the other person and maybe, at some point in the future, to get together and talk about what went wrong.
So, there's this finality that's hitting me now. Before, there was always an excuse to chat. An excuse to send a text message. Now, there isn't beyond trying to maintain some level of familiarity or intimacy. And, with respect to possibly getting together to chat about the relationship, there isn't any reason to see each other again. Still, I'm telling myself that we should keep the lines of communication open and send the casual 'how was your weekend?" text, so that at some point in the future we can be friends. I also think that if I keep the lines of communication open and we maintain some sort of relationship then maybe, just maybe, we'll find our way back to each other in the future. I think this because in a way I feel like he left me because he had to, not because he wanted to. And if I get my shit together, we might be able to make it work at some time in the future. He's actually talked about this in an abstract way … that he thinks about possibly being together in the future, but doesn't see right now how that could happen. If I just cut him off completely, then I'm sort of eliminating that possibility.
So, what's healthy and what's not going forward? Can I have my cake and eat it too? Can I move on, let go, stop being attached, while also maintaining some sort of relationship (and even hoping for a new one at some point in the future)?
3. His memories of us. I can't stop worrying about how he is going to remember me and our time together. I worry he's going to end up regretting our time together and viewing this as a part of his life he'd rather forget. It connects to blame (see above). I know I can't control this. Still, it's something I've been struggling with for much of the last two months and I can't seem to find a way to let go of the idea that he's going to come to hate me. I'd appreciate any advice.