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Should I go back?
October 22, 2012 9:55 AM   Subscribe

How do I let go of my relationship without feeling tremendously guilty for not trying again?

You can look at these two previous questions for an idea about the problems I've had in my relationship. The bottom line is that I believe that my ex (we broke up a week ago) is emotionally abusive. However, I still love him very deeply and want things to work. When I walked out, it blindsided him, and I feel a lot of guilt about not bringing my concerns to him in a respective, open, and honest way.*

If I look at a list of abusive behaviors, he's done almost all of them at some point or another in our relationship. Things were getting better, but I think that was mostly because I had stopped causing fights by expressing myself and my feelings - as in, I was acting the way he wanted, so we were having fewer bad incidents. However, he did conduct himself better than he had in the past during these arguments/incidents - so I do think things were getting a bit better on his end, too.

I know about the cycle of violence, and so I'm trying to be rational about this. But I love him, and I want him to change - for himself just as much as for me. He's finally agreed to couples counseling, and he has apologized for making me feel small and sad and scared. I feel like I'm damned if I try and I'm damned if I stay: this is really, really hard for me.

I'm in therapy, which helps, but my therapist is on vacation for the next two weeks. She set me up with someone I can speak with in a crisis, which is really great, but I feel kind of lost. I feel like a failure if I don't try again. If I try again, I'll be certain that it was wrong if it doesn't work out; if I don't, I'll never know if I did the right thing.

What do I do? Should I try again? If not, how can I forgive myself and be kind to myself in this time of great turmoil?

* We had a fight, and when he started swearing and calling me names and getting in my face I just walked out and spent the night in a hotel. This was a big shock, and a few days later, after we had still been fighting (and he continued to yell and call names and discount my feelings) I told him that I didn't want to be in the relationship anymore. I haven't been home since.
posted by sockermom to Human Relations (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
You are absolutely right - you are damned if you try and damned if you stay - so don't consider trying again or staying with him. No second chances for a person like this! You deserve so much better. You are doing the right thing, keep doing it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:00 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, I accidentally answered my own question there, treehorn+bunny.

I meant to write "I'm damned if I go and I'm damned if I stay," but there it is.
posted by sockermom at 10:02 AM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


So you love him? So what? It doesn't matter. He might even love you, in his weird, twisted way, but the relationship doesn't work, won't work, and is WAY too much trouble to work.

People who abuse their SO's love them deeply, that doesn't make them good candidates for partners.

Mourn the loss of your relationship, but move on.

You are not responsible for fixing what's wrong with your boyfriend. He's resonsible for that.

Do you really want to go through the strum und drang of this? Why?

Cut yourself a break and let him go to counseling on his own.

That sweet feeling you have right now? That's relief. Relief that you don't have to put up with this nonsense any more.

Call the number your counselor gave you, if this isn't a crisis, I'm not sure what is.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:02 AM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think sometimes when people are in a relationship with someone like this, they love who they want the person to be. Or, maybe more accurately, the potential person they can see would exist if the abusive behavior would stop. But the thing is, the abusive behavior will not stop. You have to operate on the assumption that nothing is ever going to get better, and maybe it will get worse. You have to see this person for who he really is, right now, not who you want him to be. And the person he actually is, in today's reality, is not someone you should go back to. Period.
posted by something something at 10:06 AM on October 22, 2012 [18 favorites]


Congratulations on extricating yourself finally. You did it!

Call the person your therapist set you up with, now.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:06 AM on October 22, 2012


But I love him, and I want him to change - for himself just as much as for me.

It doesn't matter that you love him because your love is not a predictor for his behaviour. Children who are beaten by their parents love them. Women who are hit by their husbands love them. Men who are belittled by their girlfriends love them. Christ, Ava Braun loved Hitler.

He is not going to change. You are not dammed if you go - you are heartbroken, and then you are free.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:07 AM on October 22, 2012 [25 favorites]


sockermom, I was you when I was 24. I was in this exact same situation, things came to a head in the exact same way, and I felt the exact same doubt.

What you're feeling right now is temporary, I PROMISE you. He may claim to want to reform. He may indeed reform. But there is no guarantee that the person he is when he reforms will be the same person you love now, and there is also no guarantee the person he is when he reforms will want you after all.

It's also very possible that if he does indeed to all the going through counseling, you could see that you really shouldn't be together after all. That's what happened in my case.

He has to fall down out of the next and NOT be saved by your taking him back in order for him to realize he needs to learn to fly. That's also what happened in my case - I broke up with him, I told him it was final, I told him there was no chance of getting me back (even though I went through a week of wondering whether I was doing the right thing). I ultimately realized that I had to stop saving him - he really had to finally learn how to save himself. When I felt my most guilty during that first week, I instead channeled that into a letter I wrote to his best friend begging him to please look after him, because I simply couldn't right now. (His friend wrote back a very sweet note telling me I was genuinely wonderful and promising to keep an eye on him.)

But my letting him go, and MEANING it, is what finally made him go into therapy after years of promising me he would; it made him finally go back to school and take charge of his life. And that time apart made me realize that "my God, us being together in the first place was a mistake" and I was stronger about not going back. Last I heard, he's married and has a pre-teen daughter; I'm still single; and I am absolutely convinced I did the right thing way back then.

That wanting him back lasted only about two weeks tops. That wondering why I took so long has been going on for the past 18 years.

It hurts and it is confusing, but you are doing the right thing. Memail me if you want to vent about this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:09 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


You need to be away from him until his behavior improves. Period.

I didn't say you need to leave him. Just set some clear conditions and keep yourself safe.

You both need counseling, yeah, but he has some solitary work to do. He needs to seek help for his own anger and issues and abusive behavior. I'd make that a prerequisite for any further contact. If he doesn't own up to his own behavior, he's a lost cause.

Dr. Stephen Stosny is an expert in helping men with anger and abuse issues. I would recommend he read some of his stuff and then seek the kinds of help Stosny recommends.

As for not feeling guilty, well, if instead of dumping him and leaving him to turn his anger issues on some other woman you set some very clear expectations and try to get him to help himself... if you love him enough to show some tough love... you have taken the compassionate and loving route. Make it his choice to leave because he won't do what he needs to do to deserve you. And if he chooses his dysfunction over you, then that's him not you.
posted by cross_impact at 10:09 AM on October 22, 2012


Though there are all sorts of reasons behind the hows and whys of someone's abusive behavior, I'm of the belief that if you're on the receiving end of consistent emotional, mental, and/or physical abuse, you need to be selfish, because the other person in the relationship doesn't care for you as much as you may think they do. He deserves no explanation. It's obvious why you would walk out if he was getting in your face and calling you names--and if he doesn't understand why (bullshit), you need to keep running, not walking, or lingering. You are not a failure for looking out for yourself when your partner is less partner, more combatant.

It's really good you want to help someone change for the better, and that you've managed to get him to agree to go to couple's therapy, but the harsh reality is someone who has time and again not respected you is not likely to learn from you. By choice.

Personally, I would never speak to this person again, but if you want to, I think you should keep your distance and say there is no hope of anything in the future unless he takes responsibility for himself, his actions, and his development, without your help. (I mean, he's not helping you with your development in therapy, is he?) Maybe, if he turns into this awesome person down the road (I'm jaded, so I imagine this is unlikely.), you guys can revisit this relationship and see how you feel, but at this point in time he is simply dangerous to you.

Good job on leaving, and I would definitely contact that therapist. Also, if your ex is hounding you with phone calls or following you anywhere or if you're at all, even just a teeny-tiny-inkling-smidge concerned about your safety, call the cops and make them aware of the situation.
posted by iamfantastikate at 10:12 AM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's hard to let go of an abusive relationship, in my experience. What happened for me is that I came to realize, through many awful circumstances in the relationship, that I was replaying the drama of my abusive and neglectful childhood. I NEEDED someone to abuse me to:

(a) hold a mirror up to me and show me the abuse I endured from my parents

(b) show me that I was as abusive if not more so to myself

(c) bring the emotional pain that I had stuffed for so long to the surface, so that I could begin to HEAL.

In other words, there is a reason that I attracted that kind of relationship and wrestled with it for as long as I did. Because it was all that I had ever known.

It might be worth looking back on your relationship history and what you learned about relationships as a child to see if there are any parallels. I bet you will find some similarities. You deserve a great man who loves you exactly for who you are and treats you like gold.
posted by strelitzia at 10:21 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, I thought it was a Freudian slip, sockermom, but just wanted to also point out that I know you already know the answer to this, and any objective third party can answer this question in a split second without thinking - so basically I'm recommending changing the question in your mind from "should I go back?" (the answer to which we all know) to "how can I deal with these feelings of guilt and regret I have temporarily about my breakup?" - there have actually been several questions similar to this in recent weeks in this human relations category, if you'd like to browse the many good responses there.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:21 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


One more quick thing. It doesn't matter why he is the way he is or what he needs to do to get better. It's not your problem to fix.
posted by strelitzia at 10:24 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


You cant fix him. You cant. Its a simple, immutable law. YOU CANT FIX HIM. Period. You did the right thing: You set and enforced boundaries to protect yourself from someone, who in an ideal world, you wouldnt need to protect yourself from. But you did the right thing, and I'm proud of you. You have to take care of you, because youre the only one who can really truly love yourself... if you dont think youre worth protecting, many people wont either.
Regardless of what he does in the future, you have to live your life for you.
posted by Jacen at 10:40 AM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know how right now you are trying to not feel guilty? How you are very desperately trying to change yourself? It's not really working, is it? Not in this moment. It's going to take a lot of work to get past that.

It would take a far larger and far more desperate force in your ex to get him to change. It would also take a lot more time and work, work that only he can do.

You can't change people. You just plain can't. You're hoping you can convince him to put that effort into changing himself for you, but if you stay with him, why would he? He has no problem with what he's doing, especially if you're sticking around.

"But I love him, and I want him to change"

You're not in love with him. You don't want the person you fall in love with to be a different person. You're in love with what he could potentially be, but he's not that, not yet. Maybe never.

You're going to be ok. Think of what you would do for a friend in your situation, and then do it for yourself. Warm fuzzy sweaters, good books, sweet trashy tv, hot coco, days at the spa, new haircut, whatever it is that you enjoy, now is the perfect time to indulge.
posted by Dynex at 10:44 AM on October 22, 2012


When I walked out, it blindsided him, and I feel a lot of guilt about not bringing my concerns to him in a respective, open, and honest way.

It's clear from your past questions that this had in fact been discussed a lot between you over a long period of time. Clearly you'd been asking for couple's therapy. And what you got from him was a lot of dismissive, selective memory, self-justifying bullshit. In my opinion the only thing he was blindsided by was your turning out to have a spine. Again from the context of the question it seems like there have been at least 2 years of this, and here you are being yelled at, cursed at, having him "get in your face"- I assume you mean he is also physically intimidating you while he is yelling at you and swearing at you and saying terrible things about you. Does that sum it up? You've obviously done the right thing.
posted by nanojath at 10:56 AM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


So, imagine a very dear friend says this to you:
I feel a lot of guilt about not bringing my concerns to him in a respective, open, and honest way when he started swearing and calling me names and getting in my face.
What would you tell this person who you have known for a long time to be smart and sensible and thoughtful and kind? She feels guilty for protecting herself.
A few days later he was still yelling and calling me names and discounting my feelings). But I love him, and he has apologized for making me feel small and sad and scared.
This beautiful, creative, interesting person who you care deeply about and who you want to be happy is contemplating going back to a man who makes her feel small and sad and scared for days at a time, who yells at her and calls her names.

What would you say to this woman if she were your friend, or your sister, or your niece?
posted by headnsouth at 11:08 AM on October 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


When I walked out, it blindsided him, and I feel a lot of guilt about not bringing my concerns to him in a respective, open, and honest way.

This is the albatross around your neck. The guilt you feel is your body's natural way of reminding you that you did not act fairly or appropriately towards the person you love.

To end a relationship without giving the other person a chance to attempt correction is one of the very definition of injustice. You have to find a way to correct this misstep. (doesn't mean you get back together, but it may certainly mean helping him through some initial counseling and emotional help by a third party).
posted by Kruger5 at 11:19 AM on October 22, 2012


This is the albatross around your neck. The guilt you feel is your body's natural way of reminding you that you did not act fairly or appropriately towards the person you love reinforcing the dismissive, abusive words and actions of your ex, which you are just beginning to disbelieve.

Kruger5 is 100% wrong about whose well-being you are responsible for. The last thing you should do is take on any responsibility for trying to "change" your ex or "help" him become someone else. He is an adult and can take care of himself.

You are an adult as well and you deserve to focus on your own needs, not your ex's or anyone else's. What you need is more time away so that *your* words, your therapist's words, loving and supportive words, get louder and your ex's words lose their power.
posted by headnsouth at 11:30 AM on October 22, 2012 [24 favorites]


Yes, pay no attention to Kruger - because you sound so much like me that it sounds like "giving him chances to attempt correction" multiple times is the very thing that has kept you in this relationship for longer than you should have been.

You are not responsible for him having failed to TAKE the chances you've repeatedly given him. I promise you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:32 AM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Congratulations on your exodus. Please stick to your guns here; you made a carefully considered decision about what was right and healthy for you, and this relationship is not it. Remember that whenever you start wavering. Maybe carry that checklist around with you in a pocket and use it to remind yourself of all the tiny abuses you endured, as well as the larger ones.

Eventually, you may start to feel angry instead of guilty. Remember that you did nothing wrong by leaving an abusive partner.

You sound like you need someone to talk to for the next few weeks while your therapist is gone, maybe a little bit of a plan for what to do when you start feeling guilty or like capitulating and going back to your abuser. Do you have family or friends who can hang out with you in the lonely hours? Spend as much time with them as possible. Otherwise, do things to distract yourself -- go to the mall, or MeFi meetups, or church -- preferably places where you will be around people and engaged in social activities. Failing that, go to the movies.

Ensure that, during this two weeks while your therapist is away, your abuser is unable to contact you. That means blocking his calls and filtering his e-mails -- you can set up mail to forward his messages to a friend or family member, as well.

Be gentle to yourself. Take hot bubble baths, drink hot tea, get a massage, read light fiction, listen to music that cheers you up. Exercise in ways you enjoy -- so probably not on the treadmill, but maybe in the yoga or dance studio instead.

If you need to talk to someone RIGHT NOW just to talk, you can call one of the Samaritan helplines if there is one in your area. Note: They can talk to you for, I think, fifteen minutes. They won't give you advice or judge you for what you're saying; they're just there as an outlet. After they have to hang up, you can call right back if you need to.

Also, as always, I'm a person on the internet who likes to talk with other people on the internet. If you want someone to chat with, feel free to MeFiMail me.

And congratulations again. Do you know how much chutzpah it takes to leave an abuser? You are a ROCK STAR. (I can say that with certainty because I am also a rock star -- at least in this venue. Welcome to the club, sister. We're very glad to have you.)
posted by brina at 11:40 AM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


He can change without you.
posted by bq at 12:13 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


"When I walked out, it blindsided him, and I feel a lot of guilt about not bringing my concerns to him in a respective, open, and honest way.

This is the albatross around your neck. The guilt you feel is your body's natural way of reminding you that you did not act fairly or appropriately towards the person you love. "

I was actually with Kruger5 up to this point because I believed they were going to point on that the person you should love is yourself. Whether guilt is an appropriate emotion for letting yourself down and not shunting this guy sooner is up for argument (I tend to believe that positive emotions are more likely to begat themselves), but it is true that being with this man, returning to him, would not be acting fairly or appropriately for your own happiness.

Put all the effort you were into trying to get this man to change into making yourself happy, I think you'll end up enjoying the end results a lot more.

(And ignore Kruger5, you absolutely do not owe this man any help. It is not up to the beaten to assist their assailant.)
posted by Dynex at 12:16 PM on October 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Should I go back?"

Tags: abuse, emotionalabuse

No, please do not go back. Leaving anyone is hard, but leaving an abusive partner is even harder, I know. But I believe in you. We believe in you. You can do it. Leave and heal and move on.
posted by two lights above the sea at 1:26 PM on October 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I second everything brina just said (and nothing that Kruger did). Congratulations. You will be glad you took this step. Don't go back. Don't let him engage you in conversation about it. Just focus on healing right now.
posted by lily_bart at 1:29 PM on October 22, 2012


I want him to change - for himself just as much as for me.
To end a relationship without giving the other person a chance to attempt correction is one of the very definition of injustice.

Nope. You are not a social service agency, you are not a justice system, you're not violating his rights (he does not have a right to your love or your presence), and he's not your dependent child.

You are an independent adult; you can walk away from this bad situation with a clear conscience and take care of yourself. It's up to him to take care of himself, and to change himself.

Yelling and name-calling is not something I am willing to accept from a relationship partner, or even a friend, and it sounds like you feel the same. Good. Those things are perfectly reasonable dealbreakers. You are appropriately protecting yourself.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:37 PM on October 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Even in the emotional abuse question you linked to from March of this year, you noted that you and your now-ex have had discussions about his emotional abuse. Even if you had difficulties in citing specific examples to him back in March, you made it clear that you were hurt by his actions towards you. For him to now claim that he was "blindsided" when you refused to stick around for more abuse would be laughable if it weren't so vile.

If anything, he was probably blindsided that you stood up for yourself - he KNEW (or had every reason to know) his verbal abuse was unacceptable. Most people older than junior high school age know that verbal abuse is unacceptable. Good for you for leaving when you did - this was absolutely the right decision and I hope you take care of yourself and stay away.

Kruger's words should have no weight here. You NEVER deserve to feel guilty for protecting yourself from unacceptable treatment from others.
posted by DingoMutt at 1:46 PM on October 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


You didn't blindside him. You owe him nothing.

You did what he never expected you to do: be strong enough to leave after years of abuse.
posted by quince at 5:51 PM on October 22, 2012


You are damned if you stay! You won't be alone forever. Even if he did start treating you right, you wouldn't be happy.
posted by Autumn89 at 6:51 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


We had a fight, and when he started swearing and calling me names and getting in my face I just walked out and spent the night in a hotel.

This is so incredibly great! You had boundaries about how you'd allow yourself to be treated, and then you enforced them. Great job, seriously.

This was a big shock, and a few days later, after we had still been fighting (and he continued to yell and call names and discount my feelings) I told him that I didn't want to be in the relationship anymore. I haven't been home since.

Ditto. Your clarity here makes me think you did a good job communicating what was unacceptable.

Look, the fallacies of abusive relationships are (a) that if you are perfect, they'll treat you right, and (b) the contrapositive: that if they treat you wrong, it's because you screwed up. The reality is that no matter how you behave, their own psychology will cause them to act out, and when they act out, they blame it on you to avoid taking responsibility.

You gave him all the information he needed to reform, and he didn't. I'm sorry. Now please don't blame yourself. Be kind to yourself because breakups are hard.
posted by salvia at 11:20 PM on October 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


Thanks, Metafilter. I signed a lease on a new apartment today. I'm staying strong and doing my best. Thank you all so much.
posted by sockermom at 2:57 PM on October 24, 2012 [7 favorites]


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