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taking responsibility in a breakup
November 12, 2013 10:56 AM   Subscribe

How do you manage healing from a breakup when you contributed a lot to the problem?

My girlfriend broke up with me last week. We were both struggling in a relationship where we dearly loved each other but had needs the other could not fulfil. This got us in unhealthy cycles and despite our best efforts it still didn't work.

She made the decision after a bad blowup where both of us were unkind to each other. I think she made the right call, but I didn't get the chance to tell her that. Even at the very end she told me she cared about me and wants to be friends someday but that time isn't now.

It took me a couple of days to realize how I was unkind to her at the very end leading up to the breakup. I can see why I did what I did (in terms of my mental and emotional state) but I'm not proud of throwing away all our hard work and regressing to patterns that didn't work. She regressed too and from what I can tell does feel some remorse, but I think she realised her actions before I did.

We're not in contact currently. I know that I don't have an opportunity to apologize or make amends anytime soon unless she indicates that she's open to talk (which may be a while, if ever). Trying to send a letter or anything of the sort (which some have suggested) would be an incredibly bad idea now.

I'm doing my best to work on myself, and I'm receiving a lot of support - which feels awkward, because I'm not innocent in the breakdown of the relationship. There were many things I did right in the relationship overall, and while I hope she can remember that I don't expect her to remember anything else but the last impression I gave her.

I've had mixed experiences with breakups - usually they've been cordial and friendships happen. She's only ever been with abusive exes (she keeps telling me I'm her first functional relationship) and this is the first breakup she's had where she still expressed care for the other person.

How do I balance self-acceptance and self-love without excusing myself for my behavior? I've learnt a lot about myself the past week and don't want to lose sight of that. Yet I feel weird when I have moments of calm acceptance of the situation because I feel like I'm being complacent ("oh well, too bad"). I know I'm not likely to ve able to make it up to her, unless we follow through on the desire for friendship, but how do I deal with myself while holding myself accountable? What do I do with the remorse? People tell me we fuck up and that's ok, but I hurt someone I love and I can't accept what I did as ok.

(I'm in therapy)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
People tell me we fuck up and that's ok, but I hurt someone I love and I can't accept what I did as ok.

Well, it wasn't. That's not what people really mean when they say "That's OK." What they mean is "It doesn't mean you're an irredeemably bad person, nor does it mean you've made her an irreparably broken person." We almost all of us have bad relationships, and we almost all of us have regrets.

You've had a bad experience, some of which was your fault. Now you can learn from it. That's really all you can do, and that's not easy. To quote Kilgore Trout by way of Kurt Vonnegut, "You were sick, but now you're well again, and there's work to do."
posted by Etrigan at 11:00 AM on November 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


We were both struggling in a relationship where we dearly loved each other but had needs the other could not fulfil.

This is the problem. This is what ended it. You may not have handled the final stages of the relationship perfectly, but that only impacted when the breakup happened, and how it happened - not that it happened at all.

The way you take this remorse is that you look it over, and you consider it, and when - one day - you love someone else anew, you can use this experience to make sure you don't make the same mistakes again.
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:00 AM on November 12, 2013


All you can do is not do it again. Take what you've learned and do it better next time. It isn't good that you were so unkind to her (and that she was unkind to you) but that is a bell you cannot unring. Just learn from it and resolve to not repeat these past sins in any future relationships. Instead of trying to make it up to her (which you are unlikely to be able to do), pay it forward and be a better partner in the future. Hopefully your ex-girlfriend will do the same for any of her future partners.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:01 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even at the very end she told me she cared about me and wants to be friends someday but that time isn't now.

I suggest you listen to her. She clearly wants and needs space away from you. Once the wounds have lessened and she reaches out to you again, then you can tell her you're sorry, but for now, making contact with her just to ease your guilt is probably not the best idea.
posted by JenThePro at 11:01 AM on November 12, 2013


Accepting that you did a bad thing and learned lessons from the bad thing is not the same thing as excusing the bad thing.

You are human and you have made and will make mistakes. That is taking responsibility.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:16 AM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


What do I do with the remorse? People tell me we fuck up and that's ok, but I hurt someone I love and I can't accept what I did as ok.

You don't have to accept it as okay, but there's nothing you can do now to change it (unless you have a line on how to create a working time machine). The way you deal with it is that you don't do it again -- next time you're in a relationship that's going south, you remember this time and this feeling, and you use that self-awareness to act in a manner that is stronger, gentler, more honest and more caring and you make that future breakup better.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:17 AM on November 12, 2013


Have you tried writing the letter but not sending it? There is something about the physical act of writing it down (don't type it on the computer) that really helps me get it out of my brain.
posted by dawkins_7 at 11:20 AM on November 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


You can't fix things with her or make her hurt less. This is true. It is not good, per say, how you acted. But it is not evil or even inn the grand scheme of things, all that bad. You learn. you move on. You be the best you that you can, and keep striving for healing and growth. At the end of the day, you do have to face up to being the kind of person, in highly emotional circumstances, who does stupid and hurtful things. What you cant (and shouldnt) do is self flagellate. Accept the guilt, but don't wallow. You are human, and young sounding, and hopefully you won't make the same mistakes again.
posted by Jacen at 11:38 AM on November 12, 2013


To directly answer your question, the way you heal when having contributed to the problem is owning your contributions to the problem. You're the same person who fell in love and were kind to your partner, and the same person who was unkind to your partner and to whom your partner was unkind. It's not one or the other. Those yous are all you.

There's an old joke, the basic gist of which is: a man goes to the doctor and says, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." And the doctor says, "Well, stop doing that." You fucked up. Don't fuck up that way again. That's basically it. "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

But I think you're looking for some kind of punishment or penance. I can't give you that, and neither can she. The only person who can punish you for this is you, and take it from me, it doesn't help or absolve you. It just makes things worse and leaves scars. When people are offering you sympathy, it's not because they're excusing you. When people say that everyone fucks up, they don't mean it's ok that you did. They mean that they've made mistakes too, and it sucks, and they feel you.

That thing you call complacency, the "oh well, too bad" thing? That's not weird. That's the only place you'll end up, eventually, however you get there. I've screwed up relationships, some of them very important to me, in ways I deeply regret. What else should I say to myself, but "oh well"? I can't go back and fix it or undo things I did. That "oh well" is what owning your actions looks like; it's what taking responsibility looks like. You don't run away from it, you don't excuse it, and you don't beat yourself up for it. What else is left, but "oops"?

The only thing you won't fuck up in your life is dying. We're pretty shitty at everything else. But we get better as we go. So keep going.
posted by Errant at 11:43 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It happens. You get this result when you like each other too much to break up early on. Neither of you recognized a foundational incompatibility and you thought that your affection for each other could overcome it. Now you know, it doesn't work that way.

You're hurting now, and that's to be expected. I'm sure she knows you didn't mean to be hurtful, and I'm sure she feels the same way about things she said and did. It may help you to say, "I fully and freely forgive you for any hurt, intentional and unintentional you did to me, and I hope you forgive me in the same way." Say it to the air. Say it as you fall asleep at night. Say it when you remember something and feel bad. It will help.

She wants no contact and you need to respect her request.

Just realize that all but one or two of your love relationships in your life will end. That's how it works. The good news is that you've learned from this one and when you're ready, you'll be that much more equipped to deal with the next one.

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:54 AM on November 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dude, calm acceptance is the promised land. Embrace it.

She broke up with you, so some part of you can't help but feel "oh god, there must be something wrong with me that she does not want me any more." And you are trying to balance that in your mind with the positives (like "There were many things I did right in the relationship overall"); but for a lot of us, the negatives that we see in our own behavior weigh more heavily in our reckoning of ourselves. We are often our own harshest judge and critic.

I doubt she sees you in as bad a light as you see yourself at this point. But that is not really knowable, and not really important. The thing to realize is that calm acceptance does not signify that you are "letting yourself off the hook" for anything. The notion that you do not deserve to feel calm, that there is still some penance to be done, comes from a distorted view - one that makes your actions out to be worse than they really are. That's what the whole "you're only human" line of support is saying: what you did, while not great, does not rise to the level of some terrible wrong-doing.

To some extent the wish to say you're sorry -- and to be forgiven -- may come from a need to quell that feeling of "something must be wrong with me." But that feeling is coming from within you; it's yours to deal with and dispel on your own, without dragging her back into things.
posted by fikri at 12:18 PM on November 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


You did the best you could.
posted by amtho at 12:19 PM on November 12, 2013


Well, you cannot undo your behavior so your choices are to learn from them and accept them, or ignore them and repeat them. I recently apologized to a girlfriend I broke up with 24 years ago for some of my behavior and talked about how both of us have changed and would do things differently now. We shall see.

Be introspective and grow. Talk to ex girlfriend when you are both ready.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:19 PM on November 12, 2013


I know that I don't have an opportunity to apologize or make amends anytime soon unless she indicates that she's open to talk (which may be a while, if ever). Trying to send a letter or anything of the sort (which some have suggested) would be an incredibly bad idea now.

Why don't you have an opportunity to apologize...? Why bad idea?

I don't think anybody has regretted saying "sorry" too much, or more than once, and I don't think anybody would be annoyed/sad to hear it too much either - if that makes any sense.
It might do you good, and soothe the remorse, by writing a nice, thoughtful, short text message (don't send it straight away, but rather leave it a day), say you are sorry, you did not mean to be unkind to her. Do this as an action to let go of your thoughts as well. I can only speak for myself, but I know I would appreciate that a lot, and I would not think of it as a bad idea. A short text message is not the same as "contact".
And then, try as best you can to move on, and don't let it linger.
Best of luck to you!
posted by dreamsandhope at 2:20 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Self flagellation is neither healthy nor productive.
posted by kat518 at 4:19 PM on November 12, 2013


How do I balance self-acceptance and self-love without excusing myself for my behavior?

There are reasons and there are excuses. Reasons are just that...explanations of how and why something came to be what it is. When reasons are offered as justification for not trying to change what you can or to rationalize the expectation that others should tolerate your bad behavior......they become excuses.

It does not sound like you're doing this.

The self-love, self-acceptance part is to have compassion for the reasons and consequences of your behavior for yourself and others while inching towards being the kind of person you want to be.

In my personal life, I tend to avoid people who refuse to acknowledge their own bad behavior and expect me to put up with it because Poor Me just as much as I avoid folks who flail about it paroxysms of self-blame and self-flagellation. Both seem to side step the whole change what you can bit and seem to keep people locked in a vortex of self-absorption. I've been guilty of this myself. Work in progress and all.

Again, it seems like you're putting in a good-faith effort to change and acknowledge your end of things going south. That's the best you can ask of yourself and something to feel good about.
posted by space_cookie at 4:36 PM on November 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The end of my last relationship sounds a lot like yours. And to that I can only say... leave her alone. Give her space. Be prepared for her complete disappearance from your life---weeks without contact will turn to months, and then to years. Give her the freedom from you to find something new.

And don't dwell too badly on what has occurred. You've learned from it and that's all one can really hope for in these kinds of situations.
posted by stubbehtail at 4:39 PM on November 12, 2013


I'd suggest that you hand-write her a letter explaining what you've said here, and give it to one of her friends to deliver. Write it in such a way to make it clear that you're not asking her to re-think breaking up, just that you want to apologize for your role in the tone of the breakup. Also give her friend the permission to read it before delivering it, so that her friend can determine whether your ex is ready to hear what you have to say.
posted by Capri at 1:40 PM on November 13, 2013


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