How can I stop feeling resentment toward my ex?
December 26, 2008 6:22 AM   Subscribe

I'm troubled by unresolved ex issues. How can I move on from these feelings of resentment?

My ex and I broke up over a year ago, and I still feel angry because of things I never got to say. I put up with a lot in the relationship and got very little, and the breakup was sudden when I woke up and realized I was wasting my time. It was liberating for me, but maybe traumatic for my ex. I hardly grieved over the relationship, but my ex clung to what was for a long time, to the point where I felt I was being harassed and cut off all communication.

Now that I have had all this time to think about the situation, I realize I'm still resentful and angry because I never got to express to my ex exactly what I had been unhappy about for so long: my ex's serious faults, and how neglected and lonely I felt in the relationship.

I want to pour this all out to my ex in an attempt to share what my perspective was at the time. But I also remember how hard it seemed to be for my ex to let go, and the great effort I went to in breaking all communication between us. I feel that re-establishing contact might set my ex off again, and create the impression that I want to talk it out, start up a friendship again, etc.

I really just want to tell my ex off like I never had the chance to do. But, this doesn't seem wise. I would like to resolve some of the feelings I am having... how can I do this?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Don't dump on your ex. Your relationship is over. Write a letter to yourself, laying out all your grievances, then destroy it.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:29 AM on December 26, 2008 [11 favorites]

Seconding Carol Anne. There's no reason to even involve the ex at this point. Find some way to get out the feelings that doesn't involve direct contact with the ex. Write a song, a book, a letter, find a friend who will listen. But don't involve the ex. That's just asking for trouble.
posted by theichibun at 6:38 AM on December 26, 2008

What would be the purpose of telling off your ex? To hurt them? You already did that when you dumped them out of the blue. To vent? Do it with one of your friends. To process what happened so you can see your mistakes and not repeat them in a future relationship? Take it to a counselor. Figure out what you want out of this and find another way to get it. But don't, don't, DON'T call your ex again.
posted by christinetheslp at 6:41 AM on December 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Talk to a close friend that will listen. That is what friends are for.
posted by toaster at 6:49 AM on December 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Get a photograph of your ex, and put it on the desk in front of you. Rant, rave, march up and down, swing your arms around, and generally have a go at the photograph. Say it all out loud, with screams and yells if it helps.

Once you're done, put the photograph away, and do something calming, like cooking or whatever.

I do this regularly, and it generally makes me feel a lot better. I get to release the emotion, aimed at whoever (hence the picture), without upsetting anyone with my colourful use of curse words. Once it's over, I do something calming/relaxing to help take my mind off it.

This only works if you don't stew over it. If you're sitting thinking about the relationship a lot, try changing that behaviour first.
posted by Solomon at 7:03 AM on December 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Write the letter. Stick it in a bottle. Seal the bottle and chuck it into the nearest large body of water.

Alternately: Send a postcard to PostSecret. Limit yourself to one postcard.
posted by Remy at 7:09 AM on December 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another thing to consider: a year is a long time in the life of a relationship. Your nightmare scenario that ex might get "set off" again is certainly not the worst possible - ex may well have completely stopped having any feelings for you, good or ill. Showing up again in ex's life to rehash old problems may well have the (completely normal) reaction, "Why bother bringing this up to me?" and not the crying and wailing and gnashing of teeth that you would appear to want.

In any case, forgive me for saying so, but this sounds like an attempt to stir up shit where it needn't be stirred. If you're doing this out of an honest desire to resolve these feelings, well, time heals all wounds, which is not the neatest answer, but there it is. Friends also always help.
posted by TypographicalError at 7:14 AM on December 26, 2008

You were precisely careful to make it gender neutral, I see. Anyway, I suggest you move on. I know that feeling of wanting to firmly establish yourself as being in the right for breaking it off. Wanting to "set the record straight" as it were, to present your side of the story, your case, for the relationship gods, and in your estimation their ruling would favor you. And then you can traipse down the street guilt free in glory when you walk about.

But it's not going to be the release you think it is. Your ex has appeals, or objections. They saw x, y and z different from you in ways you hadn't thought of. They remember the jacked up thing you did, that you had swept under the carpet as no big deal, and they'll present it to the judge with all due pomp and circumstance.

You're not going to "win" this. It's not a courtroom, it's life, and your side is just that. That one-sided conversation you think you're going to have, where you lay out point-by-point that other person's faults and why you broke it off, is going to be more than you reckon.

That part where you are concerned about the ex seeing it as an opportunity to fix those things, where the ex will want to start communicating again? Yeah - heed your own warnings and move on. Life is too short for this. Trash your mental file with this in it, cancel your imaginary court date and move on.
posted by cashman at 7:15 AM on December 26, 2008 [12 favorites]

You had the chance to tell your ex off, when you broke up with him/her and during all those other times he/she contacted you afterwards. For whatever reason you didn't take it. Don't go blaming your ex as if he/she didn't give you the opportunity to air your grievances. You had your chance. Take responsibility for your decision and move on.
posted by milarepa at 7:21 AM on December 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

I did this. The result was meh. But I had a lot more that the "faults" of the person to be mad about. I had acts.

Plus my ex wasn't communicating so much there was a problem.

This is what therapy is for. Just telling the person off won't get at the root of what is bothering you and may be unflattering.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:23 AM on December 26, 2008

You're still angry about a lot of stuff, and just venting it out may only leave you angry. I consider it junk food for the soul - it feels good while you're doing it, but what have you gained?

There's a need (or several) that's not being filled now, and you need to find out what it is.

10 steps from anger to compassionate connection

When you're angry, you're focused on what you don't want. What you focus on, you get more of. Just getting through to step 7 will help. If you can't make an action request of an expired relationship, you'll at least know what you want out of your current or future ones.
posted by lysdexic at 7:37 AM on December 26, 2008 [4 favorites]

Yeah, forgiveness and compassionate connection - whatever. I punished myself for SO LONG because I couldn't do any of those things the books said I was "supposed" to do... until I mentioned it to my therapist and she quite firmly stated that some things shouldn't be forgiven. You're not at the point where you can do lovingkindness meditations towards your ex. You'll get there, but you're not there yet.

I know what it is like to rehearse it in your head, and to want to see your ex cowed, apologetic, acknowledging that You Are Right And He Was Wrong. I know all about this. I used to take long walks on the beach where I would say everything I wanted to say, over and over, just talk and hear it and get it out - to the wind and the sea and the sand.

That helped, a bit. At least it wasn't all bottled up inside me.

I didn't vent it at friends because they had already lived through enough of my crap from him, I felt. No one ever said "I don't want to hear any more," that was a decision I made.

Therapy can be helpful, but what I didn't want to do was keep talking about it. I just wanted to not have the emotions in my brain any more. I wanted them to be gone so I could cut the cord. The only thing that did that was TIME. And the only thing that helped was keeping myself busy enough that I didn't have time to think about it, or had a million other things I wanted to think about besides him.

It will fade. You just need to hang in there.
posted by micawber at 7:48 AM on December 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Nthing talking to a friend. Talking to your ex will in the end bring you nothing. It sounds like you need to forgive yourself for taking the ex's bullshit at all. Work on that.

Or, if you really would like some validation, post the relationship story to AskMefi so we can all gang up to tell you were absolutely right to DTMFA.
posted by neblina_matinal at 7:48 AM on December 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I really just want to tell my ex off like I never had the chance to do. But, this doesn't seem wise.

No, it's not. Not only is it not wise, it's positively cruel. If you need to tell someone off, write a letter that you destroy (as the first answer suggests), act out a "scene" with a friend like you would act out a play with the friend playing your ex, or, because this is AskMe after all - see a therapist and tell THEM every horrible thing you want to tell your ex.

No matter what ze did, getting in touch with your ex specifically for the purpose of spouting off is just mean. The relationship is over. You wanted it done, it's done. Not only might you send the wrong message to your ex, but you could very well do some pretty harsh damage and send hir many steps backwards in whatever emotional recovery ze has made since then.

Please, please don't do this. No matter what ze did during the relationship, there is no excuse to being cruel to another person for your own personal gain.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:11 AM on December 26, 2008 [8 favorites]

I never got to express to my ex exactly what I had been unhappy about for so long: my ex's serious faults, and how neglected and lonely I felt in the relationship.

Each of us is responsible for our own happiness.

You were unhappy and you blame your ex. That's a huge waste. Take responsibility for your own joy. You stayed in a relationship that didn't satisfy you. You didn't give feedback to so that your ex could work on his/her "faults". You didn't say you felt neglected and lonely.

How your happiness your ex's responsibility?
posted by 26.2 at 9:18 AM on December 26, 2008 [6 favorites]

I suppose what you are referring to are feelings of resentment that linger far too long. I can relate. I'm still trying to get over a relationship that, where clearly things weren't meant to work out, I still have big feelings and big sensitivities. Some shit, for whatever reason, just takes a lot of time to heal. It can be an irrational process.

You'll find people will tell you to avoid contact because it is positively cruel, but you may think its unwise for other reasons. Maybe something is telling you that your feelings are not going to be resolved by yelling at somebody - that that just doesn't seem to make any sense. Or maybe you've been in a situation like this before and ended up with bad results.

Good thing for preview, I was going to write exactly what 26.2 said:

I never got to express to my ex exactly what I had been unhappy about for so long: my ex's serious faults, and how neglected and lonely I felt in the relationship.

Kind of tricky blaming somebody else for feeling neglected and lonely. I mean, it would seem the natural thing to do, but isn't it more importantly your fault for allowing yourself to feel that way? This is typical "clean up your side of the street" analysis.
posted by phaedon at 9:26 AM on December 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Before you can decide what to do for closure, you need to understand your unconscious motivations for craving the unburdening. What will bring you peace? Receiving acknowledgment and apologies from your ex? Releasing the pent-up feelings of resentment, hurt, and anger to the person you deem responsible? Or something else.

A year has passed. Why *right now* do you feel renewed yearnings for resolution? What's currently missing in your life, or angering you, or causing you to feel unappreciated and/or abused?

The craving for closure is symptomatic of a deeper longing -- one that your ex cannot remedy, but you can. Discover and heal it.
posted by terranova at 9:32 AM on December 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately, some things cannot be resolved.

I divorced my ex about 15 years ago. There are still things that I wish we could have talked about, rather than causing a rift that separated a large group of people into two camps. Obviously, all these years later, I'm not still angry, but I do feel sad that such a huge section of my life ended so poorly, and I have regrets about how I handled the whole thing. There are some things for which I believe I owe him an apology, and somethings for which I believe abject whimpering on his part might be appropriate.

The fact is, that I realize it's *my problem*, and not his. I'm the one who has issues, and therefore the issues are my challenge.

There's where you find yourself. You have unresolved issues, but bringing the cause of those issues back into your reality will only cause a whole host of new issues. Why search for is filled with all sorts of new and interesting things, leave the old drama behind like a gorgeous butterfly leaving a chrysalis.

I wish you all the best. Feel free to memail me if you just want an unbiased, yet sympathetic, ear.
posted by dejah420 at 9:35 AM on December 26, 2008

Don't get back in touch with somebody with the agenda of making sure they understand how much you think they sucked. Especially for the noble goal of making yourself feel better, and under the guise of self-improvement for her. Go rent High Fidelity instead. There's a message in there for you.

But if you don't have the time, here's a summary of what I think her reaction might be like:
ROB (voiceover): And then, with no real explanation, I just launch into it. I tell her about Laura and Ian, and Charlie and Marco, and about Alison Ashworth and Kevin Bannister...

ROB: ...and you wanted to sleep with Chris Thompson instead of me, and...and I thought you could help me understand why it keeps happening, why I'm doomed to be left, doomed to be rejected and...

He slows to a stop. We see Penny as she goes from happy to livid.

PENNY: Rob. I was crazy about you. I wanted to sleep with you, one day, but not when I was sixteen. When you broke up with me -- when you broke up with me -- because I was, to use your charming expression, tight, I cried and cried and I hated you. And then that little shitbag asked me out, and I was too tired to fight him off, and it wasn't rape because I said okay, but it wasn't far off. And I didn't have sex with anyone else until after college because I hated it so much. And now you want to have a chat about rejection? Well, fuck you, Rob.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:55 AM on December 26, 2008 [7 favorites]

There are some good suggestions above; you should try most of them. I find writing especially useful--it can result in true catharsis. Contacting the ex will almost certainly not give you the closure you desire.

I have been in your position, and offer two things to think about: a) you are obsessing over this because you can't control it. What you want from contacting the ex is to regain control. Not gonna happen.

B), you are mostly upset with yourself over choosing that relationship in the first place, while not addressing issues at the time, and now you'd like some practice in airing these feelings. All you can do is chalk this up to experience and do better next time.

Good luck.
posted by Riverine at 10:33 AM on December 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I nth the writing. Pour out all you want to say in a letter, read it once, and then burn it. That should provide some good catharsis.
posted by reenum at 11:24 AM on December 26, 2008

I watched a good friend go through several years of processing to get past all of the anger/sadness/feelings of righteousness/indignation/etc. that she was left with after a relationship ended. It wasn't pleasant, but in the end she ended up being glad for going through all of it, because she came out on the other side so much stronger: she understood what she could have done differently in the relationship, she understood what "faults" she will and won't tolerate in a partner, she had the power that comes from really taking responsibility for your own happiness, and she knew she could survive hard times and be okay. So just a word of encouragement here, that grappling with your anger and resentment is a tough process, but it does bring big rewards in the end, ones that no one can take from you.

Also: might you be wanting to tell off the ex b/c you're wanting an apology? You have no guarantee at all that you'll get one. You can't do anything how you ex feels or sees the situation, and if you go to him/her wanting an apology or acknowledgement that you are right, and you don't get it, you'll likely be even more angry than you are now.

Work on cultivating things in your own life--things that you have control over--that make you happy. It'll be easier for the anger to melt away if your life is full of fulfilling things. I've found that fighting and struggling against anger and resentment only makes it worse. Work on noticing ways to translate your anger into a specific lesson for your next relationship (eg "I can tell my partners that I need more attention when I start to feel neglected", or whatever.). Work on noticing and analyzing your feelings as they come up without becoming totally identified with them. Your anger isn't the whole reality of the world; it's just a feeling that will pass.

And you know what else? If you have a hard time doing all this non-judgemental personal responsibility-taking and emotion-analyzing, that's ok too. If you just feel completely PISSED and you CANNOT get over it, that's ok, you don't have to be a saint. Your anger will pass eventually, especially if you don't feed it too much. Just don't call the ex in the meantime! Find other ways, like any of the upthread suggestions, to channel your anger. Good luck!
posted by aka burlap at 12:20 PM on December 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

You may benefit from part of the 12 Step process, which suggests that you make a "fearless and searching moral inventory" of yourself. That is a process that is about YOU - not him. That exercise asks you to imagine all the people in your life who raise your blood pressure when you think about them. Then you very carefully lay out why they raise your blood pressure, and exactly what emotions are wrapped up in that relationship. Sometimes it is a relationship with someone, sometimes it is only a relationship with their memory.

But once you have identified all of the emotions, what caused them, and what they are doing to you now, you need to identify what part you played in creating that dynamic. This isn't about beating yourself up or taking responsibility for things that you weren't really responsible for, but instead about understanding how you contributed to it. In some situations require you to accept that you either facilitated certain behaviors, or permitted them to continue unchecked. Other situations merely require you to admit that you were victimized and that someone just mis-treated you - nothing more and nothing less.

The following step suggests that you admit your faults to ourselves, to God (as you understand the order of the universe), and to another human being.

This is just one option for how to deal with your past in order to begin living your future.
posted by greekphilosophy at 12:28 PM on December 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

Everybody already told you what needed to be done here.....but if your ex had a very hard time letting you go (this is something i really empathize with) then do your best NOT TO CALL him if you dont plan on taking him back.....he is already having a hard time without you piling up this other stuff have inside of you.
posted by The1andonly at 2:47 PM on December 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

my ex's serious faults, and how neglected and lonely I felt in the relationship.

I know it probably seems like whatever your ex did is something objectively terrible, but I think time might give you more perspective on it. For example, I have an ex who made me feel lonely and neglected because he was not willing to spend as much time with me as I wanted to spend with him. We primarily only spent time together in a group of friends. Six years later, I'm married to someone who wants to spend as much time with me as I want to spend with him... and I realized, from observing other people's relationships, that they just don't spend as much time together as we do, generally. And it's okay with those people. It wasn't that my ex was some neglectful asshole, which is how I felt for a long but, but that we were just not well-matched for each other. My husband and I need our SO to be our best friend, and some people are just like us, but that's very much not for other people and there's nothing objectively wrong with it.

I think back on when I felt angry like you do now, when I just constantly wanted to go back and chew him out and nearly did it a few times... and god, I'm so glad I didn't. I'd have looked like a self-absorbed asshole who expects other people to provide my happiness for me. No, I wouldn't have just looked like that, I really sort of was, and the only saving grace that made it less obvious than it could have been was that I kept my mouth shut and tried to be nice to him when I saw him.

There are some things that people do in a relationship that just shouldn't be done, like abusing their partner. Those kinds of relationships are a different story. But there are a whole host of other things that, while they may upset some people, other people are entirely fine with. Now I realize that if someone is unhappy in a relationship and the other person isn't willing to change whatever bothers them, it doesn't mean that person is horrible. It means they should be dating different people. And if the unhappy person stomps their feet and cries and stays in the relationship anyway, it's really their own fault they're unhappy.

I'm willing to bet that what you see as "serious faults" and whatever he did that made you feel neglected and lonely are not things he actually deserves to be chewed out for, because he could date people who are not bothered by those things.

You recognize that chewing him out is a bad idea, and you asked how to deal with the feelings since you can't. Basically what I'm saying is to try to internalize all this, because I know at least once I did, I didn't want to chew my ex out anymore and I didn't have all these nasty negative feelings dragging me down. Catharsis, like the writing-a-letter-to-yourself idea, is certainly one way to get over it, and I don't begrudge anyone who stops there. I just feel that it's probably more helpful in the long run if you change your manner of thinking to something more fair towards your ex. The resentment is truly gone for me, and I think it'll help you evaluate future relationships more clearly since it eliminates at least some unnecessary negative feelings.
posted by Nattie at 4:23 PM on December 26, 2008 [5 favorites]

If you don't care about hurting another person, go ahead and tell off your ex. If you don't mind taking the risk of getting in contact again after finally cutting him off, tell off your ex.

Will you really feel better if you say all those things to your ex? If you will sufficiently feel better, maybe it's worth it. I just doubt that you will feel that much better for saying them.

I think it's what poker players would call a -EV situation.
posted by Modus Pwnens at 5:28 PM on December 26, 2008

:) It's called The Tango. Only it's much better put to use when you use it to stimulate new relationships. Frankly express an interest and then 'ignore' them - and so it begins. It's pretty much almost freakish how well it works. When someone who said they were into you, for no real reason, appears to no longer be so - the urge to pique their interest is almost irresistible.

Besides he didn't care then so it's irrelevant now. There is nothing he can say that will make you feel better. Even if he manages to get together all the blah blah you want to hear it won't matter. It might even be worse - he's capable of the words so why the fuck couldn't he just say them then! Ugh!!

How can you stop feeling resentment? I don't know, how do you usually look at situations where you made some errors in judgement, it went badly but you got out of it and you learned a few lessons about yourself and what is acceptable to you in life...? You have patience - which is good! Because relationships require it. But when you catch on that the boat is going nowhere 'cause there's only one oar... it's time to bail. It's good to know that - and now you do. When shitty hindsight becomes glorious foresight you will actually think fondly upon this lesson. Promise.
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 6:43 PM on December 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I nth the idea of leaving this alone - you open a very negative line of communication, and it could lead places you don't expect. If you tell your ex all the things they did wrong in the relationship, be prepared for them to open up (at great length) about all the things you did wrong - you've painted a picture where you were perfect and they were terrible (which may well be true), but I'm sure your ex doesn't see it that way.

Or look at it from another point of view, how would you like it if someone who dumped you and cut off all lines of communication a year ago when you were ready to talk, contacted you a year later to tell you how horrible a person you were?

Sounds like you are already on the track to examining the reasons why you have unresolved feelings towards someone you broke up with and a year later want to tell off someone you went to great lengths to cut all communication from.

Best of luck.
posted by Admira at 9:15 PM on December 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I want to pour this all out to my ex in an attempt to share what my perspective was at the time.

You're lying -- either to yourself or to us or both. You want to get back at your ex and make her/him suffer one more time out of resentment, spite, or a need for drama. Your "perspective at the time" was made clear by your actions, and can't be revised in retrospect.

If you wanted to apologize, soften the blow, renew the friendship -- all these are dangerous but legitimate reasons to get back in touch. But all you want to do is rub it in and feel self-righteous, and perhaps enjoy causing more "trauma" for the ex.

Makes you sound about as selfish as you say the ex was.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:27 AM on December 29, 2008

its ironic, but when my ex and I decided to 'try again' for the third time early last year, i ended the relationship last fall with the exact spew and whirlwind of 'closure' that last time. yes, it hurt, and i was asshole, and it tore her apart, but it was the only way to make her realize that some things are not worth settling for. it had nothing to do with love. do i regret what i did? i choose not to think about it that way. do i miss her and am i sorry? i'm only human, but in the end, i chose to sever the union, because i don't think i was becoming a better person by staying with her.
posted by sniperantics at 10:59 AM on January 2, 2009

It takes time.

But seriously, you've gotta learn to let it go. As long as you're hanging onto The Rage, you are keeping yourself from moving forward and getting over the relationship.

Books never worked for me. A little therapy (neutral party that you pay to listen to you rant) and a lot of going out and doing the things I liked got me back on track. Get on with life; spend time with friends and do normal stuff and in time, your ex will be completely dead to you because it will become clear that they have no place in your fantastic existence.

And THAT is the GRRRREEEAAAATEST feeling ever!
posted by HolyWood at 3:52 PM on January 19, 2009

I think you should write him an email and let him know everything you feel. Including that you don't want to him as a friend again.

Tha't will do exactly what you want,

rid off your resentment

Hurt him for what he did to you before.

You'll feel inner peace.

posted by zulo at 3:26 PM on March 12, 2009

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