Postscript to a relationship? Is it a good idea? Can it be done constructively? Or is it purely self-serving?
March 30, 2011 5:04 PM   Subscribe

My relationship has ended and through this process I've realized certain things. I want to share my clarity with my ex. I'm sure there are selfish reasons I have this impulse, but I also am a bit concerned that he may truly not be conscious of, what I consider to be, serious anger issues- which I hesitate to call verbal abuse, although that is most likely accurate. I never named things this way while in our relationship- we would argue around in a maze of clever denials and emotional outbursts- which I never found my way out of. . . So, am I tricking myself by thinking that this is something he needs to be confronted with for his emotional health? Or is there potentially some positive way to convey this harsh reality to someone who, so far, has not been able to acknowledge the severity of their behavior?
posted by abirdinthehand to Human Relations (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
By continuing to engage him, even in this sort of endgame manipulations, is to extend the relationship. If the relationship is really over, drop it and let him be.
posted by carsonb at 5:06 PM on March 30, 2011 [12 favorites]

Drop it. This has the possibility of seeming petty. If what you're saying is in fact true, he needs to hear it from someone else. You're kidding yourself if you think your motivation is "his emotional health", even in part.
posted by supercres at 5:09 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

If this is something you've talked about with him before, I doubt he'll suddenly see the light now that he has no incentive to improve himself for you. Talking to him after your relationship has ended could give him more opportunity to expose you to the stress and manipulation that caused you to end the relationship in the first place.

Also, confronting your boyfriend about his faults immediately after the break-up could just seem like sour grapes to him.
posted by DeusExMegana at 5:10 PM on March 30, 2011

This is a plan doomed to fail: go up to someone you just ended a relationship with and say, "Here is what is wrong with you, though you don't realize it, and I don't know how you could change it."

If he came to you, worried and frustrated about the problems the two of you had communicating, then I could see it being worthwhile to bring this up. But, just out of the blue, he's not in a position to listen to you. It's good you want to help him gain some insight, but you're not in a position to help him find self-awareness.
posted by meese at 5:11 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

So, am I tricking myself by thinking that this is something he needs to be confronted with for his emotional health?


If your ex came up to right now and said, "you know, in the light of our break up I've really been thinking about some things, and I've realized you have a number of undiagnosed mental problems. Here's a list I've carefully typed out. Shall we go over it together? I think it would be best, for your future, if you were to fully understand all the terrible, terrible things that are wrong with you and will prevent you from ever winning the love of a good man/woman," would you find yourself, shall we say, receptive to that?

In addition, the specific problem you want to bring to his attention is his issue with anger? When considering the ways such an encounter could go wrong, this leaps out as a red flag.
posted by Diablevert at 5:14 PM on March 30, 2011 [21 favorites]

Even if you're understating your case I would find it hard to sympathize with you on this. It's effectively picking a fight. Which, if you are right, you would be unlikely to win.

It's as if you had asked whether you should go back to him.
posted by tel3path at 5:15 PM on March 30, 2011

No good can come of this. Drop it.
posted by pompomtom at 5:17 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

am I tricking myself by thinking that this is something he needs to be confronted with for his emotional health?

Yes. You may think that this will bring some sort of closure to you, perhaps along the lines of "at least something good will come of the end of this relationship" (i.e., your ex will be inspired to become a better person, you'll be saving his future girlfriends from the problems/pain you went through, etc.). These may be noble-seeming reasons to do it, but they are very, very unlikely to come to pass. All they really do (as mentioned above) is keep you engaged in the endgame with your ex, which by definition is unhealthy and unproductive at this point.

Or is there potentially some positive way to convey this harsh reality to someone who, so far, has not been able to acknowledge the severity of their behavior?

No. There are no magic words you can say to get him to see the error of his ways, much less to inspire him to seek the help (and do the work) that he needs.

Sometimes there's no making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. There's no final word. There's no dramatic "a-ha, you're right!" moment from the other party. Your clarity belongs to you and you alone. Detach and move on.

If you still feel the need to "do something," I'd suggest perhaps creating a sort of detachment ceremony for yourself, such as envisioning yourself cutting a symbolic cord to him, or going somewhere (say, a body of water) and throwing in something (a photo, a memento, even his name written on a piece of paper) that symbolizes your attachment to him.
posted by scody at 5:17 PM on March 30, 2011 [16 favorites]

Once, I actually attended several counseling sessions with someone who dumped me, for the purposes of "process" and "clarity." It was a huge waste of time and money, and it hurt a lot. It seems skeevy for the dumper to make additional claims on the time of the dumpee, only to clarify further why the dump occurred.

The only way he can see this is you trying to have the last word.

Scody is wise and right (as she usually is) in that any processing or closure needs to take place in you.
posted by Danf at 5:23 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

You need to let this and the relationship go.

I like scody's idea, but I'd also like to suggest that perhaps you should write an unsent letter to him. Emphasis on unsent. Closure is good, but it doesn't need to actually involve the other party.
posted by asciident at 5:29 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Emphasis on unsent.

Oh god yes. In my mid-20s I wrote the proverbial LET ME TELL YOU EVERYTHING letter to my recent ex... and sent it. A few days later I got a call from the police. No kidding.
posted by scody at 5:32 PM on March 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

Really, don't.

I've been on both sides of the "moment of clarity" after a relationship--the beneficiary of the revelatory insights from a former lover and the one to bestow those pearls of wisdom, and it's really, really, truly not worth the aggravation.

In my experience, as the person with the moment of clarity, it's most likely to be l'esprit de l'escalier--the parting shot that you wish you got out in that final conversation (You know, you really, really have daddy issues!). You think you're imparting some great revelation, but really you're just trying to get the last word, and it means you're weak. Save your clarity for yourself.

And as the person on the receiving end of the precious insight--FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU TO HELL! GRAR! Which is to say, your revelation likely is not going to be well received, and so even if (especially if!) you really are trying to help, you're actually sabotaging the improvement you're trying to foster.

Really, don't.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 5:38 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Poor Mr. F was the recipient of the previous Mr. F's parting shot about me, which was... it added a bonus level of "what the fuck is with you" to an already "man, this is awkward, annoying, emotionally trying, and it doesn't really stop" situation.

Don't do it.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 5:40 PM on March 30, 2011

Why wouldn't you prioritize looking into your selfish reasons, as well as guarding yourself against and further harm from this man? What makes him so great that he gets to step in line in front of...well, you?

Also, don't fool yourself into thinking that anything you do or say can reveal to him the great error of his ways. It's called 'going to the empty well' and we tell ourselves all sorts of silly things to make it seem like that trek is one of gratitude and kindness and joyful hope. It is none of those things. It is you walking a long way out of your way in search of something in a place that won't have it. It's shocking how you can always remember that on the many returns home, and forget again once you get there and turn around.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:49 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Emotional Maturity comes almost always from self-awereness.
It is very rare to find someone that learns when someone else tells them their defects.

So trying to tell him what his faults are is useless, as others have already noted. In fact, it is hindering his own awareness process for learning....
posted by theKik at 6:02 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

My ex told all the mutual friends I needed meds and that if I'd just gotten on some kind of happy pill I never would have left him. If he had said this to me, it would not have ended well. Nthing "don't be that person".
posted by immlass at 6:02 PM on March 30, 2011

In 5 years, if you still give a darn about his mental health, write a letter, let is sit for a week, and then send it if it still resonates. Good luck, stay strong ...
posted by thinkpiece at 6:05 PM on March 30, 2011

I disagree with everyone else, I think you should call a spade a spade, not for his benefit, but for your own.

serious anger issues- which I hesitate to call verbal abuse, although that is most likely accurate.


we would argue around in a maze of clever denials and emotional outbursts- which I never found my way out of

The type of people who verbally abuse and create "mazes" like this, do so deliberately to wear down your trust in your own judgment. They do it so that you question whether you know what's real or not, or what's true vs. what's a lie. They do it so that you think that you are the crazy one, and the problem. The point of all of this is so that they can get their own way and dominate you.

They have you constantly placating them, trying to be "reasonable," humoring them, even when they're completely wrong, unreasonable, illogical, lying, warping reality, etc.

And I think it would be incredibly healthy and healing for you to just drop all the charades and tell it like it is. Every time he acted like an asshole and blamed it on you, or you made excuses for him - speak the blunt truth that no, he was just acting like an asshole. Every time he overreacted about something and verbally abused you - no, you didn't deserve that, he was verbally abusive. Don't let him get one word in edgewise, giving himself an opportunity to twist things around. (A letter really might be better only for that reason) I think if you did that, you would be a lot less likely to ever take this behavior lying down in the future.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:10 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Don't Talk to the Motherfucker Again)
posted by schmod at 6:17 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't do it. Walk away. Never engage with him again. These people do change/see the light, but it will happen independently of you, you can't be the catalyst for change here - don't get caught up in it; don't engage! Live your life.
posted by mleigh at 6:22 PM on March 30, 2011

By the way, you might find this book interesting.

Or is there potentially some positive way to convey this harsh reality to someone who, so far, has not been able to acknowledge the severity of their behavior?

One of the ideas in the book is that people who do this (the book is about men, but I think it applies to all people) are very highly aware of what they're doing and do it deliberately and with skill. There's an anecdote from the book where the author and the men in the batterer group he leads are creating a skit about domestic violence and the men are giving him tips to make the skit more realistic, like "no, the guy should get more in her face to make his points, or she won't back down."

It's not like you tell them they're abusers and they're all horrified like they had no idea what they were doing. They know they're abusers, even though they'd never admit it. They know exactly the effect it has, that's why they do it.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:22 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, BTW, he's probably fully aware of what he's doing, can justify it in some way, and to a certain extent gets off on it.
posted by mleigh at 6:26 PM on March 30, 2011

The most empowering thing for you to do is gain insight into the pattern and your own history that caused you to act out a particular dynamic with this person and let that insight prevent you from repeating an unhealthy rerun with someone else.
posted by effluvia at 6:46 PM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hey, guess what? This is really about you!

The only person that needs clarity here is you. The only person that needs to process is you.

Specifically, you need to understand why you have such a difficult time putting down this Tar Baby. (I'm using Tar Baby here as a euphemism for you putting up with the pointless arguments and possible verbal abuse.)

YOU need to understand your part in this recent drama so you don't do it again.
posted by jbenben at 6:47 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I definitely had a relationship like this, except I was your ex. And you know, the crazy wasn't just me. (How do I know? I have and have had many other relationships that don't turn into that — even when there are arguments.) So I would humbly suggest that you think about what you contributed to that and work on NOT in the future.
posted by dame at 7:30 PM on March 30, 2011

Wait a year. Set an online alarm one year from now, forget about it till then. When you get the alert, see if you still feel this way. If so, well, your insight will be almost as valuable.

But the point is you shouldn't necessarily trust your judgments and motivations, here. You should think about it when you're sober, not high from the breakup ("clarity"?).

If the "insight" seems invalid, or irrelevant, or petty, when you think about it one year from now, well -- good thing you didn't tell him!
posted by grobstein at 8:14 PM on March 30, 2011

Don't do it. He/she won't listen to you anyways.
posted by bardic at 11:07 PM on March 30, 2011

Psychologically, there are reasons that he hasn't already realized it and changed. The reasons are NOT "abirdinthehand never told me". Focus on how you can learn from this and move on, and then make it happen.
posted by so_gracefully at 11:14 PM on March 30, 2011

Here's what I wrote to another user with a similar inquiry.

It works. I promise. Your new insight on your relationship is yours and yours alone. You will gain nothing in sharing it.
posted by patronuscharms at 11:22 PM on March 30, 2011

we would argue around in a maze of clever denials and emotional outbursts- which I never found my way out of

My ex was like this. It took me a long time to sort myself out after we split up because he had worn my personality down so far and confused me so much.

Well done for working out the way his anger issues and abuse affected your relationship. It's a very important start to do that.

Unfortunately, I think it’s very likely that, if you do confront him about these things, you will just end up trapped in the same labyrinth again – every time you try. He may or may not be doing this consciously, but it sounds like he’s practised and good at it. I really don’t think either of you would gain from a confrontation. All he would see in it is confirmation that you are still not over him, whether that’s true or not.

Your ex sounds like a toad who will one day have to deal with his personality and behaviour. Now that you’ve broken up, however, it’s no longer your business to present this to him.

What I found helped me (after a lot of trial and error) was to break off contact formally and entirely. This required a few attempts on my part - your mileage may vary. Work on making yourself happy – spending time with friends, eating ice cream, dating again in a low-commitment way, whatever helps you get over the relationship – and when you’re talking to those friends about him, make sure you articulate what you know now about the relationship. Use the words “anger issues”, use the words “verbal abuse”. You may find that you have your own complementary issues to work through (you probably do); don’t deny them but squelch any lingering tendency to gloss over his.

Good luck!
posted by daisyk at 3:47 AM on March 31, 2011

I dated a man with serious meanyhead, verbally abusive streaks. I only visited him at his place (about an hour away) for dates once a week and each date would with me crying, at first in hurt, then in anger. The following morning, sober, I would try to make him understand. To no avail.

We broke up. A few weeks after, he emailed me, concerned about his escalating anger issues (he'd witnessed the beast emerge without alcohol toward his young son and elderly father). I shared with him what I observed. He took enormous steps toward addressing the issue. We remain distant friends.

Had he not been open to - and actively seeking- that kind of feedback, I would have never given it, for all the reasons stated upthread.
posted by Jezebella at 3:34 PM on April 3, 2011

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