I need to stop thinking about my boyfriend's abusive ex.
May 4, 2011 11:32 AM   Subscribe

I need to stop thinking about my boyfriend's abusive ex.

Alex and I have been dating for about six months, and it's been awesome. It is an honest, strong relationship that is really enjoyable and may have pretty long-term future potential. We make each other very happy. We are both mid-twenties.

Alex's most recent long-term relationship ended about 6 months before me; it was about two years long. The woman was abusive physically, mentally, and emotionally. She continues to harass him by phone / email. He has cut off contact completely since their break-up, and has not responded at all since. She knows a few people I know, and Alex is somewhat fearful that she will attempt to re-enter his life through them.

Since their relationship was so long and so recent, she comes up in conversations and in stories. I'm not sure what it is, but I now have this tendency to obsess over her. I check what I can see of her facebook, her twitter, her blog. I google her. I look at pictures of her and ask my best friend if she's prettier.

This is utterly insane. She was abusive and Alex does not want her back. Despite my understanding of abusive relationships, I still can't reconcile the fact that he was with her - I assume there must be something great about her, that I am boring in comparison while she was exciting, that she was brighter, that she was prettier, that she was just plain better.

I have talked to Alex about this several times, and he is incredibly reassuring, but this is also a very sensitive subject for him. I think it's hurtful to bring up. I need to get over my own jealousy, because this obviously has more to do with me than it does with him. How can I get over this and stop obsessing?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
first of all, stop giving in to your obsession. don't google her, don't look at pictures of her, don't make your boyfriend and friends reassure you about her. stop feeding the beast.

once you've stopped feeding it, then comes the tough part of stop thinking about it. i found it useful to think about my own exes - do you think your own exes are smarter, prettier, better than your current boyfriend? didn't you leave them all for a reason? if they left you, aren't you happier without them? didn't you come to learn that they weren't right for you? trust your boyfriend enough that he came to similar conclusions.

to be in a healthy, good, happy relationship, we have to allow ourselves and our partners to have a past. that past has to be a topic that can be discussed, without judgment. your insecurities, not his ex, will be this relationship's undoing if you let it.
posted by nadawi at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Anon - I have some experience with this, but would rather not talk about it on AskMe. Feel free to Memail me, or if you have an anon gmail account, maybe?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:39 AM on May 4, 2011

People don't stay with abusive partners because of how exciting or sexy or fun they are. They stay because they're afraid to leave, afraid of being alone, afraid of whether the abusive person can function at all without them, or in general reluctant to abandon a life-path that they've already invested so much time, energy, and love into.

Also, I'm sure there are great qualities about her. Or else why would he have ever gone out with her in the first place, or stuck it out so long? Don't think of her as a monster, or as some bewitching person. She's just an incredibly flawed human with some serious problems, and there but for the grace of god go any of us.

Consider the book closed on her unless he brings her up or needs to talk. That means no googling, etc. You can even tell him as much -- "I know it's painful to discuss, and everything is very different now. Discuss it with me whenever you like, but I won't bring it up." Then keep your word. And keep your eyes on the road ahead of you, there lies your future together, whatever it turns out to be.
posted by hermitosis at 11:44 AM on May 4, 2011 [10 favorites]

Please stop. Don't do this to yourself. I know, it's so hard to understand why this great person was with someone who treated them so badly, but you can't dwell on it or it will eat you and your relationship alive.

Please feel free to memail me if you would like someone to talk to about this. My partner has shared some pretty awful stories about his abuse at the hands of his ex. I spent much of the first year we were together reminding myself that he was happy with me, and that's all that mattered.
posted by Zophi at 11:45 AM on May 4, 2011

Imagine a male friend of yours had a girlfriend whose last boyfriend was abusive, to the point where she permanently cut off all contact with him. He tells you: "Sure, he was abusive, but what if he was more handsome or taller than me? What if he had a higher salary or a higher IQ?"

What would you tell your friend? I'll bet you'd say: "How can any of that possibly matter to your relationship?" Right?
posted by John Cohen at 11:55 AM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Your boyfriend's ex most likely was better than you in some ways. Maybe she was taller or had prettier hair or was a better cook or or played tennis better. You are most likely also better than her in some ways. Maybe you're smarter or funnier or better in bed or have a nicer ass than she does.

Presumably, you've dated or been interested in other people before him, and those people had some qualities that you liked, some of which he doesn't have. But you're not with those people, you're with him, because that's where you want to be.

We don't know what qualities she has that made him date her in the first place. But we do know three things for certain: 1) you are better than her at building close relationships with others and dealing with emotions and not violently assaulting people. 2) whatever great qualities she has weren't enough to make up for the fact that she was abusive. And 3) he loves you.
posted by decathecting at 12:04 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is a wonderful Dear Sugar that addresses this concept generally. Details are different, but that's not really the point. Your SO used to love (someone else), and you're scared that you won't measure up.

The thing is, romantic love is not a competitive sport-- and, further, your bf is sharing his past (including his ex) with you because he trusts you and wants to share. I know it feels like a slap, but it's not. It's a gift. He's sharing with you now, he's choosing you now. That's what matters.
posted by Kpele at 12:16 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you feel any pity for this woman? She obviously has problems and is may not be able to function in a healthy relationship without abuse. Perhaps she experienced abuse growing up. She is unable to move on from a dead relationship and is probably very unhappy.

There probably was something great about her but there was also a lot wrong with her. It sounds like this may not be so much a jealousy issue as it is a low self-esteem issue. Do you feel beautiful? Do you feel like a bright person? Do you value yourself and feel like you bring value to your relationship? You certainly have a boyfriend who thinks so, and I hope you get to the point where you believe these things as well.
posted by amicamentis at 12:17 PM on May 4, 2011

She can't be just better as he sees it, because he's with you and has no desire to be with her - it's just flat out not possible.

There is no objective better or worse on stuff like this - prettier or cooler or whatever depends on who is looking at it -- and when they're looking, and what other stuff is going on.

You will literally never get an answer, and there's zero point in trying - he's with you and you have a good relationship. His ex is an ex and there isn't a competition here.

Cut out looking at her stuff on the internet - seriously, dead stop it. Been there done that with a bf's ex, and it sucks, it feeds whatever the crazy is in my own head.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:18 PM on May 4, 2011

The above question about pity wasn't sarcastic, but I am worried that it reads that way. I honestly think that if you look at what you have in your life versus what her life must be like, it may help release some of the jealously.
posted by amicamentis at 12:18 PM on May 4, 2011

I, too, have had problems with this kind of thing. You're not crazy. Don't be too hard on yourself -- beating yourself up about it will only make you feel worse, and make this pattern harder to escape.

You need to stop internet stalking her. I know that's much easier to say than to do, but it's important. If necessary, find a way to block those pages from your computer. Tell your friends that you don't want to hear stories about her. Don't bring her up in conversation. Don't ask anyone to compare the two of you directly -- seriously, that way lies madness.

In my experience, the more secure you feel in your current relationship, the less his past relationship will haunt you. Accept that you feel badly about this issue, and that feeling badly doesn't make you crazy. Find a good friend -- preferably one who never knew her -- that will let you vent a little about this issue when you need to, so that you can control how much you're unloading on your boyfriend. Remind yourself that these feelings will pass with time.

Good luck. I'm really sorry that you have to go through with this. I know how frustrating it can be when your brain gets locked into negative patterns like the ones you describe. I hope you can work through it soon.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 12:20 PM on May 4, 2011

Don't put yourself down for wanting to know why your boyfriend stayed in a terrible relationship for so long. It's natural to wonder why bad things happen to your loved ones. I think that because you're a loyal person who loves and respects her boyfriend, you've placed all the blame on her shoulders. You seem to be thinking of her as an a irresistible force. She's not. She's just a person. A terrible, sad person who had an unfortunate kind of chemistry with your boyfriend--but just a person. There are plenty of men (and women) out there who spend time with her and could never see how anyone could be attracted to her.

Your boyfriend had traits in the past that made him vulnerable to her, but the great thing is that he's become stronger. He's with someone loving now, and he likes himself enough to stay away from his ex and be with you instead. Instead of comparing yourself with her, why not focus on being more loving to him and enjoying his company? Life handed him lemons, but he's finally made lemonade out of them. Why not enjoy it with him?
posted by millions of peaches at 12:21 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, could it be true that you are someone who hasn't had many exciting/scary things happen to you, and you're a teensy-weensy bit impressed with the drama he's survived -- and maybe just a teensy-weensy bit excited to be involved by association?

If so, by all means PLEASE drop it. This isn't your story. It didn't happen to you. And you'll never succeed in helping him move on from it if you're a little turned on about getting wrapped up in it.
posted by hermitosis at 12:33 PM on May 4, 2011

You're not his consolation prize. You're second to noone. He doesn't think you are. Why should you?
posted by phoebus at 12:51 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have been in your boyfriend's shoes. My last significant relationship before I met Mrs. gauche was deeply unhealthy. I'd be happy to memail with you about it if you like.
posted by gauche at 12:57 PM on May 4, 2011

Practical suggestion: do you use Firefox? Because there's an extension called leechblock that you can use to stop yourself from going to any of the websites you've listed. It's designed as a productivity tool, which is how I use it, but it would work just as well for that purpose.
posted by Ragged Richard at 1:14 PM on May 4, 2011

A few points for your consideration:
  • If she was that great, he'd still be with her.
  • There aren't a lot of "great" qualities that don't get completely nullified by ongoing physical, mental and emotional abuse.
  • You don't smack him around, call him names, or deliberately neglect him. You're already better than she is.
This is a guy who successfully got out of an abusive relationship and into a healthy one. Speaking from experience, that's a hell of a thing to accomplish. If you don't trust your own judgment, trust his.
posted by Zozo at 1:14 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It might help to think of her as an "Infector".

The goal of abusive people is to get you thinking about them ALL THE TIME. She did this to your bf and it's been transmitted to you.

Abusive people often do have a lot of great qualities, or at least they appear to long enough to reel partners in. The good stuff is part of the abuse. That's how they keep people coming back for more.

Also, some say that when we were infants our caregivers, even the most perfectly loving and devoted ones, would disappear and come back, and sometimes would not be there for us when we needed them or would not give us what we needed, when we needed it. So that it was such a relief when they did come back and did give us what we needed. And that this becomes a preconscious blueprint for love, itself, in all our minds. And then abusive people come along and jerk us around in ways guaranteed to trigger that preconscious longing in us, intensifying our feelings for them. Which is a large part of why people stay in those relationships. Other aspects are that it's hard to recognize it as abuse, cognitive dissonance because you wonder what happened to the great person you were with in the beginning, circumstantial dependency, etc etc.

That doesn't mean the abusive person is "great". It only means they're good at Jedi mind tricks.

Like the one this woman has done on you!

If your right hand clicketh the mouse to the wrong sites, cut it off and throw it into the sea. Or, stop clicking on those sites. Plus which. I am guessing that some of the things on her social media may be intentionally calculated to upset particular people in her audience. It's not uncommon for people with personality disorders to use social media in this way. Or perhaps you are just messing with your own mind through her. Either way, no audience, no show.
posted by tel3path at 2:17 PM on May 4, 2011 [17 favorites]

Your boyfriend has taken care of this problem.
She [to date] has NOT used his friends as a vehicle to re-enter his life.

YOU, however, are inserting her into his life through your actions.
Why would you want to do that to him?

I hope you can respect his decision to keep her out of his life.
posted by calgirl at 10:14 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Next time you want to Google her, get up and drink a glass of water. Or lay out a puzzle and go work it. Concentrate less on stopping obsessing and more on doing something else.
posted by vitabellosi at 3:54 AM on May 5, 2011

Hm. Some people may actually prefer the dramarama they had with their ex-crazy, but I'm here to tell you this: my husband and I both had ex-crazies. He had several, and I had very LongTerm one. Maybe we were each attracted to some bright and unusual things about them, but when we found each other we got bright/unusual and also peace, comfort, honesty, mutual respect and admiration, adoration, joy, commitment.

One of my husband's exes was a model, and definitely objectively more attractive than I was; one was a huge personality who always had a following, every-day-a-party, and way more charismatic and social than I would ever want to be, and one was an uber-sophisticated artist, so much more polished and A-list than I was (or, again, would ever want to be). I won't tell you why each one was some kind of crazypants, but they all were in their own way.

Same with my ex – great qualities, unusually bright and charismatic, and also a hot mess who often made me really miserable and hurt me a lot.

If I compared myself to any of my husband's exes, I would find a ridiculous number of points that would encourage constant insecurity because he has always been drawn to attractive, interesting, accomplished women. (He even dated gorgeous, exotic twins at one point... seriously – I don't even think I could make up more challenging before-us experiences if I tried.) But we've been together very, very happily for 20 years, and now I will tell you why: because we're also both crazypants, but in ways that completely suit us both. My specific crazy-ish things are items that don't interfere with his happiness and enjoyment of life, and vice-versa. It's not that we are paragons of perfect behavior, it's just that we fit together in a way that makes us both happy, content, and grateful every day.

I'm not more beautiful than the model, more charismatic than the social queenbee, more sophisticated than the artist, more exotic than the twins, but I'm the one that he's happiest with and has committed his life to. "You make me wake up smiling every day," is what he tells me. And it's also not because I'm the "sanest"; I'm pretty sure we're all some kind of crazy once you scratch the surface.

So, don't worry about the ex, plz. Just notice if your kind of sane-vs-crazy and his sane-vs-crazy melds, and if you both wake up smiling every day.
posted by taz at 5:03 AM on May 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I am jumping in to re-stress what people have already said... you have to stop googling this girl. Please. You need to show some self-discipline. Treat it like biting your nails, like a bad habit you have to get rid of. At least you realize the behavior is counter-productive... that's the first step. Leechblock might be worth a try, but like with all productivity tools, one can just turn them off when one wants to slack. Also, the problem with this habit is that it's self-reinforcing, so going cold turkey might not be that easy without trying to treat the psychological root of the the jealousy first.

It also sounds like it would be helpful to talk to a professional about your insecurity over this. Things will get better with time as you two spend time together. He's with you now, and is staying with you, and there's no goal gained by comparing yourself to her, otherwise that opens up the floodgate of comparing yourself to every ex ever, and he could do the same with you. People stay in bad relationships for strange reasons, and what matters is that he LEFT that relationship. Hermitosis put it perfectly; read it over and over.

I'm glad you and he are openly talking about this, because you need to be able to talk to him, even if it is sensitive. Keep that honest dialogue. And make sure you both agree that it's his responsibility to tell you if gets to be too much to deal with. But for the health of this relationship, it would be worth talking to a counselor. If he's trying to move on, you need to do the same.

Who is bringing her up in stories? Common friends, or Alex? If it's the former, create new friends together so you don't have to hear about her. If it's the latter, you have every right to ask him to try not to talk about her, that that makes you feel bad. If it's you bringing her up in conversations and asking questions about her... I'll tell you right now you need to STOP that bs. It's hurting you guys. That curiosity is totally natural, but you need to phase her out of your life.
posted by Sayuri. at 8:43 AM on May 5, 2011

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