Getting over it
June 22, 2005 9:06 AM   Subscribe

So how do you get over a bad relationship, anyway?

For a couple of years, I had a good relationship with my partner in California - we lived in a beachfront apartment, shared a great job, made good money, and had a pretty great life for awhile. Then my best friend, who I'd known online, came out for a visit - which, long story short, turned into him moving in and the three of us became a threesome. (Yes, I wanted that at the time - and that was the biggest mistake of my life.)

You can probably guess what happened next... my lover and my former-best-friend (FBF) slowly fell more in love with each other, and out of love with me. The FBF and I both came from unhealthy living situations in the South, and part of the reason I brought him out to be with us in California was to show him a good life - and he ended up taking my life practically from A to Z. He took over my apartment, my job, my most important material possessions, my partner, my entire California life... he's even starting his own career in my artistic profession, doing work in my style, the creative work I mentored him in. (And I thought this sort of thing only happened in bad B-movies...)

And I'm okay with that, to the degree I can accept that as what I had coming to me, for being stupid enough to enter into this kind of relationship with someone who I already knew, from all the years that I'd known him, had more issues than Newsweek. Part of me still loves them and misses them like hell, god help me, and there's a lot of other things about that life I do miss, but generally I'm so much happier and healthier where I am now. I have a great new job, some very promising things in the works, and I'm even in the early stages of seeing someone new. So life could be a lot worse for me right now.

But I'm just having so much trouble letting go of the anger. And this is completely new for me, because I've never been a truly angry person; I've been raped, and seen my sister murdered, and I've never felt half as angry towards the people who did those things as I am to my FBF. Which, yes, I know is all out of proportion, and that's part of the problem... but then, I never loved my rapist, or the man who murdered my sister. (I'm angry, too, at my lover for letting it happen, but I know part of that blame is mine - I was the one who wanted this three-way relationship at first, he didn't, and the FBF and I pressured him into it.) And I'm angry at myself, most of all, for not seeing what was happening until it was too damned late. (Talking to either of them, by the way, is not an option for many reasons, some of which involve lawyers.) My FBF is someone who's spent his life consumed by darkness and anger - where I rarely if ever felt anger before, it was second nature for him - and now, as he's becoming me, I see myself becoming him... and that scares the hell out of me. I've always been a very loving and trusting person - far too trusting for my own good, obviously - and despite all this, I don't want to lose that, for the sake of the guy I'm seeing now, and for my own sake; I don't want to let him take that away from me, too. He's taken enough.

What have some of you done to get over bad breakups, or anger and bitterness in general? How do you find your inner peace again, basically?

Thanks for reading... sorry if this is overlong (I've tried to leave out as much as I could, without sacrificing the basic sense).
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
From experience: Don't try to be friends with the ex(es) until you're really over them. Trying to do so will make the whole process more hurtful for all parties involved. This isn't really advice, I guess, on how to get to the "over them" part, but it's something that will make getting to that stage a lot harder.
posted by UKnowForKids at 9:20 AM on June 22, 2005

Agreement with UKFK. At the risk of playing along with DrDrewPhilWhoever, I think there is definately something to be said for the idea that seeing people again 'resets the clock' when you are trying to heal. It picks at a wound. Let time pass and when the immediate pain is gone you can look rationally at whether there's any reason to have these people in your life again.
posted by phearlez at 9:29 AM on June 22, 2005

Unfortunately, time, and a lot of it, is the only thing that really works. I read somewhere that it takes at least half as long as the relationship lasted to truly get over it and I have found that to be basically true. And I don't know if people ever do really get over things like betrayal - I think it's more like growing a layer of scar tissue. The wound is still there; it's just covered up, less painful, and it eventually becomes a part of you. Finally, you're able to look back and think, wow, that was me, that was then, that was how I acted and how he acted and that was fucked up, but it's all over now and I won't let that happen again. You've truly assimilated it when you can look at it calmly, understand where it fits in your pattern, and use it to break the pattern.

Meanwhile, I would second the advice above: do everything in your power to avoid these people and any contact with them whatsoever, including mutual friends. Making a completely fresh start helps. You say you're seeing a new guy - you've already started over - so focus on your future and realize that this is truly the past; you can learn from it, it has changed you, but it's over and it will keep on getting more distant. Yeah, the cliche: where one door closes another door opens, but sometimes there's a damn long dark hallway between doors.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:45 AM on June 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

ye gods. i've not had that kind of fun in my life, and i'm not sure i've got over the anger in what has happened, but if i could suggest one thing i'd say don't feel so bad about being angry. from what i read, it seems like you're bothered by the fact that you're angry. why? it seems completely normal to me. be angry. shout at people. break things (not people, and keep kids out of it).

anger burns itself out, in my experience. bottling up anger just makes things worse. you don't so much "get over" anger as use it up.

so yeah, of course these people aren't your friends. fuck 'em (although maybe that's an unfortunate turn of phrase in this particular context...).

you're worried about your current partner, but have you asked him how he feels about it? you may find that he's ok with you being angry (ok, it gets a bit tedious in the long run, but it may not be something he finds threatening). this was certainly the case with me and my partner - she was "anger averse" (neither got angry nor liked others being so), where as i wasn't. obviously, that caused problems for me, but in your case, maybe you're in her position - it helped our relationship a lot when i finally convinced her it was ok for her to be angry too. doesn't mean we can all go wild destroying things - you need to find a balance - but some anger is ok, and many people understand that. your current partner may be one of them.

so stop worrying so much about whether or not you're like someone else. think about you. you've been fucked over. it's normal to be pretty mad about that. explain that to your current partner. buy a punch bag. get drunk. shout. cry. work it out of your system.

in the longer term, though, be self-aware. there's an unclear lie between being angry because it's necessary and being angry because it's easy. watch yourself. if you're self-aware, the difference will be clear, i think.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:50 AM on June 22, 2005

unclear line
posted by andrew cooke at 9:51 AM on June 22, 2005

But don't necessarily expect anything from them when you finally feel like you're over them and ARE ready again.

I had a great relationship with a wonderful girl that I still miss, even though I know it was a really immature relationship. But growing up and getting used to / over the pain from something like this is part of a growing and learning process that everyone goes through. It took me well over a year, a lot of introspection and, to be honest, a lot of sleeping around and trying different types of people to get over her. I finally can say I am... over two and a half years after the relationship ended. But I still miss her. And because I made the promise to stay friends when we broke up -- and then discovered what Phearlez and UknowForKids said above -- I don't ever have any hope of reclaiming a friendship.

Just know that, after all the shit you've been through, you're going to come out of this as a much more selfless person, and a much BETTER person, than anyone who's had an empty suburban dream life. This may have added to the pain you've gone through, but your pain is part of YOU .. and dealing with it makes you who you are.
posted by SpecialK at 9:52 AM on June 22, 2005

This is really heavy shit and, if possible, you should see a counselor.
posted by xammerboy at 10:10 AM on June 22, 2005

I say you should feel angry. Run with it, but be reasonable. Let it simmer for a while, but don't act on it negatively. Use it as a reason to build yourself up above and beyond what you were in your previous position, and by that time, the anger will be gone on accord of its own natural mortality.

Besides that, you seem to enjoy making poetic nuances out of your own situation and probably enjoy the drama to some degree. That's fine, but be conscious of why you feel the things that you do for the real reason and not what looks good as an Ask Metafilter post.
posted by angry modem at 10:14 AM on June 22, 2005

I have had some pretty serious anger issues, stemming in part from abuse, and time was definitely the first and most important part of moving (more or less) past it. I've found since then, though, that certain kinds of situations can really set off my alarm bells and make me feel like I haven't made any progress at all. I've found recently (not when I was closer to my Main Issues) that limited short-term therapy helped me bounce ideas around and learn more about what just happened to me, if I use it right after a really distressing event. Basically, walking into the therapist's office, saying, "This awful thing just happened to me - I want to rant, but I also want to know how it got that bad." I have phenomenal, supportive friends, but sometimes you want - and really have a responsibility - to spare them.

On a practical note, I find that making a special effort to ensure that I am well hydrated, getting regular exercise (even at a low level), and getting enough sleep helps me to "reset" after a really rough period - whether it's just too much work, or a painful experience. I tend toward exercise that lets you zone out a little, so sometimes the mind wanders into difficult territory, but I just make the decision that I'll benefit from thinking things over, and it's surprising how much that kind of framing can help. Bottom line is: It gets me moving and focused on something that may not get my mind off of things but that makes it easier to weather stress in general.
posted by caitlinb at 10:22 AM on June 22, 2005

I agree with everything everyone said above (especially Andrew Cooke). And I would add:

You had some really shitty stuff happen to you. People you trusted treated you horribly. You don't deserve that. OF COURSE you have every reason to be angry! Don't let anyone -- especially yourself -- tell you otherwise.

I recently had some traumatic pile-ups in my personal life, and the single thing that's currently getting me through the break-up portions of those is being really, fundamentally, FUCKING MAD at my ex. I didn't want to be; it didn't seem the grown-up mature thing to do; it seemed to contradict my belief that all relationships are learning experiences and all parties bear some responsibility for how they turn out; etc. etc. But you know what? He acted like an asshole. I may not have been a saint, but that doesn't matter. He still acted like an asshole. And I can learn how not to get in that situation again, and how to grow as a person from that experience, even while still fundamentally believing that he acted like an asshole.

My friends sometimes seem taken aback that I'm "still" slightly bitter and angry (a grand total of three months later, after a two-year relationship). I'm trying to learn not to care. It's not my job to make everyone "comfortable," it's my job to get better, and I'm never going to move past this if I don't really allow myself to be angry about it.

I should add that I am seeing a therapist, and that she's the one who told me I was allowed to be angry, and since hearing that, I've been much more able to cope.

The longer you repress an emotion, the more it'll cripple you in any way it can. If you try to repress it, it'll turn into what you fear most -- debilitating bitter rage. If you honor it, and understand that anger is the natural response to someone treating you badly, and that your body NEEDS to feel that, because if it doesn't, it means you have no boundaries that are important enough to protect. Anger is a sign that you've been violated, and that what's been violated is worth protecting.

To continue my rambling... it's more than possible (in fact, it's likely) that this betrayal is bringing up anger from the rape and murder. If you haven't really worked through that (and lord knows, that's a *lot* to work through!), then your body could be using this opportunity to force you to express the anger that's still lingering from those experiences. So don't feel guilty about "proportions".

Two weeks after my horrific breakup, my mom died. I spent a month crying about the breakup before I could even access any of the emotions about the death. During that time, I definitely felt guilty about focussing on my ex when I should be mourning my mother. But the body/mind/soul works in weird ways, and sometimes you just have to dive into whatever's currently bothering you before you're ready to dive into the deeper issues. Think of it as emotional-coping training, I guess.
posted by occhiblu at 10:47 AM on June 22, 2005 [1 favorite]

I hate to be repetitive, but TIME is the best healer of all. I know that sounds like bullshit now, and doesn't help you get through the week, but I can speak from personal experience - IT WORKS!

I found that taking everything day by day works really well. When it would get to be too much for me (i.e. hours long crying jags), I would tell myself that I just had to get through the day. 6 months have gone by using this technique, and I'm still amazed by how fast it flew.

And I second what was said above - don't be afraid to be angry. You deserve it.
posted by elquien at 10:54 AM on June 22, 2005

Also, in response to angry modem: I thought for a while that just plain being angry, without using for some sort of "greater good" (activism, character building, whatever), was a problem. In other words, if I wasn't *doing* something with the anger, it would consume me.

But all that attitude got me was guilt, plus the anger.

Sometimes, especially right after a trauma, you just need to feel angry. Sit on the couch and yell at the TV. Get innapropriately annoyed at EVERYTHING. Mentally rant and rave and imagine all the horrible things you'd LOVE to say about your ex, or to your ex. And not pressure yourself to "get over it" by turning that anger into something productive, because I think that's still a form of being scared of the anger.
posted by occhiblu at 10:56 AM on June 22, 2005

As other people have said, you should let yourself feel angry. It's only reasonable that you should feel this way. Don't tell yourself that you're not, don't tell yourself how angry you should be, and don't try to pose as the great guy who can be friends with these two exes when you really are still furious and resentful.

But although you should definitely give yourself a pass to be angry, don't then let your life or mind revolve around the anger. Concentrate as much as possible on the new, good things in your life. The best analogy I can think of is that of having a temporary disability, such as a broken ankle. It will need care, and you'll have to accept certain limitations, but otherwise do your best to live around the pain until it eases. Because it will.
posted by orange swan at 11:05 AM on June 22, 2005

To echo others, time is the only real healer, though distance my accelerate things a bit. In that time, I agree that you should feel free to be angry, especially at the beginning. Whether that anger is demonstrated to people around you is your call - and probably either is or is not part of your character.

In addition, I think many people will avoid saying so but I will...

Try and get laid. Or even start up a relationship that comes with some sort of fixed, not-long-away deadline. Be careful not to get involved with someone that could become a real long-term partner, because you'll always second guess it down the road. Be on the rebound, and though it's not going to mask anything - don't have any illusions about it - that rebound time, if used well, can be great for putting some emotional and physical distance between you and your immediate past.
posted by mikel at 11:11 AM on June 22, 2005

The friendship is the difficult part. I've had good reason to be angry with ex-lovers (one whose situation with me was close to your own) and that anger has disappeared once I've rebuilt my life to the point where I was as happy as I was. In my experience, only happiness washes away anger.

But missed friendship lingers, for years or decades, and when betrayal is a part of that, the anger is much more difficult to assuage. You'll know when it's time to try to attempt patching things up. You'll know because it won't matter so much to you. It'll just be about tying up loose ends. At that point, likely far in the future, you will either regain (or likely, build anew) friendship, or confirm that you had lost something long ago. There's really nothing else to do but honour your loss with genuine mourning, but then move on to happier things.
posted by dreamsign at 11:13 AM on June 22, 2005

First thing, hit on by many: don't think you need to stop being angry. Emotions aren't wrong, they're just what you feel -- how we ACT on them can be wrong, and people often confuse the two. I would second the idea of talking to a counselor, or at least a "surviving really bad stuff" veteran... because it sounds like it's your coping methods that are wanting, not anything inside you.

I'm making a little leap here, but it really sounds like your ultimate problem may be that you've never really gotten your "power" back. If that's true, anger isn't bad... in fact, it's terrific! There's no more certain sign that you're not ready to roll over and just accept this state of being than being really pissed about it. And you can use this.

You can use that anger as fuel, decide you're going to take command and the hell with them, take yourself somewhere you thought you never could before. Use it while you've got it -- as long as you're directing that anger away from them, you can still be friends with those two and get "free refills" of energy every time you see them. Eventually it burns off, and you just can't be angry at them anymore, and isn't that the ultimate point? If you end up with something positive from the experience, so much the better.
posted by Pufferish at 11:58 AM on June 22, 2005

Sounds like you have been through a really rough situation. I am sorry you had to endure that pain. What jumps out at me from your description is that while your anger is directed at your FBF, it is also largely directed at yourself. To get through that is to (as occhiblu said) realize that while you may have made bad decisions you do not deserve what happened to you. Then to try to learn from what it is that you are angry at yourself about. That is, answer the question of "what is this anger wanting me to learn?". Then you might allow yourself to forgive yourself and apply what you have learned.

About the loss, you might want to try this grief process.
posted by blueyellow at 12:00 PM on June 22, 2005

Try and get laid.

Based on personal experience, I disagree with this.

The last thing you need right now is to open the gates to allow more potentially fucked-up people into your life. Unless you can do this relatively anonymously, I suggest you avoid it.
posted by Eamon at 12:01 PM on June 22, 2005

Here's what I recommend, since you've gotten good advice above: Liquor and art. I mean, don't overdo it, and obviously, the thing that really heals is time. And know that if you're makin' art, it's likely to be the shittiest art you've ever made. Art that deals with issues isn't usually very good (it's usually the art that you make soon after you've resolved your issues that is). Get drunk, listen to some music (may I suggest the Future Bible Heroes? "I'm Lonely and I Love It" might be a good choice for you right about now).
Oh, and while you're hurtin' now, don't be afraid to laugh about it. While humor can be overused as a coping mechanism, it's still a hell of a coping mechanism. You'll do better with time.
posted by klangklangston at 12:02 PM on June 22, 2005

Get yourself to a therapist, on the double. You've hinted indirectly at issues (rape, witnessing a murder) tangential to your failed relationship. You have longstanding issues you need to learn to handle properly. A therapist will help you figure this out and solve the problem. I'll say it a third time: See a therapist as soon as humanly possible.
posted by Rothko at 12:18 PM on June 22, 2005

This sort of betrayl does particularly hurt, moreso than other bad things that just 'happen' to you. Your unproportional anger is thus pretty normal. Having gone though a somewhat similar situation, I found a few things helped.

The first, and most critical step, is to rid yourself of regret. Are you really too trusting? (People have said this to me, but I've never believed it for a second. And anyways, I'd much rather trust too much than not enough.) But was this really a mistake on your part? I have a funny feeling the problem isn't you, it's your FBF. You need to rewind the situation in your head and play it forwards, slowly, examining the choices you made. The key question is, given what you knew at the time, and given the type of person you want to be, is there anything you might've/should've/would've done differently?

(This is a tricky, and it only works if you're completely honest with yourself. It helps to write down your thoughts, as this sort of self-reflection is much easier with words.)

If you find wrong choices then voila, you've learned a valuable lesson. If you don't find any wrong choices, which is likely, then understand that, in a sense, this needed to happen you. As there's not a single thing you would've done differently, then you can safely internalize the event. You've done nothing wrong. It was just your time to catch some bad luck. This is an obstacle, yeah, a serious setback, yeah, but you can work through it and be stronger for it.

Learn from it or accept it.

And as many have already said, anger quickly wears itself out. Don't keep this bottled up. Externalize your anger.

The last step is to simply allow yourself to forget. These things gnaw at you and the accompanying dark thoughts can strike at any time. When they strike, strike back. Think of all the good things going for you and focus on that instead.

Finally, there's no reason not to feel contempt for the people who did this to you. Translating anger into contempt can be a very healthy thing because it affirms who you are while allowing you to move on. 'Forgive and forget' sounds nice, but it raises serious questions about self-worth. If these sorts of things happen when you fall in with those sorts of people, then avoid those sorts of people. There's no reason for them to be in your life. You can't love everybody.
posted by nixerman at 1:58 PM on June 22, 2005

Repair yourself. What you've experienced is something you should definitely talk over with a therapist.

Once all the bad feelings and the emotions and the resentment have been poured out (it won't happen all at once) -- in ways that don't infringe on other people -- your next step is to make sure that you feel good about who you are so that the resentment is less. This is a period that will last years. But you will get through this. Just take it one day at a time.

You're on the right step with the new job. But the important thing you need to do is restore your confidence and to enjoy your life. Extracurricular activities, hanging out with friends, and trying new things are a start. Above all, be good to yourself. This is the surest way to kill fury and ensure that you can be good to other people.

Don't start dating again until you're ready for it. Because it's very possible that something similar might happen again.

It's especially important to let the damn thing go. But only you know the answer as to how to do it. I'd also suggest a support group of some kind -- a rape victim support group, in particular. Because the healing process for some of the extreme things you've experienced is truly a long process that you have to be patient with. And having other people around you who are moving on will help you to move on.

It's important too to find normal, sane and mentally well-balanced people to be around with. Because you're going to need to trust people again. You're also going to need to accept the possibility that they might screw up too. If you have anger issues, then my concern here is that you might chew somebody out for some minor offense, perhaps fearing that the situation will involve a repeat scenario.

Above all, don't beat yourself up. You go through life and you play the best cards you have in your hand. Even if you're a skilled poker player, you still sometimes fold at the wrong time. People make mistakes -- big mistakes -- every day. Learn to live with those mistakes and realize that they came from a fallible yet fantastic human being (I'm referring to you here).
posted by ed at 5:24 PM on June 22, 2005

It helps to have a distraction, some positive new thing in your life to help forget the old. This might be the time to try a new form of art, take up a martial art, join Habitat for Humanity, or enroll in some classes.
posted by LarryC at 6:20 PM on June 22, 2005

You built your whole life around these relationships, it's no wonder that the damage is so catastrophic for you.

In my experience having inner peace means being self-reliant, and having an identity that isn't too heavily dependant on a relationship to someone or something else. It means being able to forgive the ones that have done you wrong, and it means forgiving yourself for not doing a better job at managing the challenges thrown at you.

I think you can accomplish this, but it will take some time, given your particular circumstances. Therapy is good for gaining self-knowledge, and volunteer work is great, both for gaining perspective, and boosting your feelings of self-worth.

(I'm still work on a lot of this myself of course, but I figured, what the heck, I'll throw in. )
posted by lilboo at 6:54 PM on June 22, 2005

You are mourning both a lost friend and lovers, and the theft of your identity by someone you trusted completely. It is not surprising that this would cause you to think of other painful events that shaped you profoundly. It would be more shocking if it didn't.

And anger -- why of course. All you valued most was taken by someone you also valued deeply.

When you are deeply betrayed by someone you love, I think you reserve your darkest anger for yourself. You were living by your heart, and your heart told you to fling open all the windows to your best treasures. And in walked the thief.

So you are angry, and that is right. It shows you have self-respect and dignity. Now the question is, what to do with that anger? And the only thing I can say is, learn from it. Don't lose your open, courageous heart, but guard your treasures better. You have learned from this that you are vulnerable to a particular kind of person: a dazzler. A person who compliments you by emulating you totally, by following your lead socially and professionally in the guise of your student, when he is actually your parasite. The most successful parasites have a symbiotic relationship with their hosts. So, what was this person giving you, what did you so desperately need, that you let him take so much of you? Whatever it was, it made you vulnerable. If you can figure out what it was, by yourself or with the aid of a gifted therapist, you can stop being angry at yourself. You can learn to get what you need in a way that's less destructive to you. You can learn to protect yourself. And that will make you a better partner in your current relationship, but more important, it will make you a stronger, wiser person.

The worse thing that could happen is if you buried your rage, and allowed it to congeal into a bitterness preventing you from trusting and loving again. You sound too self-aware, brave, and resilient for that, but it's a potent trap. Don't bury what you feel. This is a chance for you to take great personal pain and use it to better your life, and to replace your lost treasures with far more valuable ones. I truly wish you the best.
posted by melissa may at 8:30 PM on June 22, 2005

Probably the one thing I have to add to this is simply that you should not repress what happened. You should not pretend to yourself or others that you are "okay." As many people here have said, it's prefectly all right and normal to be angry, so be angry. Talk to a counsellor. Work your shit out. From my personal experience, you do not want to put this all away in a box somewhere deep inside such that it's only ever unlocked when you're drunk/high/really pissed off/etc. Deal with it now, so that you don't have to actively deal with it for the rest of your life. These things that happen to us become part of the fabric of who we are - you never forget, it never goes away, and there may always be some residual resentment or anger because of it. Just don't let it take over your life or incapacitate you. In my case, the only way to do that was to seek assistance from a professional. Just based on what you've said here, I would say you shoud do so. Good luck.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:46 AM on June 23, 2005

Also, if you don't have a pet, consider getting one. Some unconditional love could really be beneficial at this point.
posted by lilboo at 7:14 AM on June 23, 2005

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