How to stop my ex from breaking my fiance's heart?
July 26, 2012 11:51 AM   Subscribe

My ex-boyfriend is on a path to platonically breaking my fiance's heart similarly to the way he broke mine, possibly because of me. How can I stop this, mitigate it, or support him through it? Is there any way I can give insight from my previous relationship, or is that too weird?

Some years ago, I had a mainly long-distance relationship with Ex, who was a decent friend but terrible boyfriend. The relationship broke up mainly over his inability to be responsible and to face hard choices and situations. Ex has severe PTSD: the last time he took responsibility, he made a bad choice and his men died. He copes by attempting to avoid all conflict.

After our breakup, we stayed long-distance friends, but his new girlfriend didn't want him seeing me or talking to me. Rather than face the conflict of either telling his new girlfriend he would still see me, or the conflict of telling me that he wouldn't see me because of his new girlfriend, he kept seeing me and talking to me, but lied to his girlfriend about it and also lied to me about the situation. He would go to great lengths to avoid these two clashing, including standing up both of us on occasions where he thought it was the only way to prevent us from finding out what was going on. I have vivid memories of being stranded at an airport, because (as I found out later) his master plan to sneak away from his girlfriend had bombed. (I should note, we were not having an affair in any way, though you would never know it from his crazy preparations.)

When his girlfriend and I both finally found out the extent of the deceptions, I stopped being friends with him. She kept dating him, but got significantly more paranoid on the subject of myself. She managed to justify it all by creating a narrative where he was the innocent party and I was all to blame.

Fastforward to now, where I am happily involved with Fiance. Fiance was "local guy friends" with Ex. When Fiance moved across the country to be with me, Fiance became long-distance friends with Ex. They talk on the phone, and when Fiance went back to Ex's location to deal with moving Fiance's stuff, Ex came over and hung out, helped him move, all kinds of jazz.

But now that we're living together and engaged, we spend a lot more time together. With limited vacation time, if we go out to Fiance's hometown/Ex's location, I'm coming with him, even if I don't go along on every outing. If Ex wanted to visit, he'd have to visit us as a couple.

Fiance and I are planning to visit that location again soon, and Fiance was really looking forward to seeing Ex. Ex assured him that he "might be out of town doing X thing" but would really, really try to find a way to see him. When Fiance called recently, Ex said that actually he'd "be out of town doing Y thing, just came up, what a surprise!" Fiance is disappointed at not seeing his friend.

Fiance also asked Ex to come to the wedding. Ex assured him that absolutely, he'd find a way to come, definitely! Fiance is completely convinced that Ex would never let him down by not coming. Fiance recently asked Ex to actually be one of his groomsmen (a step down from best man, which he had initially wanted) and Ex said he'd "try to make things work on his end." (For those who love backstory, this anonymous question was me.) Fiance was disappointed he didn't immediately agree, but remains confident that Ex will somehow work it all out and come and be his groomsman.

But I have a different perspective. All of this behavior seems really, really familiar to me from when he was hanging out with me on the sly and not telling his girlfriend about it, especially down to the excuses and the funny way of their timing. I know that Ex's Girlfriend doesn't want Ex ever hanging out with me again, and I'm wondering either if this still applies when I'm with Fiance (even getting married, weirdly) or if Ex's Girlfriend has asked Ex to cut off Fiance as well, due to the fact that he's marrying me. I'm pretty sure this is not about how Ex feels about me, I think he's actually put down the torch. Fiance and Ex talk frequently about me-related topics and it seems to be fine.

Fiance really platonically loves Ex, and has said so on multiple occasions. I don't want to see him go down the road I did, where Ex makes more and more promises, because he thinks he can keep a master plan going where everything's fine and no one ever finds out about other things and there is no conflict. Fiance has a really high standard for the few good friends he has, and I'm afraid that when Ex lets him down, as I think he will, it will really hurt Fiance.

What do I do? What can I do? Fiance already knows the broad scope of what Ex did in relation to me, but the way that Fiance has been able to still remain friends with Ex is by compartmentalizing "Ex as a Friend" and "Ex as a Boyfriend what hurt my Fiancee" Also, how to handle this in the long term? Fiance keeps thinking that Ex and his girlfriend will break up and that will be the magical solution, but Ex and his girlfriend have been together on and off for two years at this point.
posted by corb to Human Relations (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Tell your fiance the pattern you think you're seeing, and then let him handle his own affairs.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:56 AM on July 26, 2012 [24 favorites]

Show Fiance what you've just written on AskMeFi.
posted by darth_tedious at 12:01 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I don't understand why you haven't already told him all of this stuff. If you're going to be married to this person, there isn't any reason to not put this all on the table.
posted by something something at 12:02 PM on July 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I think that you should have more faith in Fiance being able to handle it if/when Ex does something crappy to him - after all, you did. It might just be a big letdown (like missing the wedding) that gets Fiance to realize that Ex isn't as good of a friend as he seems -- you trying to tell him that is always going to be seen through the light of the hurt ex-lover.

And on a more optimistic note -- maybe the thought of how terrible it would be to miss the wedding will be enough to get Ex to man up and be a person about it.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:04 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just based on the facts you've given, he guy has severe PTSD, and the way he copes is by trying to avoid conflict. Why keep putting him in these situations of conflict?

If the friendship between the two of you ended, why put him in a position of being asked to be a groomsman? Where he either lets down his friend or has to be in a highly emotionally charged situation standing up with someone he had a terrible falling out with as he gets married?

With limited vacation time, if we go out to Fiance's hometown/Ex's location, I'm coming with him, even if I don't go along on every outing. If Ex wanted to visit, he'd have to visit us as a couple.

Fiance and I are planning to visit that location again soon, and Fiance was really looking forward to seeing Ex. Ex assured him that he "might be out of town doing X thing" but would really, really try to find a way to see him. When Fiance called recently, Ex said that actually he'd "be out of town doing Y thing, just came up, what a surprise!" Fiance is disappointed at not seeing his friend.

Is that honestly a surprise?? Why put the guy in this position? Even *without* PTSD, this would be a really upsetting situation for a lot of people, that they can't see their friend without the risk of seeing this other person they have so much baggage with?

I mean, honestly, in the whole question, there is obviously a lot of concern for how Fiance feels, but I did not see a single expression of concern for Ex in these situations. Concern for his comfort. Concern for not putting him in fraught situations of conflict. Concern for what is best for him.

I would say Fiance would experience a lot less surprise and disappointment by being a lot more realistic about the situation - the level of friendship they can have right now, and the sorts of things they can do together. And taking Ex's feelings and comfort into account way way more.
posted by cairdeas at 12:04 PM on July 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

*a highly emotionally charged situation standing up with someone he had a terrible falling out with as she gets married?
posted by cairdeas at 12:05 PM on July 26, 2012

I gotta wonder how your Fiance can be nice to someone who dicked you around so badly. It's almost sweet that he's going to get the same treatment.

Clearly, you are a much better and nicer person than I am.

I agree with LobsterMitten, sit down your Fiance and lay it out for him. "I know you love Ex like a Bro, but I think he's about to do to you what he did to me. It really hurt my feelings and right now, I'm re-living all of that because he's hurting you in the exact same way. I don't think Ex is being honest with you. Do with this information what you want, I'll stay out of it. I just don't want you to get your hopes up."

With any luck at all, your Ex will blow this relationship too and you both can move on, into the sunset without this albatross hanging around the neck of your marriage.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:06 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: If the friendship between the two of you ended, why put him in a position of being asked to be a groomsman? Where he either lets down his friend or has to be in a highly emotionally charged situation standing up with someone he had a terrible falling out with as he gets married?

To clarify, cairdeas, we didn't actually have a terrifically dramatic falling out, or anything like that. I told him that I could not accept this kind of deception, that it was not okay under any circumstances, and that he had disappointed me strongly. Ex and I are still civil, and have even had friendly conversations since then, we're just not, you know, friends, because that, for me, requires trust.

As to why groomsman, see previous question. Fiance initially wanted Ex as his best man, he was talked down to groomsman. I assure you, this is not a situation of my devising.

You'd come on some outings? Why? Ex doesn't want to see you. Why couldn't he visit your hometown and spend time with Ex without you?

I have also offered to stay out of any outings where Ex is involved, the trip would not be primarily about Ex. Fiance has said that he appreciates it, but that would not be needed, because Ex has nothing but friendly feelings for me. So Fiance hasn't even made this offer to Ex, I think. I'm not sure if I offered it to Ex, if he would take me up on it, but it would require me reaching out to Ex, which I don't generally do.
posted by corb at 12:15 PM on July 26, 2012

You seem really invested in making their relationship fail,

To be really honest, and I apologize if I am totally wrong about this, it seemed more like trying to make the relationship between the Ex and his GF fail.

Putting him in a position where he either has to let down his friend by declining being a groomsman, or have a horrible fight with his girlfriend and possible breakup over standing up at the wedding of someone she rightly is upset at him having contact with AT ALL. (Not saying "rightly" because his sneaking around was your fault, just very simply that we often tell people, if their partner has been unfaithful, it's a good sign if they are willing to cut off contact with that person and a bad sign if they aren't).

Putting him in a position where he either has to not see his friend at all, or risk a situation where there he is hanging out with a person that he told his girlfriend he wouldn't have contact with. And risk her finding out and getting upset, OR be put in a situation where he has to lie and hide it from her.

It seems like you guys are either being completely inconsiderate about him being in that position, or almost like deliberately putting him there.

Then you get to the last line and there it is: Fiance keeps thinking that Ex and his girlfriend will break up and that will be the magical solution...

Hoping for a breakup of your good friend's 2 year relationship is not something good friends do, if you guys are going to be affecting his relationship at all, as good friends your fiance should really be supporting him and making it easier for him to have success in his relationship. Not the other way around.
posted by cairdeas at 12:17 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For clarification on why Fiance hopes that Ex and his Girlfriend will break up: Ex's Girlfriend is Ex's former therapist. Apparently Ex was seeing her for treatment and evaluation for his PTSD when they got together. Fiance believes that Ex's Girlfriend has violated professional ethics and also may be using her knowledge of Ex's condition to manipulate him. Ex has broken up with Ex's Girlfriend before, and she's threatened to kill herself unless he took her back/agreed to see her.

It's a really unhealthy situation in a lot of ways. I do think Fiance is poking the situation with sticks in some ways, and we've talked about that, but his distaste for Ex's relationship does have a basis.
posted by corb at 12:35 PM on July 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

You're marrying this guy; you two need to be able to communicate. On the 0-10 scale of awkward things you need to be able to communicate, this is a 3. It's an easy one.

Give him your insight about how Ex has a few PTSD behaviors that are understandable when you know what and why, but can leave you in the lurch if you're not aware.
posted by -harlequin- at 12:38 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think there's really much you can do. It sounds like your fiancee has all of the information he needs to make up his mind, and I'm not sure it's appropriate for you to try to change it, no matter how good your intentions are. I think if I were in your place, if your fiancee mentions that your ex is acting squirelly, I would give a very gentle warning, something like, "You know, this reminds me of how he behaved when [thing happened]. I think he may be having a hard time navigating this situation, given all of the complicated feelings involved among all of the different parties."
posted by amarynth at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2012

This is... None of your business.

This isn't about you or your fiancé. It seems like both of you are being honest and earnest in your dealings with Ex, but Ex is making his own decisions to create drama for himself and his girlfriend.

You've learned your lesson and moved on from your ex. Your fiancé presumably knows about Ex's struggles, even if he doesn't accept the pattern. You need to let him go through that cycle and come to his own conclusions about Ex's integrity.

Based on what you've written here, be sad and let it go. Be sad for your Ex's instability, be sad for his girlfriend's insecurity, and live your own life.
posted by itesser at 12:46 PM on July 26, 2012 [10 favorites]

Best answer: You need to tell your fiance pretty much what you wrote here. The only thing you may want to avoid is speculating on what's going on behind the scenes with your ex and his girlfriend; you have a concern but it is only that. Then let him decide what he wants to do going forward.

That said, and based on the other question you linked to, this is a situation where a lot of people are both communicating by proxy, making assumptions, and are incredibly conflict-averse.

Your fiance keeps telling you what your ex would probably think or do. The same happens in your followup, in which your fiance is asked if you should stay home and he's like, "Oh no! He won't care, I'm sure of it." It's sounding like denial is his main way of handling basically everything.

I mean, for shit's sake, his solution to the problem of whether or not to invite your ex's girlfriend is "Oh, they'll break up and it'll be fine. Or they won't break up, but he'll come by himself to his ex's wedding and she's a girl who hates you and doesn't want him talking to you and who's tried to control him with threats of suicide so I'm sure it'll be completely okay." Yeah, no. It won't. It already isn't.

A diagram of this situation would involve a lot of crossed lines and people who are talking through other people but really should be talking to each other. You and your fiance need to basically sit down, appraise the situation, and say, "Okay. What can we do here?"

Otherwise, be prepared to receive a massive explosion of drama as a wedding gift.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:52 PM on July 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: "You know, Fiance, I've been thinking a lot about this visit, and what a difficult time Ex seems to be having in compartmentalizing his friendship with you as well as you've been able to with him. It makes me really sad to see how disappointed you are about him bailing on seeing you, and the way he's handled it, and I feel torn between really wanting you to not be sad over the long term, and really admiring how much you love him and keep hoping from the best from him.

So I've been trying to put myself in his shoes more lately. Of course I don't know for sure what's going on in his head, but if I were in his shoes it would be really, really hard to know that you know my rocky history with my girlfriend, to know that you disapprove of that relationship, to feel caught between wanting to be polite to corb without creating strain in my relationship with my girlfriend, to feel such true brotherly love for you and so honored that you want me to stand with you at your wedding, and maybe dreading how selfish or not-in-a-great-place you may think I am if I told you how difficult it might be for me to do that while still taking good care of myself and the relationship I have, especially knowing how much worse it seems vs. the relationship you have with corb.......

Anyway, honey, I admire him so much for how well he's doing given everything he's been through, and I wonder if actually the best way to show him that you love him is to give him a pass on the wedding and instead make a plan for you and him to go camping together next spring (or whatever), just the two of you. The way he's handling this visit, and what he and I went through earlier, makes me really fear that making him a member of the wedding party, even making him feel pressure to come to the wedding at all, now seems much more likely to create hurt feelings and drama and anxiety and discomfort between the four of us than it is to make your friendship with him stronger, his life better, or our wedding day more joyful.

What do you think?"

(Sorry you're in this situation, and hope things turn out okay.)
posted by argonauta at 12:59 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You say "you know, this sort of promise and then not follow through thing is totally consistent with the way Ex used to deal with me in tough situations. You may want to adjust your expectations."

And then you respect your partner as an adult capable of dealing with disappointment and change. It's very possible that he's well aware this guy is going to fail him as a friend. Sometimes all we can do with people who are on the way out of our lives is let them play things out and give them every opportunity to prove our poor expectations wrong.

Seeing someone you love be hurt is a drag but you can't shield them from everything.
posted by phearlez at 1:59 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Leave it be. Your wedding will proceed with or without Ex's participation. Your fiance's relationship with his friend is his own to negotiate. He already possesses the information you have to give on Ex. Friends disappoint us, sometimes heartbreakingly so. Life will go on.
posted by nanojath at 2:22 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Let Fiancé be disappointed with Ex. Or not be.

Resist the urge to say "I saw this coming" and instead say reflecting things like "that must be really disappointing."
posted by vitabellosi at 3:00 PM on July 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You can't control anyone else's behavior, only your own. Do what you need to do to feel like you've behaved responsibly (I'd say telling Fiance what you've said here is a reasonable plan), and then back off and let the two of them sort it out.
posted by catlet at 3:01 PM on July 26, 2012

I'm not sure I agree with my gut on this, but here's what my gut is saying: Fiancé should contact Ex's GF directly, say that because Ex is a really good friend and he wants him in his wedding party, but he knows that she's not all that comfortable on the subject of corb, would this be a problem for her or is it okay? Face-to-face over coffee in a public place and alone, no corb or Ex.

Normally I'm all about letting the two people having issues sort things out themselves, but Ex isn't able to cope and the person who is most influencing the issue, intentionally or not, is Ex's GF. If she and Fiancé, who I assume are probably neutral to each other, can discuss this together it'll take the pressure off Ex and get everyone straight to the bit where they know if Ex is going to be doing this or not.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 3:47 PM on July 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm going to say right up front that this whole thing is still weird to me, actually more-so than it was in your last question.

But to this, I think that you should do nothing, because this is not your friendship to be involved in and if your fiance' has been able to be friends with this guy despite your experience with him, he will likely continue to be his friend despite your experience-laden advice on the matter. I get a sense that Ex is trying to disengage a bit, but doing it the wrong way, and I don't think it matters if it's at his girlfriend's behest or not. Making her the lightening rod of disapproval and untruthful narrative building doesn't change his shitty behavior. At some point your fiance' will have to accept that this friendship exists in a vacuum for a reason, at which point you offer your sympathetic support.
posted by sm1tten at 6:10 PM on July 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Asking this poor guy to be a groomsman sounds like placing a stumbling block before the blind, I have to say.

The guy is pathologically conflict averse, and his gf hates you and wants him to have nothing to do with you. So you (I know it wasn't "you" but you are part of the wedding unit as far as Ex and his gf are concerned) ask him to be a groomsman? It makes no sense. It's thoughtless and begging for drama at best; seriously unkind at worst. I mean, obviously you and Fiance didn't mean to cause him pain, but I don't see how this was ever going to work, given what you've told us about Ex.

If it were me, I'd gently point this out to Fiance - "hon, of course you meant it affectionately, but I think we may have put Bob in a very hard position here without meaning to, and it's likely that it's stressing him out." And then leave it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:01 PM on July 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

A minor point:

Fiance and I are planning to visit that location again soon, and Fiance was really looking forward to seeing Ex. Ex assured him that he "might be out of town doing X thing" but would really, really try to find a way to see him. When Fiance called recently, Ex said that actually he'd "be out of town doing Y thing, just came up, what a surprise!

Does it ever play out any way other than this? Saying "I'm going to really try," to me, means about the same as, "I wish I could." If you take this kind of stuff at face value, you will be disappointed over and over.
posted by BibiRose at 7:26 AM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update:

Ex in fact did end up lying to Fiance, and forgetting exactly what his lie was, so Fiance was made aware of it. Having independent confirmation of this let me re-open in an evidence-based way the idea of whether having Ex as a groomsman was a good idea (partially including concern for Ex that some of you have noted here), and Fiance and I have both agreed that it is not.

So, Ex is off the groomsman list. He's still invited to the wedding, which I anticipate he probably won't show up to, but it's worth eating the money of his undoubted "Yes" RSVP then no-show in order to have this finally clear.

Thanks everyone for the great answers!
posted by corb at 3:09 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

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