How can I deal with lingering feelings of blame and attachment following the end of a long-term relationship?
October 20, 2012 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I was with my boyfriend for 3.5 years and we lived together for much of that time. We had built a home and a family (albeit a two-person family), but two months ago he left me. On paper, I'm doing really well. But I still struggle with blame and attachment. Can you offer advice that will help me let go? (Lot's more detail inside. Hope it's not too much).

He left me suddenly, the morning we were supposed to leave for a camping trip with friends. Later he told me that he had made the decision the night before. It was a surprise at the time, but in retrospect, things had not been working for a very long time. I think I've made it through the worst of it. For a few weeks after the left, the only feelings I could feel were panic, despair, loneliness, rejection, regret, and sometimes anger (usually at myself). I've been fortunate to have the support of many good friends and the breakup itself was the impetus for changing therapists (from a therapeutic relationship that wasn't working to one that is) and making other positive changes in my life (exercising regularly, eating healthier, and getting out into the world and meeting new people). On paper, I'm doing really well. But I know I haven't come close to letting go of him or the idea of 'us'. There are a few things in particular that I can't seem to get past, and that's where I'm hoping the community might have some helpful advice.

I was in my late 20s when we met and this was my first real relationship with another man. I only started dating about six months before I met my boyfriend. Prior to that, I was just coasting through life, numbing myself however I could and having casual sex with mostly anonymous men. I finally started seeing a therapist and taking steps to explore the real world and after dating for just a few months I met my boyfriend and we quickly fell in love. You should know that he left me once before for a short while last summer. At that time, it became clear after just a few days that he was willing to give it another try and we were together again after ten days. Shortly afterward, we started seeing a couples counsellor (who was really terrible) right up until the more recent breakup. This time, it's a different beast. It was clear almost right away that this was final. It's also the first real loss I've suffered. In addition to having never lost a relationship, I've never had the misfortunate of losing someone to death or, frankly, losing anything at all.

I'm still struggling with a number of things ...

1. Blame and regret. Everyone tells me that there were two people in this relationship and that it is no one's fault that things didn't work out. I still can't accept that. I blame myself.

I have a serious anxiety disorder and after the first breakup, I started group cognitive behavioural therapy. It was helping, but my worries and anxieties still took up a lot of space in our relationship. In addition to turning to my boyfriend for reassurance regarding each of my irrational worries, he was also the subject of many of my health-related anxieties and he resented this. My anxiety interfered with sex and intimacy and made something as simple as visiting with close friends something to fret and be tense about. My boyfriend was ceaselessly supportive of me in my attempts to deal with my anxiety, but at the same time he resented how much space and energy my worries took up and how little space was left for him and 'us'.

On top of this, I have a lot of attachment issues. I was so attached to my boyfriend that I constantly worried about him leaving me and never trusted that he wouldn't. I also often sought reassurance that he would love me forever, etc. Again, exhausting for him. I don't have a very strong sense-of-self nor do I really value myself (that's changing now, with therapy). And I looked to him as a substitute for those things. I also have trust issues and, as attached to him as I was, I refused to ever let myself be entirely vulnerable.

I had been in counselling for 4 or 5 years, with the same therapist, but my relationship with my therapist had become stagnant and unhealthy. I knew I needed a change, but wouldn't end up taking the initiative to find a new therapist until after my boyfriend left me the second time. So I spent several years just spinning my wheels, therapeutically, because I didn't want to take the difficult step of leaving my therapist. I feel like my work with the new therapist has opened up an entirely new chapter in my life. It's going really well.

My boyfriend has his own baggage and has also been in therapy for years, but he spent much of his early twenties confronting his demons and working through his shit. Though he could hold back sometimes, over the course of our relationship there were several times when he was clearly ready to be vulnerable and intimate and try to create deeper connections. That's when he would start talking about marriage, for example. When he felt this way, I would often pull back and he'd feel rejected and get hurt.

So, in this context, I feel like I had a boyfriend who tried everything he could to be with me, to love me, and to be intimate with me, and I rejected him. I wanted everything he was offering, but I chose to remain anxious, not make important changes (like changing therapists or finding a new couples counsellor), and not taking care of myself physically or emotionally. So, now he is hurt and angry and has given up, which is why he left me. So when people tell me not to blame myself or that there are two people in any relationship, all I can think of is all the ways I let him (and myself) down and how my choices and behaviour led to the inevitable conclusion of him leaving me. On top of that, I'm full of regret at not being able to get past my shit in order to be with the man I love. And regret for waiting until now to start working on myself. I think, great, I'm taking care of myself now, but when I'm 'better' in a year or two, he won't be here and I'll have lost the love of my life. I also feel guilty for having hurt him … repeatedly.

So, how am I not to blame? How can I come to terms with having let this amazing person slip through my fingers (thus having let myself down) and for hurting him along the way (letting him down)?

2. Contact and moving on. AskMeFi is full of posts telling people who have recently broken up to stop all contact. Delete him from Facebook. Don't email him. Don't' respond to his texts. Definitely don't call him.

Well, our lives were pretty intertwined. From rent, to splitting up our stuff, to making sure he got his mail, there were plenty of reasons to communicate and to see each other (which we've only done once or twice since the breakup). A few weeks after we broke up, he also asked me if we could get together to chat about the relationship and what happened. He thought it would help both of us move on. I couldn't at the time, but I said I might want to in the future. Now, he's moved all of his stuff to his new place and I'm moving to my own place at the end of the month. There's little reason for us to have any contact anymore, other than to show that we are thinking of the other person and maybe, at some point in the future, to get together and talk about what went wrong.

So, there's this finality that's hitting me now. Before, there was always an excuse to chat. An excuse to send a text message. Now, there isn't beyond trying to maintain some level of familiarity or intimacy. And, with respect to possibly getting together to chat about the relationship, there isn't any reason to see each other again. Still, I'm telling myself that we should keep the lines of communication open and send the casual 'how was your weekend?" text, so that at some point in the future we can be friends. I also think that if I keep the lines of communication open and we maintain some sort of relationship then maybe, just maybe, we'll find our way back to each other in the future. I think this because in a way I feel like he left me because he had to, not because he wanted to. And if I get my shit together, we might be able to make it work at some time in the future. He's actually talked about this in an abstract way … that he thinks about possibly being together in the future, but doesn't see right now how that could happen. If I just cut him off completely, then I'm sort of eliminating that possibility.

So, what's healthy and what's not going forward? Can I have my cake and eat it too? Can I move on, let go, stop being attached, while also maintaining some sort of relationship (and even hoping for a new one at some point in the future)?

3. His memories of us. I can't stop worrying about how he is going to remember me and our time together. I worry he's going to end up regretting our time together and viewing this as a part of his life he'd rather forget. It connects to blame (see above). I know I can't control this. Still, it's something I've been struggling with for much of the last two months and I can't seem to find a way to let go of the idea that he's going to come to hate me. I'd appreciate any advice.
posted by pantheON to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Mercifully, nothing is permanent.
posted by Kruger5 at 12:43 PM on October 20, 2012

So, how am I not to blame?

Assigning blame will not help anything. Everyone has flaws and opportunities to improve themselves - including your ex. It sounds like you've identified a few of your own and are currently actively working on improving them. This is a good thing. Abstract concepts like "blame" for something that has happened in the past do nothing to positively move forward, in my opinion. Forgive yourself for being human.

Still, I'm telling myself that we should keep the lines of communication open and send the casual 'how was your weekend?" text, so that at some point in the future we can be friends.

Don't do this. The first long-term relationship for me ended with him leaving me, too, but there was nothing worse than a random email from him weeks or months later trying to "reconnect". It would always be out of the blue when I was doing great and not thinking about him, and then I'd be forced to think about him again.

I can't seem to find a way to let go of the idea that he's going to come to hate me.

That's his choice to make and his problem if he chooses it. You can't change your past. When you are further removed from this recent pain, you will hopefully be more able to recognize how it could have been better on both sides and, if you do ever enter a circumstance with him where you could apologize, you can do that. And that's all you can do. My advice is that you should not come to hate yourself. There are good things about you. Everyone makes mistakes. It is what you learn from those mistakes that make you a better person.
posted by jillithd at 1:03 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Two months is nothing, in the context of a relationship of 3.5 years.

The bad news is: it takes a while to heal. There are very few people who'd be a-ok 2 months after a breakup like this.

The good news is: time heals everything. Without you even having to do anything, time will heal you. The memories and regret will become less and less important; your life will fill up with other thoughts, feelings, experiences; even your worries will focus elsewhere. Sit back and let time do its healing thing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:04 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your actions in the relationship were based on the tools you had available to you at the time. Now, partly due to your new therapist and all the work you're doing there, partly due to the breakup and what you've learned in the interim (and will continue to learn) and partly due to the relationship itself, you have access to more and better tools. You will be able to use these in your next relationship.
posted by lulu68 at 1:10 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

It's a marathon, not a sprint.

There's this sort of modern conception that breaking up with someone is a quasi-legalistic process where you shake hands and nod firmly and neatly separate your joined lives and remain friends and things just go on their way. But it's a messy process.

The point of cutting off contact is to give yourself some time and space to heal, not to allow you to get your shit together and get back together, and if you cling to that hope...well, ironically, you are probably never going to get to the point where that would happen, because that kind of obsession with him is what (you're telling us) contributed to you two breaking up. Can you be friends in the future? Believe it or not, there will come a time where all that ache is gone and it's more a fond memory, and then, yeah, probably. But you need time and space to make that happen. There's a time when a scar is a cool story you tell to impress someone, but there are times when it's an ugly, scabbed over wound that needs to heal and picking at it just makes it worse.

As for the hate, man, I have some ex stories that'd curl your hair and make you laugh, but even then, there's very little hate (assuming you don't go all Fatal Attraction), more...the actions they took might've been terrible/stupid/whatever, but I can see how they happened and where they came from based on who they were at the time, and we can both laugh at how young/stupid/whatever we were then. But it's time and distance that lets those wounds heal enough where they're no longer sore spots, they're battle scars from a life well-lived and, more, those failed relationships is what allowed me to have my currently successful one. Nobody teaches you this stuff. You have to learn by experience.

Not to go all Caring Dad From A Sitcom, but what matters isn't that you failed, it's what you learned in the process. You have some things to take away for your next relationship and some things you can work on.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:25 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think you're probably on the path. Definitely bring this stuff up with your therapist.

I'm wrestling right now with the challenge my therapy group has for next week: I have to pick an item I'm attached to emotionally and leave it at the group meeting place for the rest of the group sessions. It feels like absolute torture just thinking about it - I seriously almost started crying when I read about the assignment (I don't even have to bring the item in for a week.) The potential anguish was so overwhelming it immediately turned into real, live anguish. I couldn't even really define what was so terrifying about this little tiny bit of "letting go." It was completely horrifying to contemplate.

I think you're facing a similar kind of blockage here, in all honesty.

For instance, you can always cut off contact for a while (like six months to a year) while retaining the option of resuming some kind of connection afterwards. Few decisions are as final as we think they are. Few changes are as disastrous as we're afraid they'll be. They talk about "cognitive distortions" a lot in therapy - feeling like you can't possibly do the no-contact thing is a bit of all-or-nothing thinking. Feeling like you totally wrecked everything is generalization and catastrophizing. Burns' "Feeling Good" is pretty much the best place to read about that sort of stuff.

Something I think you also need to consider: have you properly grieved the relationship itself? One of the reasons I have a hard time giving up stupid crap I don't really need (e.g., socks that I hate wearing because they're scratchy, but don't want to throw away) is that the idea of going through the grief stuff is so disturbing and scary that I basically am procrastinating it.

For me, it's grieving things surrounding ideas like "I am a person who never wastes anything" and "I always make good and reasonable buying decisions" and "I should find a use for any materials in my possession" and "I need to keep everything because it'll be my fault if I need it later and don't have it."

Your issues here might be more like "I had a safe and stable situation" and "I'm a real grown-up and you can tell because I'm in a committed relationship and we live together" and so on.

To answer your actual questions:

1. You are both to blame for "things not working out." Simple mismatch (it was never going to work out) may be a huge factor; it's hard to tell. The best thing to do is remind yourself that no matter what happened, you can't change it now. Focus on making better choices and developing better habits, rather than assigning blame or feeling guilty.

2. No-contact is recommended for really good reasons. You have given kind-of-connected self-torture for close to 3 months. I don't think it's a good idea to keep trying that.

3. I recommend asking yourself:
- What is the worst thing that can happen, if he does hate you? How horribly awful does it feel when you convince yourself it is 100% certain that he will ALWAYS hate you?
- If it's not under your control, is there an upside to feeling bad over how he feels about you?
- To what extent is your concern about his attitude a reflection of your desire to perpetuate a fantasy (or multiple fantasies) about your relationship?
- Are there any things in your life that you can better use that worrying/anxiety energy on?

Definitely bring up this kind of thing in to your therapist.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 1:28 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

... all I can think of is all the ways I let him (and myself) down and how my choices and behaviour led to the inevitable conclusion of him leaving me.

That doesn't show much respect for him. He's an adult, he's responsible for his words/actions/decisions/choices. If you believe that behaviors/actions/words/etc. of yours are keeping you from being able to have healthy relationships, then consider/reflect/act on those things for yourself. Take care of yourself, period.

Still, I'm telling myself that we should keep the lines of communication open and send the casual 'how was your weekend?" text, so that at some point in the future we can be friends.

The MetaFilter rule about contact and post-relationship friendships is to shut it down until you can picture your ex in a happy new relationship and be happy for them & ok with it. Until then, "how was your weekend" texts are a pretext for keeping tabs and picking at scabs.
posted by headnsouth at 1:35 PM on October 20, 2012

Thanks for all of the advice so far.

What if he wants contact? He's made it pretty clear that he wants to chat and share and be friendly and eventually be friends. I feel like if I cut him off for a protracted period of time, I'll just be hurting him again. For example, his moving out was a very difficult weekend for both of us. He made that clear. After he finished moving all of his stuff out, I sent him a text saying I didn't think we would talk for a while and I wished him luck in his new place and said I'd always hope for the best for him. I think I wanted to take some control over a situation where I was feeling helpless. He got really upset, focusing on the fact that he still might be getting mail to our old address and that I might come across things that he left here that he might need. I also think he was hurt by just how dismissive my text came across. I ended up apologizing.
posted by pantheON at 1:41 PM on October 20, 2012

Fee Phi Faux Phumb: Thanks for the very specific advice. I've been through group CBT and it's lessened my everyday anxiety, but I haven't really been applying my CBT tools to the breakup. Your post was a nice reminder.
posted by pantheON at 1:44 PM on October 20, 2012

headnsouth: Taking care of myself sometimes feels like a perpetuation of my selfishness when I was with him. As I start to feel better about myself, I also feel like I owe it to him to be generous and take care of him. He's explicitly told me that he doesn't need me to take care of him, but at the same time I know how hurt he is that I wasn't more generous while we were together. So I find myself wanting to make up for it by being available and generous to him now.
posted by pantheON at 1:56 PM on October 20, 2012

This is probably the least Askmefi answer imaginable, but...

If the major problem in your relationship was that you wouldn't open up emotionally and allow yourself to love him and work on your issues in a focused way...

And he wants to get together with you to talk about the relationship...

Why not do it? Get together, talk about it, express your regret and sorrow, and maybe you guys can give it another chance?
posted by 3491again at 2:02 PM on October 20, 2012

He just broke up with you. You are allowed to put up a boundary that says I don't want chit-chat. You say "I think I wanted to take some control over a situation where I was feeling helpless." and you have absolutely every right to protect yourself that way! Yes you need to communicate in order to wrap up the business and paperwork of your relationship, but no you do not need to chit-chat while you're still figuring out how to nurse your wounds.

Taking care of myself sometimes feels like a perpetuation of my selfishness when I was with him. As I start to feel better about myself, I also feel like I owe it to him to be generous and take care of him.

"Taking care of yourself" means getting the help and developing the awareness and coping skills that help you develop healthy relationships with yourself and others. It's not about feeling better now, it's about long-term health.

And he's said he doesn't want you to take care of him. You need to respect his boundaries, otherwise what you think you're doing (taking care of him) is actually not helpful to him at all.
posted by headnsouth at 2:06 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like if I cut him off for a protracted period of time, I'll just be hurting him again.

I see you have not yet moved into the Anger stage of grieving this relationship. Look, HE broke up with YOU. If some of the consequences of that decision that HE made end up making him unhappy, that is his problem and his responsibly.

It's not your responsibility to negotiate the circumstances of his leaving you so that it's really easy and painless for him. I'm not saying you should be purposefully unkind or vindictive to him, but it's your responsibility to heal YOURSELF. You are allowed to cut off contact with him to do that. Not getting to be besties with someone is one of the prices you pay when you break up with them. I think you're trying not to hurt him now because you feel very very guilty for hurting him in the past -- in short, you are overcompensating -- but break-ups HURT, and sometimes both people have to suffer at the onset in order to feel better, faster.

He's explicitly told me that he doesn't need me to take care of him, but at the same time I know how hurt he is that I wasn't more generous while we were together. So I find myself wanting to make up for it by being available and generous to him now.

Then be generous enough to do him the favor of believing him when he tells you he doesn't need you to do this. You also need to be generous enough to believe that he made this decision to break up with you carefully and that you probably can't jolly him out of it by being suddenly all available now. You will BOTH be better off if you make a clean break for a while. EVENTUALLY, you may be actual friends. But neither of you will get to that place quickly if you're all up in each other's emotional grills right now. Cutting off contact doesn't have to be forever.

Finally, two months is like NO TIME AT ALL in terms of getting over the break-up of a long relationship. Give yourself a break with all of this.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 2:06 PM on October 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

He's made it pretty clear that he wants to chat and share and be friendly and eventually be friends.

Then tough for him. You get to decide how much contact is comfortable for you and if that amount is none, you are totally allowed that. (I see you've already done the splitting up the stuff and getting your own places step.) If you don't want to rehash the relationship with him, you don't have to.

Like most kinds of relationship, if one person doesn't want it, then that person has a right to not have it. Despite how you feel, you don't owe him anything.

Move forward from here and grow into the person you want to be. The strong healthy man you are at your core. Let him shine! Give yourself space to heal. Find yourself a therapist that is a good fit, and make a plan for your goals up front and schedule times to check in on your progress/change goals as necessary. Your goals might be: less anxiety about health; stronger attachments that don't include constant fear of rejection; resilience in the face of adversity; exercise and other physical health achievements.

Breaking up is hard. Being dumped/left super sucks. Maybe try DBT with your new therapist? It has a lot in common with CBT but has a component of accepting where and who you are now, while also working on getting to where you want to be. Also involves skills and worksheets and there are groups for it as well. (My group was focused on trauma recovery.)

You have come remarkably far in just a short time since the breakup. You can do this!
posted by bilabial at 2:55 PM on October 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

After he finished moving all of his stuff out, I sent him a text saying I didn't think we would talk for a while and I wished him luck in his new place and said I'd always hope for the best for him. I think I wanted to take some control over a situation where I was feeling helpless. He got really upset, focusing on the fact that he still might be getting mail to our old address and that I might come across things that he left here that he might need. I also think he was hurt by just how dismissive my text came across. I ended up apologizing.

Never apologize for taking care of yourself.

It sounds like your ex has some growing up to do. But that's not your problem anymore.
posted by roger ackroyd at 3:02 PM on October 20, 2012

So, in this context, I feel like I had a boyfriend who tried everything he could to be with me, to love me, and to be intimate with me, and I rejected him... now he is hurt and angry and has given up, which is why he left me.

When I read your post, I was with you all the way, then suddenly, it turned into this theory. It was like "[fact about yourself], [observation about the relationship], [your own feelings]... So that adds up to mean [story about him: what he was thinking and why he did what he did]." There is a big jump between the facts and the story. I imagine this is hard to believe, wracked with guilt as you are right now. But you're probably just wrong. The guilt is about you and what you think. That is probably not why he left.

I say this as someone who used to create theories and stories but started to ask people about them. Most turned out to be entirely inaccurate, though they led to good conversations. It's totally natural to create and believe theories. I saw this most clearly when a friend of mine attempted suicide. A lot of us who had known him gathered together while he was still in the hospital, and almost everyone had a theory about it. It was fascinating. It was often a theory about how they failed him. (At the time I felt like, no, I was the one who failed him.) Ultimately, it became clear that these theories were about ourselves and how we were handling our feelings of almost losing someone we loved, not an accurate explanation for his actions.

The brain works like that, and when you're going through it, I noticed, it's very hard to talk yourself out of it. You're in a lot of pain right now, and the brain seeks an explanation. "How did this happen? How can I make sure it never happens again??" (I believe that this is in part because it would be so much more terrifying to think "sometimes super-painful things will happen to me for reasons entirely outside of my control.")

You probably just have to go through this self-blame and regret. It's not necessarily a bad thing; pain can be a real spur to learning. But it's ultimately about you and what you're thinking about yourself, and what lessons you want yourself to learn. So it's important, because you are the final judge of yourself, and these things that you're focused on right now are important -- to you. But don't mistake all your stories as being the truth about him.

And ask yourself: is judging myself now the right thing to do? Or is now the time to be compassionate? You're in a lot of pain now, and it might not all be your fault.
posted by salvia at 4:49 PM on October 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

You're probably not going to like my answers, but they're honest....

Usually, in this department, the things you need to hear most are the things you least want to hear. Having had a great deal of experience with these things myself, I can tell you that while it can be difficult to stomach some of the things you need to do, it really and truly IS in your best interest!! So no matter how difficult, make yourself take the healthier path. That being said, here are my (likely painful) words of advice:

1. Don't play the blame game. Blaming one person for a breakup is like blaming your mom for giving you brown eyes; there are multiple parties involved in the outcome, not just one (and not even just the two that are directly involved, either), and there are many other unseen factors in play as well. Besides, even if it was "your fault," you certainly didn't do anything wrong intentionally, so just like whatever genes your parents passed you, your relationship with your boyfriend and its eventual decline were largely the lottery of circumstances when you two, unique individuals came together as one. It happens. It's good that you recognize what may have been your flaws and you're already working on those things with a professional. You can't expect any more of yourself than that. Keep working on yourself, for the future, but don't punish yourself for what's happened in the past. Also, I can't help but notice that you're very defensive of your ex and the feelings he may have had while you were, as you perceived it, making things so difficult for him (this may stand out to me because I had a glaringly obvious tendency to do this myself at the demise of some of my past relationships... but what I've learned is...)- put some of that energy on your side! Is it possible that you're selectively remembering and reporting things from your relationship that paint him in a better light, to make yourself feel more guilty, or to blame? Might it be healthy for you to also devise a mental list of accurate memories displaying the less-than-perfect side of him? I'm not saying you should turn around and start blaming him, either (DON'T PLAY THE BLAME GAME, PERIOD), I'm just saying that by blaming yourself like this you definitely run the risk of accidentally putting your ex on an undeserved pedestal, creating a false recollection of him as some kind of perfect being, and therefore making it even harder for you to move on. So steer clear of falling in this particular rut; you'll find a lot of us down there with ya, but that doesn't make it a good place to be! ;)

2. You said this was your first real boyfriend. Now you perceive him as, possibly, the love of your life. This is almost never the case, I promise you!!! I remember thinking I was endlessly in love with my first boyfriend when we broke up. We had been together for five years. I cried until I found myself staring at pools of tears that utterly baffled me because I couldn't believe it was even physically possible for my body to keep producing that much liquid! That was over ten years ago, and I still know him (we had the same circle of friends, so even though we have gone years without contact here and there over the last decade, we have always bumped into one another or in some other way ended up reconnecting for brief conversations at different points)... let me tell ya something: despite how "hopelessly in love" with him I once thought I was, I can't even imagine being with him today! I now find him creepy and annoying, lol. Seriously. Can't. Even. Picture. Ever. Being. With. Him. Again!!!!!!!! So, really, just give it some time. You have many more relationship experiences to have before you should really even consider settling down with someone forever. You really need to have those experiences so you can fully realize what it is that you're really looking for in your life partner.

3. Don't keep lines of communication open with your ex! I promise you, you can always find him again if you ever decide you want or need to speak to him again, for any reason. As I already said, I have gone literally years and years without speaking to my exes and still managed to either bump into them or deliberately locate them (or be located by them) down the line when some situation necessitated contact. You need to work on you right now, and you need to meet new people; you do not need to fixate on what he's doing or when you will talk to him again. You need to just erase these thoughts from your mind and trudge forward. I know what you mean in everything you say about justifying keeping the lines of communication open, and for those reasons I am certain that this is the last thing you want to hear, but imo you really should try to swallow it. It's for the best. These thoughts you're having are all just tying you down to the hope that you and your ex will get back together again; you might get back together again, BUT you need to move on and let whatever is going to happen, happen. Without trying to "stack the deck in your favor" by keeping communication lines open with him. Really move on. Then see what happens. Only then can you know if it is truly "meant to be," and stand a decent chance of saving yourself the heartache that comes from inevitably falling in exactly the same hole your relationship fell in before, because you never really took the time to individually separate completely from each other, develop your own independent identities, deal with your separate issues, and become whole again before trying to become whole-plus-one again. Whole plus one, not Hole plus one. ;)

4. The only thing that comes from dwelling on how he "remembers" the relationship is pain. Nothing good can come from this. You will torture yourself for no reason and eventually add it to the justification list for contacting him, and inevitably this will lead to at least one tragic dunk-dial that will go down in your personal epic fail history. Don't go there! ;) And here's the reality of the situation: either he loved you (and it sounds like he really did, things just happen- it's okay), in which case he will have both fond memories and not-so-fond memories, but if the latter are more prevalent it's only because he's in pain and he's forcing those thoughts on himself to get through this- don't begrudge him those thoughts; in fact, you may find yourself doing the same- or he didn't love you, and if that's the case he realistically won't have many thoughts about the relationship in general, negative or otherwise. Given the fact that he already expressed a desire to want to discuss the relationship with you, I would definitely say that is not the case, so don't worry- he is most likely (seriously) doing the same thing you are- and what have you been doing? Well if you look at your post you can clearly see that you were going to some considerable lengths to defend him in your memories. I guarantee you he's doing the same... so even though you feel plagued by the "mistakes" you made during the relationship, just consider what was in your own human nature to do, and realize that if any of those thoughts do, in fact, pass through his mind, he is most likely immediately mentally defending you, and in doing so, quite possibly blaming himself (just like you are!). It's one of the less popular "circles of life," I suppose...

You will get through this, and you will come out the other side a stronger person for it, I guarantee it. I know it sucks, but the old cliches are cliches for a reason.. "If you love something, let it go.." etc. etc. etc.: you've gotta suck it up and take some of these somewhat unpleasant roads, for your own health and happiness in the long run. You've already come quite a long way, so give yourself a huge pat on the back for that and just keep going. You will find yourself seeing the things that currently plague you in a much different light, sooner than you think. Take it a day at a time, or even by the hour or minute if you have to- you will get there. It's going to be okay- y o u are going to be okay!!
posted by chasethecarrot at 5:08 PM on October 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks to everyone who has shared so far. It really helps. And to chasethecarrot ... "Whole plus one, not Hole plus one." ... You put a smile on my face. I'm going to remember that one for a long time.
posted by pantheON at 6:55 PM on October 20, 2012

In terms of emotional distance from a breakup, what I was told following my divorce was that to be really over it generally took about half as long as the relationship. For a 3.5 year relationship, that's a year and nine months, of which you've been through two months. Keep this number in mind as you ponder how long you need to take a break from seeing your ex.

Also, as a divorced person, I can tell you that it's impossible to control how other people view our breakups. I have a story about mine, and my ex has a very different story. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. But my narrative is true to how I feel about things, and nothing he said or did could change it, and I presume vice versa (that nothing I did could change what he thought--including some things that are outright untrue!). Letting go of how he feels is a hard but necessary step to distancing yourself from the relationship that is now over.
posted by immlass at 7:03 PM on October 20, 2012

You did the best you could at the time, as did he. Sometimes it doesn't work out. I'm not pandering when I say this. I'm saying:

You did the best you could at the time.

You did. I wasn't even there, and I know you did, just from what you wrote. And now you're doing the best you can. And in the future, you'll do the best you can. It's human nature to do as much as we can, as best we can. Keep telling yourself this, though: "I did the best I could at the time." Were you perfect? No. None of us is. But keep working your CBT and you'll heal and come through this even better than before.

Also, remember, there are a lot of people out there with whom you could have A Really Amazing Relationship. At some point, you'll meet a really amazing man. He won't be the man who just left you, but he'll be a good man, and a right match for you. You'll know love again.
posted by RogueTech at 7:13 PM on October 20, 2012

About blame: one thing that has helped me immensely, both in terms of forgiving myself for mistakes I made, and of forgiving others for their mistakes, is to believe and have faith in the following:

In any given situation nearly everyone is doing the best they can do, given the strengths and weaknesses that they have at that point in time.

So here, you both had some issues that prevented you from behaving according to some platonic-ideal "in a relationship" script. At that point in time, you did not have the tools to do better than what you were able to do. Now, it seems, you're acquiring new tools through more effective therapy: you're building new strengths, addressing old weaknesses. Your blame-y self probably wants to say: but if I'd switched therapists years ago, then maybe I would have had the tools I needed to not mess up this relationship. But "the best you could do" still holds here: for whatever reason, you didn't have the strength you needed to change therapists at that point. You needed to experience something so painful and motivating that you could. It was the best you could do at the time.
posted by drlith at 7:25 PM on October 20, 2012

Your situation sounds very similar to mine (past tense). Boyfriend and I lived together and had for the majority of our nearly 4 year relationship. We were 25 and one another's first loves. We both suffered from anxiety and depression. We went on a break, I moved out, and two weeks later he broke up me over the phone.

That was in 2008 and I still don't know what happened.

We went back and forth trying to be "friends". I'd been the one initiating this the majority of the time, and he'd always be the one to shut it down. He did it for good almost two years ago.

The answer for all of it really is Time. What you're thinking and feeling right now will not be the same in four months or twelve months or three years. I'd say, try to let go of the guilt/blame above anything else. Or focus on working on that the most.

The no contact thing is really difficult. Even now, I find it hard not to send an email or call him up when all of his information is still the same. But I know he doesn't want that. Not only is the total "rejection" enough to keep me away, so is the idea that I'd be violating him in a way, saying my "need" to reach out overrides his request that I not.

Also, the less I think about him in the present, i.e. knowing what's going on currently in his life or in great detail, is the best thing possible. It's much easier to keep someone in the past when the past is all you have of them. If they are constantly popping up through social media or direct contact, you'll never have a chance to start getting over it. I'd say "healing", but that sounds hokey.

Anyway, nthing the fact that two months really is not a long time at all. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever totally shake this break up off. I don't know if there's always closure or understanding or forgiveness. Maybe there's not.

But I can tell you from experience it will continue to change, there will be good and bad days, but overall it WILL fade, the bad days won't be the majority of the time, you'll backslide and worry it's permanent. It's not.

The only person you have control over is you. Make the most of that.

Best of luck.
posted by patientpatient at 10:45 PM on October 20, 2012

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