I hate conflict - help me make peace with a breakup gone bad
December 12, 2012 1:56 AM   Subscribe

Help me make peace with the way a relationship ended while processing a major health scare, family issues, a new job and new city.

The way my boyfriend of 2 years ended things is troubling me, (f) early 30's. I loved him and we clicked on many levels, but things weren’t at the level of emotional intimacy / discussing a shared future I hoped for. I thought worst case we’d talk and decide we wanted different things or he wouldn’t want to take it further and it would be really sad but we’d agree to end it with no hard feelings.

Instead, when I tried to raise the future of the relationship I got a month of silent treatment and excuses that he was depressed before drunkenly dumping me and revealing that he felt hurt and incredibly angry by the way I’d treated him, namely that I was selfish and hadn’t expressed enough affection (but no specific examples). The irony: it’s the same reason I was dissatisfied, but my earlier attempts to address it by talking were always rebuffed with silent treatment while trying to show affection in the way he indicated he liked (by doing things for him, giving gifts, touching him) was always fine - until it wasn't.

Notwithstanding I don't always communicate perfectly, and that it takes two people to create a relationship dynamic, I’m genuinely distressed I’ve hurt him. Explained it was never intentional and that I actually thought I was doing the right thing by holding back and not “smothering” him with affection in spite of my natural inclination. His says it makes no difference to how he feels but he is happy to be friends right now (as in, I am 'allowed' to be his friend, but he doesn’t want to talk to me or contact me regularly.)

We have an awesome circle of friends and a wide circle of professional contacts, so I’d like to have a civil relationship and a friendship down the track (I'll be moving back to home city later next year) but right now – I’ve just been diagnosed with very early-stage cancer that should hopefully be treatable by surgery but is still frickin scary, I’m about to leave a not-great job (with a boss who’s acted quite similarly to my ex) and move to a new city for a new job (decided post-breakup) and my friends and family have their own problems – death, major illnesses, miscarriages - heavy stuff. In the context of all of this bad news, I feel like continuing in anger is petty on both our parts - that some things are just bigger than the end of a relationship. (But I'm still hurt and angry and from all indications he is too)

I feel hurt both that he seems to want to continue to punish me for a mistake I didn’t know I was making and problems he never articulated; and that while I gave him the benefit of the doubt during the passive-aggressive break pre-break up stage (despite my substantial anxiety about it) he won’t return the favour to em under any corcumstance. This is a long way from the way we treated each other when we started dating and the shift is hurtful and confusing.

I also feel lost and let down my former confidante, someone special and unique, is not around to share in both the exciting / scary new things. I hate conflict and tend to get angry and over it very quickly. I understand taking time to process things and going no contact but I genuinely don't understand grudges and feel very uncomfortable when confronted by them.

Help me reframe this in a way that helps me make peace with what's happened and move forward.

tl;dr: Upset and puzzled by acrimonious break up and ex's anger at something he never told me was wrong; feeling a bit lost in the context of major health scares and life changes; hate conflict and and need advice to make peace with the situation.
posted by rockpaperdynamite to Human Relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For the sake of your own health and mental wellbeing, cut this man out of your life. He sounds petty, immature, and emotionally manipulative. He is 'happy to be friends' but doesn't want to talk to you? I'm not surprised that you're feeling conflicted; he is throwing all kinds of mixed signals at you, and making you feel like it's your fault that everything isn't clear. It's not your fault. It's his fault. Don't talk to him.

I am really, really sorry about the cancer, and I am crossing my fingers that everything will go well for you in surgery! Cancer is terrifying and overwhelming and you deserve the space and support you need to concentrate on recovering. You say that your friends and family have their own problems - do they know about the cancer? Does anyone you can talk to know about it? (If your ex knows, and is still choosing to behave in this way, I am disgusted.) I know that therapy is bandied around as the catch-all answer a lot, but it sounds like something that would be very much warranted in this case.

You talk about moving to a new city - is that somewhere you've lived before, or somewhere where you know people? In other words: will you have a support network for the next few months? If you don't have one built in, perhaps think about ways you can build one up during the time you'll be there. Do you know people who know people who'll be there? Can you attend meetups or classes and befriend people that way? This might end up being a really great opportunity for you to put your ex out of your mind and discover your own strengths (seriously, I moved to a new place by myself a year or so ago, and it was the best thing I've ever done for myself) but it can also be really easy to sink into reliving the past when you don't have anything to distract you.

Good luck!
posted by littlegreen at 2:37 AM on December 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

I’m genuinely distressed I’ve hurt him

You didn't hurt him - he hurt himself. When you asked him 'where do you see this relationship going?' he unconsciously wanted out of the relationship for a reason he doesn't understand and can't articulate. His gut resolved this internal distress by generating a false but plausible-to-him rationalization: she's selfish and not affectionate.

The real reason (which he doesn't understand and can't articulate) could be anything. Midlife crisis, random unacknowledged paraphelia, adrenalin junky who only is happy during the courtship phase of relationships, he'll only be truly happy with someone who reminds him of his mother, etc.

We have an awesome circle of friends and a wide circle of professional contacts, so I’d like to have a civil relationship and a friendship down the track.

I think it's wonderful to be civil with folk. I don't think you should put any energy into a friendship with this man. You should be polite and courteous in your dealings with him and, after having a good cathartic rant and cry, you shouldn't trash-talk him to friends and colleagues (Not that what you were going to.), and so on, but it's probably a massive mistake to have him around as a buddy, or to expect him to be a source of strength during your medical issues or those of your family.

I genuinely don't understand grudges and feel very uncomfortable when confronted by them.
The grudge is Self-Victimization on his part; he's unhappy, perhaps he's suffering cognitive dissonance because he doesn't believe his own rationalization, perhaps he's lonely now that he drove you away, sour grapes, etc, therefore he's the victim, therefore you're the baddy. It seems to be "I'm unhappy, therefore it is her fault".

A lot of the time when someone does something self-centered and hurtful, their stated reasons are rubbish. This is one of those times.

You fell in love with someone who had a cute butt and was fun during the courtship phase but who's currently self-centered and shallow and therefore really hurtful when breaking up with folk.

This is all assuming your self-assessment regarding (doing things for him, giving gifts, touching him) is accurate and so forth, and it sounds as though it is.

Help me reframe this in a way that helps me make peace with what's happened and move forward.

In a nutshell "When I asked him where the relationship is going he realized he wanted out and said some hurtful things when he rationalized it (badly). He's a bit self-centered, but he was fun in the early phase of the relationship so processing this stuff will be hard for me - I'll understand it rationally but it will take me a little while to make peace with."

There are lots of of fish in the sea guys out there with cute butts who will make good long term partners (or good short term bedmates, if that's what you need right now). Better luck next time!

I know that therapy is bandied around as the catch-all answer a lot, but it sounds like something that would be very much warranted in this case.

Yeah, a session or two with a good counselor / guru / wise grandmom might really help you right now, with all this bad stuff that's come down.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:49 AM on December 12, 2012 [10 favorites]

You didn't do anything wrong, your relationship just didn't work out. There was nothing you could have done for this man that would have pleased him ultimately. Don't get wrapped around the axel about the fact that he says you did something wrong. He's just being an ass.

Cut him out of your life. You don't need this drama. No Facebook, emails, phone calls, nothing.

Concentrate on your health, your move and your new job. You'll meet tons of fun guys in your life, that doesn't make them boyfriend material.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:27 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

You didn't do anything wrong, but even if you did, why would it be your sole responsibility to "fix" it? He's a grown man; if he was unhappy, the onus was on him to communicate and work on a resolution together. It take two people to make a relationship work.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:12 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

People sometimes have a unrealistic expectations that breakups will go better than the relationship did. The behaviors he showed during the breakup were the same ones that caused the relationship to fail. If he were in any way able to communicate effectively and to understand you, you wouldn't have needed to break up with him.
posted by jaguar at 8:00 AM on December 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just to chime in with the growing chorus, you really aren't in the wrong here. He seems like a manipulative person and he has managed to frame the failure of your relationship as your fault when it's not; that gives him a convenient way out without having to be honest about his true feelings or acknowledge his role in the demise of the relationship. He's passing the buck, as it were. If anything you were the one wronged--that's how it looks from here, at least, since you at least tried to communicate in a mature and open manner while he did not.

I would just write him off and get on with your life, while remaining civil and not speaking ill of him to common friends or business acquaintances. Remember that you can't change his behavior, and you'll never be able to make the situation perfect or make him act the way he should (i.e. like a mature adult and supportive friend); all you can control is your own reaction to how things are. Focus on yourself and making new friends in your new city, and maybe join a cancer support group, because that is certainly a big deal to be going through by yourself. Please give yourself permission to stop blaming yourself. You tried your best and were honest and considerate of his feelings, and that's all anyone can ask for in a relationship.
posted by désoeuvrée at 8:27 AM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

He dumped you. You don't have to talk to him or worry about him anymore.

I know some people are able to stay friends with their exes, but I don't think it's ever worth the hassle. It sucks to lose someone you were close to, but you've got more important things to think about.

In a couple years when you look back on this stressful time this guy will be reduced to an amusing footnote.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 2:07 PM on December 12, 2012

Let him go. Be cordial if you cross paths. I understand your impulse to make things right. I have a special place in my heart for everyone who I've dated, and I've always had the impulse to smooth things over and be buddy-buddy. But the reality is that most of the time, this just isn't possible. There's a reason the relationship doesn't work. You two were dating and had communication issues. How can you expect to reach each other now?

Also, don't forget that sometimes even the people who initiate the breakups have to do some elaborate mental gymnastics to convince themselves that their former partner was a cruel wench and/or cad. Sometimes a person knows that it just isn't working, and doesn't have the maturity or courage to call it off in a straightforward matter. Instead, they come at you with never before voiced accusations and maybe even convince themselves that the entire relationship was a series of wrongs against them. Maybe this is simply his emotionally immature way of recovering from the end of your serious relationship. Does he really feel wronged by you? I don't know. It doesn't really matter. So, get over it.

Sorry about your diagnosis. Reach out to your friends and family; I know you said they have their own problems but we all do. Mutual support is important. Best of luck.
posted by murfed13 at 4:20 PM on December 12, 2012

It may help you frame/think of the breakup in a couple of ways:

1) his refusal to engage with you is not him punishing you, but him putting space between the two of you that will ultimately help both of you move past the (romantic) relationship. A breakup is (usually) not a punishment for not being a good enough partner, at least not in a healthy relationship.

2) reciprocity in relationships is desirable but not always attainable. Dwelling on what you did and what he didn't do (benefit of the doubt) is not helpful. Mutual breakups with no hard feelings are rare. I understand that you don't want to feel angry and hurt, and you don't want him to feel angry and hurt at you, but that's not something you can control here. You can make peace with yourself over this, but you can't force him to join you there -- and you'll be wasting valuable time dwelling on the mistakes of the past.

Regarding your health issues, yes, you should lean on friends and family, and (let them lean on you, too (just take on what you feel comfortable handling). I know it may feel like you are burdening them but sometimes focusing on someone else is a great relief from one's own troubles. (My inbox is open to you, too.)

Best of luck to you.
posted by sm1tten at 4:34 PM on December 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

« Older Recommend me similar films to these Iranian ones!   |   How to jump to another Excel worksheet? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.