How to stop dwelling on my previous unpleasant relationship
March 31, 2013 8:03 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a happy relationship but still have thoughts about my previous unhappy relationship. Sometimes it's worry that the current one will go sour like the previous one, and sometimes I actually wish the previous one had worked, even though it was toxic. How do I stop this and just focus on the present?

I've been in a relationship for a few months. We're both in our 30s. My boyfriend is supportive and talented and fun, and makes me really happy. We spend a lot of time together. When we have disagreements, he is patient and respectful.

A few years ago, I had a year-long relationship. Ex told me that I was the important person to him, but was rarely affectionate. He had a demanding and high-impact job. He would make time for me, but frequently days would pass without seeing each other, which bothered me.

Ex and I had a couple of breakups during the relationship, sometimes initiated by me and sometimes him. After each breakup, he became more distant, and was more critical of me. He loved me but said I was too loud and pushy. He didn't like my hobbies, how I decorated my home, how I dressed. When I talked about my work or hobbies, he was sometimes helpful, but sometimes condescending. I stopped talking to him about those things, and then he said we lacked connection. He was critical in general, and said negative things about everyone in his life.

It has been a long time of no-contact with my ex, but I feel that the shadow of my previous relationship is still affecting me. Because the previous relationship was happy for the first few months, I worry that the new relationship is happy now but will go downhill too. I also have moments of wishing that my previous relationship had worked out, even though it made me miserable and the new relationship is supportive.

I would like to never think about my ex any more. I'd like to be focused on the present. If you've had experience with this, how did you achieve this? Did you get back in touch with your ex to remind yourself of how unpleasant it was? Did you just wait it out over many months?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
This isn't about your previous relationship; this is about anxiety. You're just choosing your previous relationship to justify anxiety about this one.

If you're not seeing someone about your anxiety, it may be worthwhile to make an appointment.
posted by xingcat at 8:15 AM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's hard. Even though my ex was emotionally, psychologically, and physically abusive, I have this problem sometimes too. It's almost like his treating me poorly is what has me hooked in this way. That might be similar for you, I don't know.

Therapy, specifically CBT and a focus on mindfulness, has helped with this particular thing. Meditation may also be something to look into.
posted by sockermom at 8:28 AM on March 31, 2013


It is really hard. CBT, mindfulness, therapy helped me. Work through understanding your triggers and what can upset you. Know what pushes your buttons and how not to fall into self-destructive thinking.

Also, my fiance knows about my abusive marriage and when I was once having a moment where I was 100% predicting a current situation's unforeseen outcome on the abusive patterns inherent in my previous relationship, my fiance had to remind me, "I'm not your ex, ____ isn't going to happen."

It does help to have a partner who understands that sometimes, your past is going to color your current state of mind and who can roll with that.
posted by kinetic at 8:53 AM on March 31, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because the previous relationship was happy for the first few months, I worry that the new relationship is happy now but will go downhill too.

It might. But you have some insights into your previous relationship that you can put into use here.

He was critical in general, and said negative things about everyone in his life.

If you're like most people who are blinded by new love, you likely had hints of this early on but ignored them. Try to take an objective view of your current relationship. Is this guy negative? Are you more enthusiastic than him, have you already had to convince him to do things, have you felt unsupported in small ways? The things that give you a momentary twinge early on can become the things that are "final straws" later.

I don't mean to go looking for trouble. Don't worry about toothpaste-cap things; they can be dealt with through communication. But things that make you feel crappy, even for a minute, are the things to watch out for.

I also have moments of wishing that my previous relationship had worked out, even though it made me miserable and the new relationship is supportive.

You're still anxious, and looking for something to anchor that anxiety to. Deal w/the anxiety and you'll stop looking back.
posted by headnsouth at 9:07 AM on March 31, 2013 [3 favorites]


Many people will tell you some variant of "forget the past, go be awesome."

They are trying to be helpful. But the operative word in that phrase is not "forget," but "go."

Go. As in, "move elsewhere." Not necessarily a physical move, although that's fine, but definitely a psychological one. Go somewhere and do something you have not done before. Do this again and again.

Soon, you will find that you've forgotten that you need to forget.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:14 AM on March 31, 2013 [14 favorites]


Chiming in to say No! Do not contact your ex! It sounds like you don't need any reminders of the toxicity of the past relationship...it will only delay you forgetting him and moving on. May not be the most comfortable tactic to take for your new partner either. If your boyfriend really is supportive talking to him might help. I had similar fears in my new relationship and I was surprised how quickly they disappeared just by talking to my partner.
posted by Valkyrie21 at 10:22 AM on March 31, 2013


All relationships are good at the beginning. The fact that yours was good and went bad is not a sign that this one will be the same way. Maybe thinking of this as a logical fallacy ("All babies are cute, but the last one grew up to be a horrible person") will help.
posted by 3491again at 11:07 AM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


Once in a while, I'll start thinking about people who were jerks to me - an ex, a lousy former colleague. When I think of them, I allow myself to think, briefly, yeah, that guy was the worst, I hope he's miserable wherever he is, etc. Sometimes I'll even mention to my husband or a friend that I was thinking about this person. But then, I let it go.

In yoga, we frequently talk about clearing our minds but also that clearing your mind is hard and stuff just pops in there and that's okay. You don't have to indulge thoughts like that. They're just like clouds floating by, just passing through, no big deal.

I understand where you're coming from and I have similar experiences. But I think it's like any other wound in that time heals.
posted by kat518 at 1:53 PM on March 31, 2013 [2 favorites]


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