How to process personal criticism from a failed relationship?
March 9, 2015 1:40 PM   Subscribe

Very messy breakup that involved a lot of confusing signals and a lot of personal criticism. How do I untangle this, get healthy, and work on being a better person?

I very recently was dumped after a 2 year-long relationship with someone I really cared for. Our relationship got off to a rough start, and definitely had rocky times, but I felt like when things were working we were very happy together.

We moved into a new home together in August, but had a lot of conflict. It seemed like the central conflict of our relationship was often about my intent -- whether I had done something in an intentionally mean way, whether I was sincere in my apologies, so forth. Often I would say that I was sorry, but I really wasn't trying to be mean, or I really was sorry, and would be told that I was wrong, or that my SO knew my apology wasn't sincere because my voice had a nasty tone. It was really difficult to deal with, but I wanted my SO to believe me that I was trying and being sincere, so I kept at it.

As time went on it turned into even more of a battle about these kinds of things. My SO would often talk about things with their therapist, and it seemed like they would make a decision and my SO would tell me that I was wrong based on what their therapist said. Sometimes it even felt that my SO and their therapist were teaming up on me. Apparently the therapist (who had never treated me) told my SO that I had deep emotional problems and that we could never have a successful relationship until I went to therapy. Whenever I tried to talk about problems that my SO had, or talk about how they were doing things that exacerbated the problems my SO was feeling, I usually got shot down and we never really got to talk about them.

We ended up going to couples counseling for a few months. I was resistant at first, but I really liked the counselor and thought we were starting to make progress. I felt like some of the things I had been discussing with my SO for a while (without success) were finally coming up in therapy. After one meeting in which I felt like we really started to discuss some important things, my SO went home to visit family for a few days, and later phoned me to say that the counselor was biased toward me, that the counselor was unqualified, and that my SO would be moving back home permanently.

After that, we had about a month of remote contact. We affirmed our love for each other and started to try and figure out the logistics of repairing our relationship. A lot of our conversations still involved a lot of anger from my SO - I was really trying to talk with them about working on our communication patterns, but I felt like our conversations were often derailed by anger about things in the past. We had a long conversation where my SO said that they loved me, and wanted to be with me, and it felt again like we were making some progress. I went away for a few days and we communicated minimally; when I came back, my SO told me that they had kissed a mutual friend a few days ago and that our relationship would never work, mostly because of my problems.

Our final conversation was just a week ago. I felt blindsided by the events above and just wanted to have some understanding and closure. We talked on the phone for about two hours, and I listened while my SO told me all the reasons that we couldn't be in a relationship -- that I had deep personal problems, that I'd need to change significantly for the relationship to work (and my SO did not believe that I could change), that I was being nice now but had made too many mistakes in the past. I told my SO that even though I wanted to repair the relationship, I wasn't going to fight, and so we had a teary goodbye. Despite my normal good judgment, I told my SO that I thought that they were the love of my life, and they said that they felt the same way about me. They said that they would never get over me, and that they would like to think that we could try again someday. And we said our goodbyes.

Fast forward a few days and I, through internet stalking (yes, I should know better) read that my SO spent that night with the mutual friend, and they were dating. I boxed up the rest of my SO's things and got them out of the house, and am spending my time grieving this relationship, crying, and reminding myself not to internet stalk.

My question is, I guess, how do I make my peace with this situation? It's obviously over and there is nothing I can do to fix it. This whole process has felt like such an emotional roller coaster, from feeling optimistic to feeling forgotten to feeling betrayed. And even though I am a grown ass adult, I always felt like this relationship was special and it seemed like they felt that way too.

Most of all, I still can't shake the criticisms and the things that my SO said about me -- about how I just didn't get it, about how they were the one who was trying in our relationship, that our relationship failed because I eroded my SO's trust in me. My SO grew up in an abusive household with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and my therapist said that sometimes these kinds of defensive reactions are common for people who grew up in that kind of environment. My friends (including exes) who know me say that many of my SO's comments feel wrong, that I am a good and kind person and that anyone who sees me as a problem in the relationship doesn't deserve me. I really do feel like some of my SO's comments were unfair, but I also want to do the best I can to find any problems I do have and fix them. And, of course, I can't escape the feeling that if I had said or done something different that I could have saved this relationship.

I'm going to therapy which is helping, and I am reaching out to my friend networks more than I had before. I am trying to schedule a meeting with our former couples counselor to go through some of this. But I would appreciate any advice about how to untangle my feelings about my SO telling me the relationship ending was my fault, that I have problems that I'm not acknowledging or aware of, and how to reconcile that with what has felt like such angry and uncaring behavior from my SO. I don't know that my SO has NPD or any other abusive behaviors (and I really hope they don't!), but it had come up in some of our therapy discussions. I know that getting over a breakup takes time and care, but I feel like everything about our interactions recently has led to maximum stress and doubt on my part. Thank you for your help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
my SO told me that they had kissed a mutual friend a few days ago and that our relationship would never work, mostly because of my problems

I still can't shake the criticisms and the things that my SO said about me

Wow. Your SO was an abusive POS who you're lucky to be rid of. I wasted three years of my life with this guy and it took me a good long while to get over the damage he caused. Good for you for doing therapy and reaching out to friends. Remember that the crap he said about you was because he was emotionally abusing you, not because it's true. Be kind to yourself.
posted by jabes at 1:53 PM on March 9, 2015 [45 favorites]

You've escaped an abusive relationship. As you have experienced, abuse can be emotional as well as physical. Your former SO needed someone to blame for his unhappiness. You obliged. BTW, he was lying about the negative things he said the counselor said about you... in his narcissism, he may actually believe he heard those things, but that's not what the counselor was saying to him. The problems in his life are his alone.

Keep going to therapy, and work on fixing anything amiss in your own life. Keep at it until you KNOW that: 1) You can spot an abuser a mile away, and 2) you enjoy and love yourself. Then you'll be ready to love someone else. Don't take phone calls, emails, or visits from your former SO.

Congratulations on escaping - I know from experience it can be terrifying at first. But if you keep working on it, eventually you'll recognize the precious freedom you've gained and the bullet you've dodged.
posted by summerstorm at 1:55 PM on March 9, 2015 [15 favorites]

My best guess is that the criticisms were all projection, and it might help if you picture your ex saying it as an admission about themself: "I have deep personal problems. I'd need to change significantly for the relationship to work, and I do not believe I can change. I seem nice now, but I have made too many mistakes in the past."

Your ex probably doesn't understand how to do a breakup when it's no one's fault. And they didn't want it to be their fault. So they made it be your fault. But it's not your fault. It's no one's fault. I'm so sorry.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:55 PM on March 9, 2015 [15 favorites]

I told my SO that I thought that they were the love of my life, and they said that they felt the same way about me. They said that they would never get over me, and that they would like to think that we could try again someday. And we said our goodbyes.

I did that too with my ex. And then after a bit of living without them and without dealing with their *expectations*, I felt so much lighter and happier. I stopped crying everyday, which I was doing even during the relationship. And eventually I found someone I am actually happy with.

I think it's ok to sometimes be emotionally vulnerable, even when you're fighting or breaking up.

My SO grew up in an abusive household with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and my therapist said that sometimes these kinds of defensive reactions are common for people who grew up in that kind of environment.

It is also very common for people who grew up with a narcissist to then become a narcissist themselves. Therapists have difficulties diagnosing these people, because of their charm. And even if they could, often they hesitate because old school thinking is that personality disorders are difficult and mostly impossible to treat.

Furthermore, it doesn't sound like he had a good therapist or that he really worked on his issues. If he stuck with a therapist who was willing to pin all the blame on you, then he was the one who wanted to be the "good" person or the "right" person. So you could've gone to counseling, but he wasn't ever going to hear what he actually needed to hear to become a better person--because he didn't want to become a better person.

My friends (including exes) who know me say that many of my SO's comments feel wrong, that I am a good and kind person and that anyone who sees me as a problem in the relationship doesn't deserve me.

Listen to your friends. And your exes. Listen to people who know you and care about you.

As for fixing problems in future relationships... every relationship is different. When you meet the right person, they will be kind, loving, and forgiving. They will be willing to communicate with you about what they need, and respond to your needs. They will give you time and energy to help you grow into each other. They will forgive you if you don't get it right on the first try, and be appreciative when you do get it right.

Take the time to grieve for your relationship, but it sounds like you're better off without him.
posted by ethidda at 1:55 PM on March 9, 2015 [14 favorites]

Are we clear that SO is a man?
posted by Mr.Me at 1:55 PM on March 9, 2015 [12 favorites]

You say your friends tell you that your SO's comments are wrong - I'm someone who doesn't even KNOW you, and I'm agreeing with them.

Because let's break this down a minute - it sounds like the whole thing started when your ex was questioning your "intent" when you did something or said something. Even when you apologized, your ex was all, "you don't SOUND sorry." So that sounds to me like your ex just didn't want to like anything you did.

And then when you said your couples' counselor finally encouraged you to start talking through things and resolving things, suddenly your ex ran off and said "it's no fair, the counselor likes you best."

That's two big enormous red flags that tell me that your ex was someone who always wanted to be right. But saying that your ex was raised by someone with narcissistic personality disorder kind of clinched it - your ex hasn't dealt with that themselves yet, it sounds like, and until they do, they will treat people they love the way they were treated as a child.

And all of that says to me that your ex is the one with more old issues than a library's National Geographic collection, and that you were being mistreated.

Now - even though we're all telling you this, it may take a while for you to believe it, so don't worry if you still have moments of feeling like that. You say you're already in therapy- this is definitely still something you can work through with your therapist. But this is all definitely screaming that your ex is the one with a BIIIIIG problem, or at least a warped perception of reality, and was not a good match for you.

Good luck. You'll get through this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:01 PM on March 9, 2015 [35 favorites]

That whole "intent" thing - telling you what you mean, what you think, and what you feel? That's gaslighting. Inventing an outside authority that you have no access to in order to control your behavior? Gaslighting.

You've been psychologically tortured. Perhaps they didn't "mean" to (after all, we cannot know what another person intended), but that doesn't mean they aren't still dangerous or that you haven't been abused.

You may want to talk to your therapist about treatment modalities for domestic abuse PTSD.

There will be a point where you will look back and think "thank fuck I got out of that before anything permanent happened", but a lot of people have to walk through the broken glass of "I can't trust my own judgement/it's my fault" first, and that can be a difficult time to take on without someone to help you.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:07 PM on March 9, 2015 [48 favorites]

Yikes. Best case, that was emotional manipulation. i doesn't feel like it right now, but him being out of your life is such a good thing.
posted by cecic at 2:10 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

The other thing to keep in mind is that, you honestly have no idea what the therapist said. You could very well be hearing what your ex made up in their head. We all have things we need to change behaviorally, but those possible defects shouldn't be used to justify a breakup. They were totes using their issues to justify their own behavior, as well. Hang in there.
posted by Issithe at 2:14 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

You have a lot of evidence here that your perception is correct and your SO's is incorrect: Your friends and exes have said that your SO is wrong. Your couple's therapist supported you.

You have a lot of evidence that your now-ex refused to address his part in any issues: You ex refused to talk about those issues with you. Your ex ended couple's therapy when the therapist tried to talk about them with both you.

You have a lot of evidence that your now-ex is a liar: They cheated on you on at least two occasions.

Putting this together, it is very reasonable to assume that they lied about what their therapist said about you, or that they lied to their therapist about you (or both). It is also reasonable to assume that if everyone else in your life is telling you that you are a good thoughtful person, and only one person -- who is shown to be a liar -- is telling you differently, that that one person is lying and wrong.

Even if your SO didn't hit you, they sound emotionally abusive. There is no actual rhyme or reason to what they said about you, except that they were trying to damage you and make themselves feel better. Please don't tie yourself into knots trying to fix yourself -- you are not the one who is broken.
posted by jaguar at 2:17 PM on March 9, 2015 [8 favorites]

As a general rule, anyone who claims that a third party in a position of authority has criticized you, without ever having met you, and it is impossible/highly unlikely for you to ever meet or speak with them, that is as fishy as a freshly-stocked fishery pond.

Especially when no one else apart from that single person says that sort of thing about you.

It's great that you've gone to therapy and are reaching out to so many people. One of the hardest things I've had to face in my own dealings with abuse (this guy was emotionally abusive), has been accepting that you may (probably!) never know why they did it, and that not knowing is okay. It can even be freeing.
posted by fraula at 2:39 PM on March 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

I'm so sorry. You have survived an emotionally abusive relationship. (I'm not sorry that you survived, just sorry that you went through it.) Even though it's probably true that you have issues that you can work on, (which is true because that's the case for everything human being, not because of anything that your SO said), you're not the person your ex was/is trying to make you believe you are.

Abuse doesn't have to mean hitting you and making threats. It can be more insidious and manipulative and subtle than that. I've recommended this book before on the Green. I think this will give you some clarity into what went wrong in your relationship.

Also, talking to other people about your relationship is... tricky. People makes all sorts of comments about things they don't know shit about. I've had people tell me with absolute certainty things about me relationship that were 100% the opposite of reality. Just because your ex's therapist said things, that doesn't mean he/she was right. S/he could've been absolutely wrong.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 2:41 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I still can't shake the criticisms and the things that my SO said about me... about how they were the one who was trying in our relationship...

You know what someone who's really trying in a relationship will never say? "I'm the one who's trying in this relationship."

Your former SO was done with you and didn't have the guts and/or self-awareness to just come out and say "I don't want to be in this relationship anymore," so they made themself the martyr. And it's a shitty thing for them to have done. When you find yourself thinking, "What if SO was right...", close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember that they checked out of that relationship and then decided to make you feel like the bad one, for no better reason than justifying the breakup to themself.

It wasn't you. It was them.
posted by Etrigan at 2:52 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't think number of people who believe/agree/disagree is ever relevant. Sometimes lots of people can have the same skewed, untrue belief and sometimes one person CAN be the sole correct perspective contra masses of dissenters. Now, I'm not saying that your SO's counselor was right (that you have hella issues) OR that your friends/family are right (that you have no issues at all - these people as concerned friends and family are biased to say unconditionally supportive words to you; it's expedient and politic).

That said, some useful advice: that is your ex's version of reality whether your version of reality agrees or not. Best you can do for starters if you want to mend this is listen to and accept each other's perception of the situation and go from there. But this is probably advice used for the future; it sounds like regardless of who you are, your ex is the type of person who gives up and isn't willing to do the work. I'm sorry, best wishes on healing. Time will bring peace and perspective.
posted by MeFiMouse at 2:52 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

We are only getting your side of this, but regardless of your issues (or not issues) this SO is a jerk and has their own material psychological problems. I am not sure what to tell you to get over it, know that this breakup is in YOUR best interests.
posted by 724A at 2:59 PM on March 9, 2015

Others have suggested that your SO might have had NPD. It also sounds a lot like Borderline Personality Disorder. Both are Cluster B Personality Disorders, and there can be overlap.

One of the key hallmarks of BPD is that people with it crave closeness, but become terrified when they get it and then act out and/or withdraw. Their relationships are very, very unstable as a result. And being in a relationship with someone with BPD is very confusing and difficult.

Often a step forward in closeness or commitment in the relationship triggers the kinds of behavior you are describing. You identified your move to a new home together as the start of a lot of conflict, so that really struck me.

Read more about BPD and being in relationship with someone who has it at

All breakups are difficult, but getting over a relationship with someone with a personality disorder is especially hard. Whether a personality disorder is at play here or not, I'm really sorry you are going through this kind of heartbreak. Feel free to memail me.
posted by magnislibris at 3:01 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm really stuck on this 'intent' thing - how often was this person perceiving what you said or did to be 'mean'?

It all sounded like so much effort, so draining, and in fact, if you were spending so much time 'trying', you could never just relax and be yourself.

I agree with everyone else who says that, while this is undoubtedly painful now, it will get easier, and one day you will be grateful this ended when it did.

Edited to ask: this post is very much about how your ex perceived you, and the labels and criticisms they put on you. Deep down, honestly, do you believe they were accurate? Do you really believe you are this mean-spirited person who cannot function in an appropriate manner around others? The fact that a therapist hasn't brought your inherent nastiness to your attention, and the fact that you seem to have a circle of good friends, would suggest to me that, no, this isn't an accurate portrayal of who you are.
posted by NatalieWood at 3:04 PM on March 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Regarding my previous comment, you can additionally find cold comfort that you WON'T (probably ever) get validation for your perspective from your ex in this situation nor should you expect to or want to. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you can let this go. This is what irreconcilable differences means, and unfortunately it is common.
posted by MeFiMouse at 3:10 PM on March 9, 2015

I also want to affirm what multiple people have said above - you dated a complete shithead.

I am not entirely sure what to offer as far as advice for getting over it. Sounds like you're taking some solid steps in that direction. Time will give perspective.

Do not, ever, for any reason, think about trying to work this one out in the future. You know what? You can have more than one "love of your life" in one life. And just because you love someone, they can still hurt you and break you and you can be healthier without them. If this person ever tries to contact you again, run the other way.

Maybe something to think about (and I'm kind of reaching here because I don't think I know enough about you, so I'm just throwing it out there) is boundaries. What I mean is something like this: if someone says they don't like your tone after you've apologized, you let them know that you've given an apology and they may accept it or not and that's up to them.

They are the ones who get to choose if they believe your intent was good or not. You have no way to control their feelings about things like that. If you make a mistake, apologize and they refuse to accept your apology or believe it was a mistake, that's their problem, not yours.

I hope that helps. Good luck!

Edit: in other words, own your shit, and make sure other people own theirs. This person was trying to make you own their shit. Don't let anyone do that to you.
posted by natteringnabob at 3:16 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Friendly reminder folks, please don't use the edit function to add content. Just add a second comment. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:20 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't know; I am having a lot of trouble with this question. I feel like my own ex could have written it, because this was all the stuff he truly believed about our relationship: that he was trying, that things were good when they were good, that we just had some "rocky times," that I was still too "angry" about things that happened in the past (which is not the same as trying to explain how the situation we were in was cyclical and predictable), that my therapist was against him and thought he had mental issues... I mean, even down to the experience of going to the couples counselor... I took a trip out of town after a visit with the counselor, and then made the choice that I couldn't do it anymore. Because at that visit, where we "talked about the hard stuff" and he "felt like we made progress" he also threw something at her wall, ran out of the office, and then she turned to me and said, "He is abusing you. You should leave him. I don't usually give advice, but this is a dangerous situation. Also, you two can no longer be my clients, because once a client is violent in my office, I do not allow them to return." I tell this story because the way your question is framed leaves out context - as ANY question on Metafilter does - and because the context is missing I don't think that ANYONE here can really tell you "yes this was abuse" or "no you're totally awful" or anything like that. This is really a question that is too big for Metafilter.

I know that in my situation my ex was definitely the one with the issues (I mean, yeah, he had issues, wow, unquestionably). But "it takes two to tango," right? I mean, I stayed with that guy because I also had a problem that I needed to work on. But while he is still stuck in his own personal hell of god-knows-what, causing havoc, I have improved and moved on and am now healthy. And you know how I did that? By going to therapy. By making friends. By staying away from dating for awhile, and then when I did start to date, dating someone who gave me lots of space.

I don't know. I don't know what happened in your relationship. I feel uncomfortable saying "You were in an abusive relationship, you're so lucky you got out!" because the way you describe yourself is so, so, so similar to the way my ex described himself and our situation. But... we were in an abusive relationship; it was just not me who was doing the abusing. And I think abusive relationships are pretty bad for the person who is causing the bulk of the damage, too. And, to top it off, the way I was treated definitely, unquestionably, led me to some bad, borderline abusive (or maybe just textbook abusive) behavior of my own. I was like a wounded animal lashing out because he had hurt me so badly.

I wish that instead of feeling like I was attacking him, that my ex could have heard me when I finally left. That he could truly hear me saying to him: "The way you treat people you say you love is not OK. You cannot control people. You cannot pick on them for being 'fat' when they weigh 88 pounds. You can't go buy a gun and threaten to shoot yourself in the head when they go on vacation for three days. You cannot openly flirt with other women and then yell at me for feeling bad about it. You can't yell at me for 'wanting' a piece of pizza but eating a salad without dressing and not complaining about it. You can't do this stuff. This stuff is NOT OK." So I don't know: is it possible to really sit down with your therapist and be totally honest about what exactly happened, what your ex's criticisms actually are, and unpack them? As an exercise - with a therapist, not by yourself - can you really try to unpack this stuff to see whether or not it's total bullshit or whether or not it is grounded?

For example, I was able to see that my ex's criticisms were total bullshit when I did this. I really entertained it for awhile, thoughts like, "Ok, but what if he is right? It really is important to take care of yourself in a relationship, and being sexually attractive to your SO matters. If I am not watching my diet and exercising enough and I am not sexually attractive to my SO, and I'm not trying hard enough, what does that tell him about how I feel about him?" And through this exercise I was able to see that, no, this was ridiculous - that he could break up with me if I wasn't attractive sexually to him, but that eating 700 calories a day and working out every day and wasting away was pretty much the definition of trying too goddamn hard, and damn right I was trying, and that this was all about him trying to control me.

And I did this with all of the horrible shit he spewed at me, as I was leaving, and after I left, and it really helped me to see what criticisms he had that were actually not far off the mark (yes, I am a little bit obsessive sometimes, for example, and yes, I don't work as hard as many people do, but who cares, I'm as successful as I want to be) and what criticisms he had that were really just smokescreens that he used to try to control me. But I did this with my therapist and I would encourage you to do the same, because doing it by myself could have led me down a really dark path.

I am sorry that you went through this. I think that the mark of a good person is someone who questions themselves, someone who is willing to admit that they might be wrong, someone who is willing to change, and who wants to change. It sounds like you have an interest in being the best person you can be, and that is really what matters. Keep going to therapy, keep taking care of yourself, and, I don't know, man, keep asking questions. It's important to examine what role we play in things. I know that the abuse was not my fault, but I also know that I stayed with him for way longer than I should have, allowing the abuse to continue. And I know that I had literally NO boundaries when I started dating him, and then I kept failing with boundaries for awhile, and now I have boundaries and know how to set them and enforce them. So, in a very funny way, I am owed a great debt to my ex for helping me change into a better person. Certainly I haven't changed in a way that he would like - I have boundaries now, after all, and people like him hate boundaries - but I am a better person.

Take care of yourself, keep going to therapy, and I wish you all the best.
posted by sockermom at 3:21 PM on March 9, 2015 [25 favorites]

I'm generally of the belief that you can't really learn anything from an ex about whether you are relationship material. All they can tell you is that they weren't feeling it. They can give you reasons, but those are usually just flimsy excuses for "just not feeling it." And to the extent the reasons are real reasons, all that tells you is why your *ex* wasn't feeling it. It tells you just about nothing about yourself.

This goes double or triple when your ex accuses you of things that are so out of the realm of reality that you can't process them.

You're not crazy. You're not a bad person. You're not angry when you don't realize it. You're not mean unintentionally. You are a good person with good intentions and you dodged a bullet in a big big way.

I'm going to suggest that you take a long break from romantic relationships while you do some good work in therapy. I repeated a lot of mistakes in relationships while I was still learning about my unhealthy tendencies in choosing partners. I also want to add that if you come from a home environment that abused drugs or alcohol, you might consider ACA (Adult Children of Alcoholics). I only ever went to one meeting, but it really opened my eyes.

Best of luck. I feel like you were just given a new lease on life, and I look forward to the day when you see it that way, too!
posted by janey47 at 3:51 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Most partners acting in good faith will try to meet you half-way; they'll occasionally question themselves, or relent, if there's friction. The people I've known who I think are like your ex, as you've described them, have unshakeable confidence in their perspectives. They take on the authority of defining your reactions, and writing the history of the relationship - that's part of the abuse. It's meant to destabilize and manipulate you. The fact that your ex's iron certainty is so far away from what you understood to be reality is what you should focus on as an indicator of how fucked up their POV really was and is.
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:37 PM on March 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

It seems that the one piece of *objective* data we have here is that s/he refused to return to couples' therapy after ONE session, because s/he thought the therapist was biased in your favor.

The likelihood that this therapist just happened to be egregiously biased against him/her is extremely low.

Much more likely is that s/he's completely incapable of self reflection, hearing criticism, or accepting responsibility for personal behavior.

Huge red flag.

And I'd say that's the only objective piece of data the internet has at the moment.
posted by namesarehard at 5:53 PM on March 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't mean to sound harsh, but I wanted to offer a different perspective from the "your ex is diagnosably disordered and you are their victim" camp. This question sounds a little one-sided, more so than the usual relationship questions, and I think it's because you don't give any specific illustrations or examples of any of your conflicts.

Since you say you are interested in working on your personal flaws, which I think is a painful but worthwhile use of post-breakup time, I don't think it would hurt to look at the recurrent criticisms and see if there is anything you want to tackle there. If there's no grain of truth, just discard it and move on. You don't have to buy into their entire narrative of you, just the bits and pieces that might ring painfully true.

You are really vague here, but you mention things going off track due to your ex's anger about things in the past. So, this is where I'd start: what happened in the past? If you cheated on, lied to, hit, name-called, made nasty cutting remarks to, mocked, disrespected, controlled, humiliated, manipulated, etc. your partner, then you can expect simmering resentment from a partner. And now you have the chance to look at this in the clear light of day and really work on these things. For your own benefit. (And if this isn't you, then please disregard what I'm saying and listen to everyone else.)

Don't interview your friends about this to see who's "right" here--our friends don't know much about how we are privately in relationships--take your own inventory, and take this opportunity to tell the truth about yourself, to yourself.
posted by kapers at 6:11 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

My SO would often talk about things with their therapist, and it seemed like they would make a decision and my SO would tell me that I was wrong based on what their therapist said. Sometimes it even felt that my SO and their therapist were teaming up on me. Apparently the therapist (who had never treated me) told my SO that I had deep emotional problems and that we could never have a successful relationship until I went to therapy.

Well, this is complete bullshit. No therapist worth their salt will weigh in like this about a dispute between partners-- although, as pointed out by someone above, you ex may truly believe the therapist said these things.

Otherwise, how so you process this criticism? With your therapist. Forget about this whole thing of having someone declare you right or your ex right. The question now is, can you learn from any of this? Did your ex make any comments that you can take on board and use for personal growth? A lot of times, people throw out criticism randomly to have an excuse for breaking up. But if there is anything that sticks, that haunts you, maybe in that one regard your ex hit on a truth that can now be useful for you. Take what's useful and disregard the rest.
posted by BibiRose at 6:35 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is merely my opinion, but I think your ex is not a very nice person. I'm admittedly very skeptical of letters like yours, but having read it over carefully, and based on many other, similar letters I've seen here, I quite frankly think your ex is a manipulative, lying psycho who inflicted a lot of thoughtless verbal abuse upon you.

Pragmatically, I'd suggest 3 things:

1. Double down on your therapy.

2. See if you can have at least one final one-on-one "closure" session with your couples counselor. I don't know if there are any professional rules on this kind of thing, but I know I once arranged such a thing myself, years ago, and it was helpful.

3. As difficult as it will be, try to forget the things your ex told you. Or at the very least, try hard to remember that their words were largely lies and deceit. It won't be easy. But if you find yourself replaying an old conversation in your head, try - just as an experiment - replaying the conversation and imagine that you're being lied to.
posted by doctor tough love at 7:29 PM on March 9, 2015 [3 favorites]

I was just typing a similar answer to doctor tough love's #3. Can you just... not untangle all this? Because while it's admirable to try to learn from a failed relationship and be a better person, maybe now is not the time for that.

I'll admit, before I read your entire question, I just focused on the part where you broke up and your ex said it was all your fault and it was because of your problems. That is rarely true, and it made me think that you were taking the ex's statements way too seriously and seeing them as reflections on you, when they just sound like bullshit to me. Then I read the rest of your question and that feeling was reinforced.

So please, don't take everything your ex said as truth, and don't stay up at night trying to figure out how you can fix all the ways that you are wrong. Give yourself some comfort. Listen to your friends and your therapist and other objective people in your life who say that you are a good and kind person.

If you want to grow and change, maybe you can get some distance from this relationship first and then be in a better position to evaluate your ex's criticisms and decide whether you think they are valid.
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:36 PM on March 9, 2015 [4 favorites]

OP, I feel for you. I'm also of the opinion that your ex-partner is personality-disordered. It is my sense that people with NPD are fundamentally amoral. They don't change and they are not like you or I. Going no-contact with him is crucial, as it gives you the space you need to consider the situation with your higher reasoning abilities intact.

I have been helped by CoDA, which is a 12-step program on the subject of co-dependency, in which we admit powerlessness over other people, as opposed to the bottle, or food, or pills. I wonder about this: "Despite my normal good judgment, I told my SO that I thought that they were the love of my life." I understand this contradiction and the longing behind it. Gaining awareness around who and what my higher power is in life has helped me a great deal.

This is a good site on narcissistic abuse; if you're in the Seattle area, there's a good Meetup on the same subject.
posted by macinchik at 7:54 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I found dating other types of people helped me self-reflect and figure things out for myself after my divorce. My ex and I had a lot of communication issues. He treated me like I was always over-emotional when something came up, and "we" didn't have problems, "I" had problems. When it's just the two of us, I didn't really know what to make of it. Well, since him, I met more than a few guys who actually made me feel like my concerns were heard and understood, and that we could work things out and everything would be ok. And yeah I recognized that I get upset fairly easily, and that enabled me to work on myself and how I react. I also met some guys that were more emotional than me, making me the calm rational one in the relationship. Clearly I'm not as far over on the "emotional" end of the spectrum as he made me out to be. Communication skills can be learned and developed, and people change with experience and gained perspective. This is a long-term effort though.

Close friends and exes can also provide you with feedback too, to an extent - hopefully they can be kind while honestly discussing your better and lesser attributes as far as they know you. But do this later, right now you're very raw and not in a position to think about things clearly. You're allowed to mourn the loss of a relationship.
posted by lizbunny at 7:56 PM on March 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think your ex was right to break up with you because there was far more drama than necessary. One year into the relationship and you're seeing shrinks and going to couple's counseling? I think you were just not meant to be with that person.

And the fact that that he/she would publicize his/her sex life on the Internet FOR YOU TO SEE is merely confirmation that the whole relationship was unhealthy to begin with.
posted by Kwadeng at 1:30 AM on March 10, 2015

Your situation is really, really similar to one of my past relationships. It was actually a little triggering reading your experience- if I had only known at the time with my ex that so many people go through this and often don't have the tools to recognize emotionally abusive and manipulative relationships until much later into the relationship.

I just want to affirm that you're on a healthy path. The ex is gone (I broke up with mine, but only AFTER I found out he was cheating, and planning on eventually leaving me for her, I simply beat him to the breakup part, the guy just wanted a place to live until he could make the move, hence why he stayed with me...anyway.) and this is a good place. Seeking help from a qualified therapist you feel comfortable with can do wonders.

About the unhealthy criticism part. I got a lot of that. According to my ex, I was selfish, egotistical, unable to empathise, I was insensitive, I was condescending, I was demanding, I was clingy, I was unable to be independent, I was unable to take criticism like an adult, I was childish, arguments were always my fault because 1. I started them or 2. It was because of me that he started them... the list when on and on.

I felt both relieved when he was gone and terrified that everything he said was true. While deep down I didn't see myself as this description and my friends didn't either (and my therapist was blaming a lot of this on my ex and his mental illness, which BTW even he admitted to having (anxiety and dependence on some anti-anxiety drugs), I was still wondering: What if I am at least *some* of these things!? What will the next relationship be like?

In the end, it simply made me really aware. I became an incredibly self-aware person who was better able to objectively see my actions as another would see them. I was willing to accept that yes, I was flawed, and yes, perhaps sometimes I didn't take criticism well, and sometimes I was clingy, but instead of get upset about this or begin to blame myself as a person, I simply tried to find behaviour patterns or sources of why I might act in a certain way sometimes. Even people in healthy relationships could benefit from this, so I was never acknowledging that my ex's abuse was "right", rather the entire 2 year relationship was one really difficult way to look into myself and in the end, become stronger and better able to stand up for me and who I want to be.

Flash-forward a few years, and I find myself in an extremely healthy and loving relationship, one in which I am appreciated 100% and the feeling about him is reciprocated. And, strangely, I find myself more loving, more patient, and more able to be objective in some situations, "thanks" to my abusive ex and that whole fiasco. Through therapy I was able to identify patterns in my life, understand why I had been attracted to such emotionally unhealthy men, and why I had allowed myself to be pushed around, and became someone who is way, way, way more comfortable in her own skin and able to stand up to herself better than ever. That said, I am also better able to understand my SO's point of view, and even though most of the time I might say "Hey, I'm sorry, that was kind of a self-absorbed decision on my part, wasn't it?", he responds with "Naw, not really, I mean, I get why you'd react that way " (because he's amazing!), the fact that I am able to take a step back, means we have amazing communication and we can discuss our relationship in ways I have never done so before.

I just want to clarify that I am in NO WAY implying that things you ex said about you are true, or that he was right. Rather, he may have picked on some things that you did that perhaps he didn't like, (totally normal imo in couples!) but his REACTION was entirely abusive and unhealthy and inappropriate, and this comes from his side. Everything you described about your ex sounds like a person who has so much baggage and personal skeletons to deal with, and it was all just dumped on you, making you feel perhaps guilty about something you in no way were responsible for or even capable of healing, as he needs a lot of help and all these problems and their sources came BEFORE you. Definitely NOT your fault. By being self-aware, I mean simply to see how you can improve your perceptions (in my case, it is true, I know I was and still can be too sensitive, and I personally would like to be less sensitive, even though I NEVER deserved to be abused as a result of such "sensitivity", and a decent boyfriend would never do that) to be able to have a more healthy, loving, and mature relationship with the next partner in your life.

Good luck to you. Remember: it's not about him anymore, and it's all about you and your path to healing. It's not important to understand why he did what he did. It's more important to understand why you did what you did, why you stayed with him, why you are better off without him, and how you can improve your life. He doesn't count anymore.
posted by stumblingthroughitall at 1:53 AM on March 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

I don't think relationships that are meant to last should ever make you question who you are, why you do things, and how you went about doing them. that's how you train a dog, not how you treat a human being
posted by runt at 6:24 AM on March 10, 2015 [10 favorites]

We moved into a new home together in August, but had a lot of conflict. It seemed like the central conflict of our relationship was often about my intent -- whether I had done something in an intentionally mean way, whether I was sincere in my apologies, so forth. Often I would say that I was sorry, but I really wasn't trying to be mean, or I really was sorry, and would be told that I was wrong, or that my SO knew my apology wasn't sincere because my voice had a nasty tone. It was really difficult to deal with, but I wanted my SO to believe me that I was trying and being sincere, so I kept at it.

Oh no. When one partner sets up a dynamic where the other partner can never win no matter how hard they try, that is abusive. This is what abuse does, it breaks down your trust in yourself. Please don't believe what this person has said about you. Just because someone you love says something does not make it true.

I'm glad you stopped internet-stalking, that just drags out the grieving process. The only cure for this is time, and not sabotaging yourself. There really are no shortcuts. You will be okay. You may be surprised how much more relaxed you are without this person telling you that your intentions were bad. You will learn to trust yourself again.
posted by desjardins at 1:22 PM on March 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

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