Recovering from a breakup
August 30, 2019 7:39 PM   Subscribe

I just finally got out of a terrible four-year relationship where I was lied to and manipulated. I'm having a hard time keeping my center now and not doing crazy things that I will regret later.

I caught him on "small" lies a few times during the relationship—mostly concealed communication with women—and forgave him each time because apart from the lying, there was no clear boundary that had been crossed, it always seemed to be fairly innocent communication. I was also hard on myself because after the first lie I got extremely jealous, insecure and controlling, and I blamed myself for contributing to the problem. And I was easy on him because of his childhood of abandonment and orphanhood.

Finally after the fourth such instance I moved out. And yet I found myself working on myself during the gap, doing therapy of various kinds to help myself be more balanced and less extreme in my reactions to "earn his trust" so that he would no longer feel the need to lie to me. We spoke after the break, and it turned out he had spent the break quite differently—in communication with every woman he'd slept with in the past (acc. to him, not to flirt, but just to make a statement to himself that he could be in touch with whoever he wanted without being restrained by me). He told a mutual friend one week after the separation that he wished he already had a new girlfriend.

I was furious but also felt finally free of him and began to plan quite an exciting future life for myself. We were out of communication for a short time. Then he wrote me an extremely repentant email about how he was so very sorry about lying and misleading me, and that he wasn't trying to get me back but wanted to share all these things with me about how much he has learnt from me, and what a wonderful person I am, and how he will take these lessons on his journey ahead. Then another email about how I don't need to be in touch if I don't want to, but freedom felt like prison to him and the loss of me was unbearable. His tone had completely changed—suddenly he only blamed himself, not me, and was sensitive and introspective.

And I began to soften. I was sure I wanted to go ahead with my plans, but I felt sympathy for him, and began to imagine that perhaps in a long enough time, we might be at least friends or might even get together again. I was fluctuating between mistrust and wanting to believe him. I did a perhaps stupid (perhaps not?) thing by breaking into his account and testing him, and it turned out that the same time as speaking to me professing he had stopped being in contact with all the exes and was just in a mode of introspection, he was chatting with one in an innocent but very warm way. He lied through his teeth, I confronted him in rage, he responded with rage at having his privacy invaded, and that was that.

I've had nights of boiling with rage. And I find myself on the verge of doing things I might regret later like contacting his exes. I've already over-shared with random people who are more his friends than mine at the risk of sounding like a psychopath. How do I get through this time with the least damage to self-esteem and the most balance possible? I was trying out a therapist, but she really didn't work for me (too much intervention and no chemistry) so for now it's self- and mefi- therapy.
posted by miaow to Human Relations (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1. Cut off all communication with him. Delete his number. Unfollow or unfriend him. Delete all your old text messages. Purge him.

2. Find a new therapist.

3. Journal.

4. Make plans with your friends and keep busy.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:07 PM on August 30, 2019 [10 favorites]

I'm sure others will give you good advice about healing and moving on but in the meanwhile, I would suggest giving your anger an outlet: start a comic book/graphic novel starring YOU as the hero and him as the hapless bad guy that gets what's coming to him in each and every chapter. Have fun with it. Think big and then make it even more over the top. Make sure each chapter shows him suffering and you going on with a wonderful life. If you can't draw, that's fine. If Randall Monroe can have a successful comic with just stick figures, so can you. Plus no one need ever see it. Hopefully you have enough fun doing it (and enough satisfaction with your vicarious revenge) that it will ease the pressure to do something in real life. Good Luck!
posted by metahawk at 8:09 PM on August 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

Do what makes you happy. Keep doing that. Break ups are so hard and they suck. The beauty of going through a break up is learning how to handle it with grace and how to be gentle with yourself and your emotions. Learning how to take care of yourself and loving yourself remembering to be kind to YOU because you're in pain. It gets easier. Truly. Get through one day at a time until you've put enough days behind you to the point you realize you're not looking back anymore, but ahead to your future.

Time is precious. Life is short. And love that doesn't hurt is so life changing. So don't waste another minute on what causes you pain or on someone that doesn't have your well-being in mind. Each moment you waste on someone that doesn't deserve it, you are taking from someone who does. Find solace and peace within yourself. As the saying goes, people are in your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. You have to let go of what is holding you back to move forward and become the you that you want to be. Take care.
posted by VyanSelei at 8:32 PM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Don't let your anger at this man drive you to compromise your own values or sacrifice your self-respect. He's not worth it. Find any other thing you could be doing. Clean your gutters if you have to.
posted by praemunire at 8:39 PM on August 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

Internet stranger says: Don't go back to that guy, ever. Find a way to get as much of that anger and rage out of you starting now or it will fester and go bad in your soul.

Let it out in a way that works for you-- take up kickboxing, write a novel, talk to friends, scream at the sky in the mountains all night long, draw a comic book like that one guy suggested, keep a journal like that other girl suggested, help build a house at Habitat for Humanity and every nail you pound is landing on his face until you are free and clear and laughing at yourself and ready for the next better try at love.

Do whatever it takes, and then be ready for that person (who is coming) that will adore every aspect of you.
posted by seasparrow at 8:52 PM on August 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

No contact. He may not be a bad person, but he’s acting like one.
posted by bigplugin at 8:58 PM on August 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

You know that you have to erase him from your life to get past all of this. So I'm not going to talk about that. (But believe me that I know what it's like. When my heart was broken, I had to delete the freaking Golf Channel from my TV because the man I loved really liked golf!) But I'm going to tell you what to do INSTEAD of thinking about him.

Make a list of everything that interested you in life before you ever met him -- things that had nothing to do with his impact on your life. Movies and TV (and genres of them) you were a sucker for when you were seven or seventeen, or whenever. Music you danced around your living room to with your friends. Reread books that made you happy when you were younger that had nothing to do with romance. (For these purposes, I'm a fan of Barney Miller, Weird Al Yankovic, and Ellen Raskin, for example.)

Next, make a list of things you never did, even though you wanted to, because...whyever/whatever, whether it's because he didn't like it or any other reason. I didn't take Italian in college because I worried it would ruin my GPA. So, now, I study Italian. Did you know? There's no GPA in adulthood!
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 11:41 PM on August 30, 2019 [20 favorites]

Definitely try another therapist. If you're having a really hard time finding someone new, go back to an old one and just be really frank about what you need. "I'm having a horrible time and I need to just say my feelings for a while without interruption, can I do that with you."

Definitely go no contact.

Falling in love is like heroin. I have found it helpful to think of the post-breakup stage as going through withdrawal and being in recovery. It is quite natural that it sucks so much, and it is okay to need a lot of support and to be extra nice to yourself.

Take a lot of deep breaths. Be *really* nice to yourself. Remember that the sucky feelings will go away eventually. Try a few different exercise classes and see if there's anything that helps with the rumination (for me this is boxing). Explore something exciting and new that you've always wanted to try - pottery, guitar, hiking. Volunteer. Pottery was pretty great for me because your hands are covered with mud and you can't really be throwing a pot and checking texts at the same time.

Do you have a friend who will be your lifeline? Someone you can call or text when you have urges to do things you might later regret, who will give you the right amount of bluntness and compassion in the moment. You probably know more people than you think who will do this for you.
posted by bunderful at 7:56 AM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

I feel like I could have written this myself, and I'm (today!!) 11 weeks out of a five year relationship that was very similar. What helped me was:

1. Going 100% no contact. You have to. It's hard but it's worse and prolonging if you don't. Block them on all social media.
2. I bought a journal specifically for writing about the break up, and did so in it and am still doing so. The journal also now acts as receipts for all the manipulative bullshit he put me through at the end.
3. I allowed myself to have the bad days and told myself during them that you must go through, not around. You have to feel the hurt to get to the point where it lessens til it's not there anymore. Funnel all the impulsive questions and anger and frustration into your journal and feel them but don't act, or talk to your friends about what you want to do, but know you won't.
4. I had one friend who acted as my updater so I wouldn't be smacked in the face by information from other mutual friends if I ran into them.
5. I read somewhere at the start of it that it takes 11 weeks on average to feel better after a break up, so for the last 11 weeks I was gentle with myself, and it was a great talking point when telling my friends about it. "oh I'm halfway through the shit this week!" Treat it as a training program you're going through.

The rest of my life, the focusing on work and my chosen causes, going to yoga, hanging out and making new friends, that is all stuff I realized I would have been doing (and used to do!) if it wasn't for him. Those things are who I am, and he got in the way of that.
posted by teslacoilswoah at 9:14 AM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

I did a perhaps stupid (perhaps not?) thing by breaking into his account and testing him
And I find myself on the verge of doing things I might regret later like contacting his exes.

the biggest and best consolations you can have, for as long as you're stuck in the unhappy period of getting over him, are a sense of righteousness and a sense of superiority. so for god's sake don't throw any more of that away, the very worst thing you can do for your mental well-being is to put yourself in a position where you genuinely owe him an apology. don't worry about making missteps or having regrets, worry about being and staying better than he is.

there are a lot of privacy violations that are forgivable or even the best rational course of action to protect yourself while you're in a dangerous relationship. breaking into someone's boundaried intimate space to protect yourself from cheating, abuse, etc. is often a good idea. but none of the justifications for doing that applied after you left. it isn't a matter of being "perhaps stupid," it wasn't stupid what you did, it was just wrong. he didn't fulfill his basic emotional responsibilities to you when he was your boyfriend, but he doesn't have those responsibilities anymore.

you can (I think should) hold a grudge, you can stay angry as long as you need to, you can tell anybody you know what you think of him, you can pursue any outstanding practical or legal matters, but all those emotional debts are cancelled. that's what breaking up means. you can't go after him to collect on any of those anymore, the account is closed.

if there is any part of you that's not just vindictive but that still wants him back, watch out for the unconscious urge to equalize. I mean that you can see it's unhealthy to talk to him as long as the two of you are on different levels, and you know that you can't drag him up or over to yours, but there's a another way to be equals which is you lowering yourself down to him. and people really do this, maybe unconsciously maybe not, to feel closer to the person they lost by being like them and to remove the rational reasons to stay apart. so get on a level up and stay there, for your own safety.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:15 AM on August 31, 2019 [9 favorites]

Honor your anger. Feel it. You can't control how you feel, and feelings aren't wrong. You can control how you react.

Journal. Write awful angst ridden poetry. Do all the self care types of things that help you feel the feelings and move through them.

Find another therapist. I went through a divorce and then the breakup of my rebound relationship. It took me a few tries to find the right therapist but when I did it helped immensely.

Good luck to you.
posted by Sequined Ballet Flats at 9:47 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Since you don't have access to a good therapist at this very moment, there are books on DBT that might be a lot of help for you right now. The thing with DBT that is helpful in these circumstances is that it tends to work on how to deal with really overwhelming emotions in the moment. All of this rage and hurt is something you need to actually have a toolkit for, and if you don't, that's when you wind up doing things you regret later.

There might be better ones and you might look at others if this one doesn't work for you, but the one I picked up was called Calming the Emotional Storm by Sherri van Dijk. Pretty sure I actually originally got that because of an incredibly bad breakup, myself.

Even if you're working through this sort of thing, you should really be continuing to work on finding a therapist who works for you. But--this kind of therapy is really more of a skill than anything. Private lessons, as it were, are great if you can get them, but the important thing is actually your ability to commit to learning. Once you do that, you can get a lot out of books and the internet.
posted by Sequence at 2:37 AM on September 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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