When Time Doesn’t Help After A Divorce...
November 4, 2020 6:23 AM   Subscribe

It's been a while since my divorce and I want to change/alter my thinking patterns, but not sure if it's possible for some of us? I am still deeply impacted when I bump into my ex and don’t want to be any longer. Any suggestions of books, techniques, guides, or methods to help would be greatly appreciated. More details below.

Thanks in advance to those that read this. I’m in my late 30s, was married for 3 years, and together 5 years prior to marriage. I thought we were happily married (trying to start a family) until she suddenly left me. No warning, no fighting, no arguments. She sat me down one night, said she found someone else and realized she wasn’t happy until she met this guy.

It was devastating and I was crushed. I was sad, confused, spent a lot of time talking to friends and trying and figure it out. I never missed any work, I never stayed in bed and cried all day, I tried to do the best I could to move forward. After a couple of months (being really sad and hurt), I saw a therapist. I did everything the therapist said: I embraced the feelings of sadness and felt what I was feeling and didn’t try to hide it. I ‘embraced my new normal’ as he put it. I didn’t have any contact with my ex and removed her from social media. I also got rid of memory triggers (pictures). He suggested writing a letter to her (which I did), expressing all of my feelings and things I wanted to say (but not to send it - he suggested burning it). I also kept myself busy and tried new things. I took up hobbies I always wanted to do (woodworking) and started swimming and even ran a marathon. I spent more time with friends, I tried to learn to play the piano and volunteered. I never had any trouble motivating myself to do things and never felt depressed; just sad, hurt and like something was missing.

Before I knew it, a couple of years had passed. They were tough years, but I got through it. I tried dating but was never really into it and nothing ever progressed past a few dates. I live in a small city (and state) and occasionally bump into my ex. This would really affect me. I feel like I am doing fine until I would run into her. Seeing her with her husband (and now kids) really affects me more than I can describe. So, I tried therapy again (different therapist). They basically told me the same things as above, which I did again (even wore a rubber band and would snap it every time I thought of her). Nothing in therapy seemed to work (so I stopped). I even tried a couple of sessions of hypnosis (didn’t seem to work either).

So here I am, 6 years later. I am doing much better, but I still get sad and still am bothered when I think of the pain and what happened. I have no contact with her (we aren’t friends), but I do occasionally bump into her (we still have mutual friends, so we have been at the same events, weddings, etc). That’s the part that affects me the most. I seem to be ok when I don’t see her, but as soon as I do, it all comes rushing back (its as intense as the night she left). Publicly/outwardly, I am fine and we exchange pleasantries, but inside its different and I am crushed for the next couple of weeks/month and I honestly don’t know why. I thought I had moved on, but I guess I haven’t? I don’t want to be with her and I know I am better off without her and know now that it wouldn’t have worked out in the end. I don’t define myself by relationships and don’t long to be in one. I have had opportunities to date some nice people, but I am just not into it. I just lost that part of me. Maybe I don’t want to put myself through that again?

I just want her out of my head, but I can’t seem to shake it and I don’t want to be nervous walking into a coffee shop and afraid that I might run into her. I seem like I am the 1% of the population that is like this. I want to be like everyone else – who just moves on and rarely thinks of this stuff. I’ve had friends who have married, had kids, divorced and re-married since I was divorced. And here I am stuck thinking about someone I don’t want to be with and worried every time I walk into a shop of bumping into her. I want to be like most people that might think of their ex once in a while, and might have a hint of nostalgia, but that’s it. And it doesn’t bother them; they forgot it and go about their day. That’s not me.

I am taking a break from therapy (I can’t afford to spend money on something that doesn’t deem to work). I am going to keep walking and swimming and living, but I need some help from my brain to move forward from this. Is it possible for some of us to change their brain and thought patterns, or are some of us destined to be stuck? If anyone has any suggestions to assist, I am open. But please don’t say “just move on” or time will eventually heal. I don’t want to wait any longer.
posted by konaStFr to Human Relations (25 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Are you able to move somewhere else? If it's truly only the unexpected encounters (and anxiety about further ones) that get to you, those may be escapable.

I do think it's okay to feel sorrow and loss for as long as you feel them, though. Don't get mad at yourself about that.
posted by humbug at 6:41 AM on November 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks. Due to my work situation (I am involved with a family business), moving is not an option. Trust me, I have thought about it, but then I realized that it would be just running away from the anxiety and issue, and not dealing with it. I want to be able to walk into a shop and have an unexpected encounter and not be impacted by it. That is my goal and what I want to achieve with this.
posted by konaStFr at 6:52 AM on November 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I wasn't married but I was in a LTR cohabitation with someone for 3 years and it basically took me close to 7 years and a LOT of work to finally feel better and open up to someone else with full vulnerability, and even now it's kinda tricky.

So, being the nerd I am, when I found myself stuck and unable to really move on after 5 years I started to read psychosocial and neurological research on heartbreak, attachment, and grief. It really took detaching myself from my own situation and hardcore, objective science to start to really heal (also with the help of a therapist). Because we're wired via evolution as social creatures, our relationships with others affect every aspect of our physical functioning as well. Turns out the brain does what it does on it's own timeline, but for the most part I've found that it works against your best interest as an individual for, what it considers anyway, survival. All that pain we feel after a breakup lingers as a reminder that a major attachment has been broken and, much like your nerves remember the pain of fire, your brain wants to remind you that you're probably about to die because you're away from your "tribe." Obviously it's way more complex than that when it comes to love, but baseline, that seems to be the origin of the trauma and lingering pain. The brain likes to get stuck to basically keep you "safe".

Guy Winch has a Ted Talk on heartbreak and grief that really put it into perspective for me and is an easy enough listen.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:55 AM on November 4, 2020 [11 favorites]

I second this point that it might be helpful not to think of this as specifically about your ex as a person but more in terms of what it's triggering in you about breakups. Along with Young Kullervo's evolutionary/biological perspective, I wonder if it would be helpful for you to think not about your ex per se, or why you can't get over HER, but more about what abandonment and betrayal mean to you. This experience was a big impact in that realm by any measure, and for me, just being rejected opens something that's nearly impossible to close until I try to calm myself by acknowledging that it taps into my much older emotional history structures.
posted by ojocaliente at 7:00 AM on November 4, 2020 [20 favorites]

One of my favorite lines in Bujold's Paladin of Souls goes something like "... some problems could only be solved by running away from them."

That doesn't have to be the case here; I think both Young Kullervo and ojocaliente are on to something (and thank you both for that; I am taking your words to heart myself). But a fresh start isn't a dishonorable thing, is all I'm saying.

If it's out of reach, okay, but it's not shameful.

Anyway, another thought: scripting. How would the Best Version Of You, the version that is Totally Over It, respond to an unexpected encounter with the ex? Script out a few versions of that and memorize them for use, on the "fake it 'till you make it" principle.
posted by humbug at 7:11 AM on November 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

Here are some things that have helped me with similar struggles:

1. Write three letters. One saying goodbye to the things you liked about the relationship. One saying goodbye to the hopes you had for the future with your ex. One saying goodbye to the things you will not miss about the relationship.

2. Putting time and energy into things that heal broken hearts: helping others, forgiveness (lovingkindness meditation is immensely useful here), falling in love (not necessarily with another person).

3. Consider thoughts of your ex intrusive thoughts that are no longer welcome in your life. A lot of people who struggle in this way have some kind of attachment trauma or rupture in their childhood, and have a more intense experiences of abandonment in adult relationships than others with secure attachment styles. Examine your history, ideally with a therapist, but on your own if therapy isn’t an option. Learn about your attachment style and reflect on where it arose from. If you do have some attachment trauma, name thoughts of your ex (including any and all hypothesizing about why the relationship ended, or trying to understand or explain) as “this is my attachment trauma” and let them come and go. If this doesn’t feel like a fit for you, try “this is an intrusive thought.” Accept it. Let it come and go.
posted by unstrungharp at 7:13 AM on November 4, 2020 [7 favorites]

I have someone like this in my life, it's been years, and I never really got over my feelings but I did learn to live with them. It helps to think of it less as getting over a particular person and more as strengthening your skills in coping with difficult emotions.

Therapy and books about relationships/divorce were useless for me. I'm just not a person who gets over people I've loved. But I found the understanding and skills I needed (in terms of managing the feelings I was never going to get over) by reading and talking about grief and grieving.

Grief is something you never get over; you just learn to carry it, to accept that it's going to bring you to your knees sometimes and that you can't stop that from happening but you can get a lot better at picking yourself back up. Pema Chödrön's writings were particularly helpful to me in terms of learning not to beat myself up over how I should feel or to resent the feelings for being there, but to acknowledge them and let them pass through without controlling me. (I've even come to appreciate the feelings, but that took many years. Just accepting their presence in my life was the first step, and strangely, it got a lot easier to deal with the feelings once I let go of the idea that I shouldn't even be having those feelings.)
posted by xylothek at 7:24 AM on November 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

I don't believe this is happening to you for the reason you theorize, that you're the kind of person who just gets stuck. I think what you're going through is the thing that happens when something important ends before it's finished. The way this one ended was frankly brutal.

I can relate: I was with a man two years that I loved absolutely, and it ended in a similarly sudden and wrenching fashion. It took more than ten years to get over him, despite the fact that he left the state and I never saw him--like I'd be fine-ish for a while and then there would be periods lasting months where I'd have to take a bathtowel to bed to staunch the howling and the tears. For years. And years. All because it ended before it was finished for me.

Then I was with another one 17 years and anticipated mourning the end of that for the rest of my life, but to my surprise it took about six months to realize, "Oh, Jesus, thank Christ, oh my god, fucking finally," and I frolicked unencumbered in the balmy sunny breeze for a while and then fell into another lovely coupling. Because the 17-year one ended... mmmmm, I'd say about 12 years after it was finished? Estimating conservatively?

Whatever you do, stop categorizing yourself as a stuck-type person. You're not. You're a person dealing with a hard loss who very sensibly fears going through a similar loss. Look at how you think of yourself:

I have had opportunities to date some nice people, but I am just not into it.
No: that's stuck-thinking. You're telling yourself "I'm just not into it" because you're terrified of having to deal with yet more pain.

I just lost that part of me.
Nope. More stuck-thinking. The part of you that can love another person and be happy doesn't die when you get hurt. It is intact and healthy.

Maybe I don’t want to put myself through that again?
YES. EXACTLY CORRECT. And this is the only remedy that you can try that you haven't tried. So try it. March yourself down the diving board and hurl yourself into the abyss. Present yourself and all your woeful baggage to the world and see what happens. You may soon find yourself in another lovely coupling which will end...? We don't know! Horribly and suddenly? Many years after it was dead and moribund? When death does you part after a lifetime of mutual joy? It's a total crapshoot. That is why becoming unstuck is fun and liberating in addition to terrifying and potentially painful. That's just how human interpersonal relations go: godawful risk for uncertain reward. Do it. Get unstuck. Date some people.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:28 AM on November 4, 2020 [31 favorites]

Yeah, I also think you're framing this as "stuck" because that's such a compelling narrative - it has drama, self-pity, exceptionalism, it makes you the champion of not getting over things! - when a) it's your narrative and you can start changing the story you tell yourself any time now b) the reaction you're having is trauma, not some kind of unavoidable love thing, and you need to process it and manage your trauma reactions. This lady could be your ex, a former abusive boss, a person who injured you in an automobile accident, someone who (poorly or even competently) delivered devastating news to you, or someone you were standing next to in line at Starbucks when an earthquake hit - you might very well still have the sensation of shock and anxiety and overwhelming complicated feelings every time you see her.

There are books and workbooks out there to help you do some exercises specific to dealing with trauma, but not any that I know of that talk about relationship trauma (aside from parent-child relationships anyway). There probably are some in the marriage/family self-help genre, I'd just suggest approaching them with some caution as I think there's a lot of bad advice for men and bad relationship theory out there.

But certainly, you could start with my #1 rec for pretty much everything, The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. Normally I mostly recommend this for the anxiety part, but honestly you're having a reaction not unlike a phobic one, so this may be even more helpful than I'd normally advise. It won't magically fix everything, but it may get you a good bit further down the road, and more importantly maybe give you some better jumping-off points for either additional reading/workbooks or for finding therapy really targeted at resolving this response and re-owning your own life and controlling your own narratives better.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:57 AM on November 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

Here's the bit of your post that caught my eye: That’s the part that affects me the most. I seem to be ok when I don’t see her, but as soon as I do, it all comes rushing back (its as intense as the night she left).

There were some tough memories I had in regards to my ex, and when I thought about them, I was right back in that moment. I felt everything as I felt it the day that it happened. One of the therapists we saw recommended eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). So, I spent two or three sessions with him processing specific events/memories, and I can now think about them without having those intense emotions. The benefit was marked in the beginning, but he said he can take up to a year to fully process things. For the cost of two sessions, it was very much worthwhile.

I know you tried hypnosis, but I wanted to throw this therapy out there too; I had never heard of it before talking to this guy.

Best of luck.
posted by skunk pig at 8:49 AM on November 4, 2020 [11 favorites]

I have never been divorced - but I empathize with you. You have been through an emotionally traumatic event - your feelings/ reactions are completely justified, reasonable- to a point. But if you are looking to change your thinking about it, try reframing the whole damn thing. She left you out of the blue after 8 years? That is absolutely shitty - despicable, even cruel behavior. Fuck her! She gets to be a shitty person.. and then have control over your emotions?! Absolutely not! Don't be sad - get mad (in a non-destructive way etc.) SHE should be the one who is fucking nervous about running into YOU at a coffee shop! SHE's the skunk who decided to run around behind your back and then drop you like sack of shit. I'm getting mad just writing this! ha -- read books like "No More Mr. Nice Guy" - that will go a long way to change, or at least tweak, your thinking patterns about this reprehensibly selfish person that backdoored and wronged you. If you are particularly wary of bumping into her - create a mind-movie where you completely ignore her or have a short, curt excuse for dismissing yourself from her presence.

Also, if you are having trouble changing your thoughts/ emotions, alter the mind-body equation by changing/improving your body/health. Create and follow a program that lets you build strength and physical resilience. (Swimming and walking etc. are great for cardio, but I'm talking about resistance training along with eating top healthy foods) Get strong - get ripped. The daily victories in this process will strengthen not only your body, but build more confidence, focus your mind etc. Go forth and conquer!
posted by mrmarley at 12:16 PM on November 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

I am like you - an unexpected divorce without fighting or much conflict at all - and I do think it is harder for some people to heal than for others.

It has been almost five years, and I am doing better, but I have the added "bonus" of dealing with kids and co-parenting. (I also have the added "bonus" of her leaving me and marrying my best friend, which makes the betrayal quite a bit worse.)

I have no choice but to interact with my ex on a weekly basis, and I think that has certainly prolonged the whole situation. I still frequently dream about interacting with her or my ex-friend, and I have no way to make my brain stop including them in my subconscious thoughts.
posted by tacodave at 2:18 PM on November 4, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks tacodave for sharing. That does sound horrible and I can't imagine having to go through that (and I think you are correct - 'some' people have a harder time healing and moving on than others. its just not a switch to flick on/off like I know many of my friends have. Having the strength to have to deal with your ex on a weekly basis due to co-parenting is very powerful. And yes, much like you, she shows up in my dreams quite a bit, so she is subconsciously intruding on me. I want that to stop as well...
posted by konaStFr at 4:06 PM on November 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Good grief, I’m so sorry that happened to you.

I wonder if this is still hanging on because, at some level, you think that this event was about *you*— a reflection of your worth, value, desirability—instead of wholly and completely about *her*—her choices, her inner state, her coldness, her breathtaking ease at shattering a serious commitment to someone she purported to love.

I don’t think it’s necessary to get really angry at her, as mrmarley suggests above, though it wouldn’t be out of line. But if you haven’t really worked on divesting yourself of shame or sense of self-blame about this, I would suggest doing some work in that area.
posted by Sublimity at 7:26 PM on November 4, 2020 [4 favorites]

The feeling that I get from your post is that you haven't really connected with your feelings and pain of being so callously dumped. There was the initial shock, and then trying to figure it out with friends and doing all the "right" things about cutting contact, writing an unsent letter, keeping yourself busy. Like if you followed the recipe, you would be better. Unfortunately, life isn't a recipe or that simple.

The only way out is through. So I think this where you need to explore your feelings: "Seeing her with her husband (and now kids) really affects me more than I can describe." and "inside its different and I am crushed for the next couple of weeks/month and I honestly don’t know why." Emphasis added. You need to figure it out. And it seems like instead of talking about how you feel with the therapist (?!), you were told to wear a rubber band that you could snap to remind yourself to... not feel.

It also doesn't help that you have this narrative of "stuckness" and that you view this as a fixed quality about yourself. And you think everyone else just moves on easily and doesn't think about this and you want to be like them. Maybe there are some people who are like that. But you really have no idea what's going on in the internal lives of the people you see around you. You described it as an on/off switch - well I don't think that's a good thing either, that people can just be so easily cut off from their feelings. It's going to come out in other ways, and ways that you may have no idea about. But your feelings are definitely trying to get your attention so don't ignore them. And that she's showing up in your dreams - it's not about her as a person, and what she represents to you. So what does she represent?

As Ask Polly says, you need to feel your feelings. Write them out, have a conversation with them, write a short story or poem, paint, compose some music; really feel what's going on with you. I feel like you need to transform these feelings, rather than just have them sit in your mind/body waiting to be really seen and dealt with.
posted by foxjacket at 8:23 PM on November 4, 2020 [8 favorites]

I know you're taking a break from therapy but this sounds to me like a trauma. Perhaps you are a good candidate for EMDR as your trigger is so identifiable.

A train of thought in trauma therapy is that talking about it isn't the most effective treatment. You've got to rewire your responses to the triggers,or at least manage them.

Good luck. New relationships and attachments are a good solution to this problem too.
posted by jello at 7:50 AM on November 5, 2020 [3 favorites]

I agree that your assumption that other folks get to the point where it’s just done, in the past, not hurtful anymore is wrong. People are private about the things that hurt them the deepest. You’re not likely to see those things except among the people you are closest with, who trust you completely, emotionally.

As anecdata: my divorce was finalized four years ago, I coparent peacefully with my ex, I’m really glad to not be married to him anymore. And occasionally I’ll be slammed with the recollection of the absolute worst, most painful aspects of our failed marriage. There are some other incidents from my family of origin that are even more ancient history that can sometimes revisit me in deeply, freshly painful ways.

Human beings are wired to retain the memory of painful losses. You’re not weird or deficient in that respect. I agree that it sounds like you have additional healing to do, but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.

Take care, friend.
posted by Sublimity at 9:43 AM on November 5, 2020 [5 favorites]

Honestly, in my experience, what REALLY heals this is finding someone new.

I say this because I have spent ridiculous amounts of time mourning relationships that frankly weren't that great to begin with, only because what I really missed was simply everything that goes along with being partnered. I knew it at the time, but knowing something doesn't make it go away. I think you mainly miss being married. Yeah of course it ended in a bad way, but once you're excited about someone new, you won't be thinking about that anymore.*

I know you said the dating hasn't gone well. I think your priority needs to be getting to a place where the dating pool is larger.

Right now covid is hampering everything but do your research now, lay the groundwork now, and as soon as you can, get yourself to a city where the dating odds are in your favor.

*THAT SAID, I have known men who could not get over having been treated badly by their past partners, and brought that resentment into their next relationships. Once you do meet someone nice, be sure you do not do this. Hopefully it won't come up. If it does, come back and get some more advice.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:53 AM on November 5, 2020 [6 favorites]

Seconding (thirding?) that you check out EMDR. You're experiencing a kind of emotional PTSD. It has unquestionably helped me in a similar situation. Not sure about how effective it is remotely vs in person, but 100% recommend it. Good luck.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:01 AM on November 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Embracing your hurt and sadness as well as healthy coping rituals for your pain after your divorce says lovely things about your temperament and character, but I do wonder if you should spend a little time exploring some anger here. It is not kind or ethical to marry someone and then up and leave them with no effort to reconcile or clear reasons beyond "realizing you aren't happy." And let's also be clear - she didn't realize she was unhappy and go soul search. She broke up with you with another partner in the bag, and was definitely emotionally cheating if not physically cheating already.

She took a lifelong vow, and while that doesn't mean she is actually required to stay forever if it's not right in the end, she CHEATED ON YOU, didn't make any attempt to salvage your relationship (or if she did, she did that privately and did not notify you of her issues or give you a chance to participate), and she appears to have not bothered to even attempt to give you an honest or nuanced explanation of what was missing that made her leave you. This is shitty stuff, and I suspect you have spent far too long excusing her failings here at the expense of your own mental and emotional health.

I'm not saying your ex is a monster. Her failings don't negate her good qualities, but her good qualities don't negate her failings. The poster above who said she should be shaking in her boots every time she encounters you is correct. There is a way to leave someone with your ethics in tact, and this isn't it. Please get pissed about the ways she failed you as a partner and see if that helps you move closer to indifference when you see her next.
posted by amycup at 10:12 AM on November 5, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks to all that have taken the time to read, ponder, and respond. I am so grateful for those that do this for a complete stranger. I have read (and re-read) these responses many times, and will really dig into them this weekend.

Maybe I choose some of my words incorrectly in my Question, or maybe I didn't and it was subconsciously deliberate. My point was, I have witnessed many times, close personal friends that have had serious relationships end, and in less than a week (or month or a relatively short time) are back to dating again and have effectively 'moved on' (whatever that means). We can debate or argue what they may or may not be going through internally and in their head, but I have witnessed them not bothered by their ex-partners (they have told me this). I know that some people have this ability, and others (like me?) seem to have issues getting past this or seeing their ex. I just want the framework to figure out how I too can do this. That is what I want to achieve. I will put the work in; I just need a framework.

My first encounter with my ex really impacted me. I bumped into her at a shop. She was so blissfully happy, and had heard (through a mutual friend), that I had 'taken the break up really hard' and she basically said I needed to get over it. Just like that. She discredited everything I thought we had and noted that it was never going to work out and to move on and marry someone else.

Point is, I need to get the skills to frame all of this so she doesn't consume space in my head and I am honestly indifferent (and truly believe it) when I do see her. Thanks again.
posted by konaStFr at 2:37 AM on November 6, 2020

Ok I think I'm understanding a little bit better now. This is what I'm hearing: "I'm in a lot of pain/still hurt [or however you want to describe it] from my divorce and everyone around me, including my ex, seems to have moved on from their serious long-term relationships easily. How can I be more like them?"

I'd like to suggest that wanting to be more like them is not where you should be focusing your efforts. I get that you don't want to be so bothered by your ex when you run into her, because it's painful and you feel ashamed or whatever it is you feel (all your feelings are valid!), but I don't think the solution to that is to try not to be bothered by it. You've been trying to do that for the last few years and it's not working, so I still think you should take a deep dive into those feelings, bring them to the light of day and examine them. I would never tell you (or anyone) "you should just move on" because it's incredibly dismissive and I really dislike that.

It sounds like your first encounter with your ex is still bothering you to this day, 6 years later. And that makes sense - you were still grieving and here she was completely different from what you had expected, telling you to move on, invalidating everything you had. That's very destabilizing and hurtful, almost like a betrayal. So instead of trying to be like other people, be who YOU are. Maybe you don't fully know who that is and you need to find out and honour all the things about yourself as you learn about yourself, and give yourself what you really need (once you learn what that is).

I have witnessed many times, close personal friends that have had serious relationships end, and in less than a week (or month or a relatively short time) are back to dating again and have effectively 'moved on' (whatever that means).

I mean, you could maybe even count me (and my ex) as one of those people. I was with my ex for about 5 years. We didn't get married because that wasn't important to us. A year after meeting him, I moved in with him, and a year after that we had a kid. Four years after that I moved into my own place, and we're in contact regularly because of our kid. We get along fine and it's not painful for either of us to see each other. Shortly after we decided to separate, he was on the dating apps. I don't know when he started meeting people, or how many. I was a little insulted but at least he wasn't bringing them home - I hadn't moved out yet. He's not in a serious relationship now. A few months after I moved out, I met someone that I became FWB with for a few months. I hooked up with a few more people after that and then one of them turned into something more, it's been about two years now and long-distance.

So how did we do it? Well it wasn't a great relationship to begin with. I didn't know what I wanted and what I was looking for and I had never had a serious relationship before him (I was afraid of emotional intimacy, had a lot of dysfunctional ideas about relationships). He seemed nice enough and we got along pretty well, so why not? He wanted me to move in, I wanted to as well (I did have some misgivings, which I ignored...), he asked me at one point if I wanted to be with him forever and I said yes even though in the back of my mind it was a no. Didn't listen to that voice. Then I got pregnant semi-unplanned - we had sort of talked about it and then it happened earlier than expected due to unprotected sex/no contraception. It's hard to pinpoint when things changed but I can say that having a baby didn't help. We just became really disconnected, then there was an incident in 2015 (I made a post about it) and that marked the beginning of the end.

We didn't have a ton of arguments either; we just weren't well matched. He's my co-parent and someone in my life that I can ask for help from (he helped me get a new dryer, gave me an old printer) and he asks me for it too (like the day he was leaving for a vacation overseas and called me asking for help to find his passport. Eyeroll. He found it; he forgot he packed it in his carryon. Sigh). If you ask how did we do it, all I can say is, this is who we are. Some people have horrible, acrimonious breakups, but that isn't who we are. We never sat down and decided, this is how we're going to handle our separation. We just did our own thing, which is kind of how we were throughout the relationship. That's why we weren't too affected by our breakup - because it wasn't a great relationship to begin with, and it was a relief to break up.

I don't know why it appears to be have been so easy for your friends (have you asked them?) - maybe they're really cut off from their feelings, maybe they did a conscious uncoupling thing where they realized they'd be happier ending their relationship, maybe they were like me and it wasn't great to begin with even if it looked like it on the outside. It'd be hard for me to believe they could so easily move on after the end of relationship if they were similarly blindsided like you.

Sorry for novel #2. If I had more time, I'd make it shorter :D
posted by foxjacket at 8:51 PM on November 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

This stuff is tough, and very personal, so let me say off the bat that I hear you. Every one of the wishes you've expressed--right down to the "please get out of my head"--is a wish I've uttered through gritted teeth with eyes and fists clenched shut. To avoid rehashing the start of it, here's some context if you need it. From that starting point, I want to offer you a few unstructured thoughts.

...like something was missing.

In the barest, harshest sense, this is true. The person--their physical person--and the experience you had with them, a planned future, those things are no longer present. It can be helpful to call a spade a spade: you liked how you felt when those things were in your life, and now you feel their absence with grief.

That’s the part that affects me the most. I seem to be ok when I don’t see her, but as soon as I do, it all comes rushing back (its as intense as the night she left).

This is one of the reasons "no contact" is advocated with so much conviction by people in our shoes. However diligently you can reach NC, it seems to be helpful for quite a lot of us. This will sound harsh, but as it was framed to me by a psychologist friend this is as close as we can come to triggering that system in the brain that's evolved to deal with the loss of death. It takes a painfully long time, but a complete separation from someone seems to communicate to your brain to gradually process less and less about that person. It can be sad to watch it go, but it can offer a relief at the same time. So in a sense it makes sense that you're still having difficulty--you keep seeing her, you keep arresting this process. Are there any practical steps available to you to further reduce the odds that you'll cross paths while sharing the same town? Granted the city I share with my ex is pretty big, but I've completely abandoned two full neighborhoods that I used to frequent because I know that's where his haunts have been and remain. In fact, I biked through one of those neighborhoods after the election was called on Saturday to revel in the crowds--safe in the knowledge that I wouldn't recognize him in a mask buried in the crowd and vice versa--and it was the first time I'd been there on purpose in more than a year. And, you know what, I feel more than a bit stronger because of that year of distance.

I am taking a break from therapy (I can’t afford to spend money on something that doesn’t deem to work).

I had a weekly therapy appointment for a little over a year before I took the break I've been on since the pandemic set in. It was unintentional at first, but it was a good sort of forced experiment in seeing if I could apply what I'd learned and chart a path on my own. Nevertheless, I still use this workbook regularly (in fact, I've just fully restarted it as a practice from the very beginning, I'm about two weeks into making it a habit again after a few months' break). I do recommend it. The gist of this kind of therapy is that there's a conflict set up between how we problem solve in the real world (stuck door? force it!) and how we problem solve with our internal lives (there's no equivalent of pushing a "stuck" emotion out of the way with force). There are a slew of evidence-based practices that put you on a path to, in essence, getting comfortable cohabitating with uncomfortable thoughts since that seems to be a very effective cornerstone of being an active participant in the kind of moving on that we all tend to think has to come passively from time, NC, and all that. It can feel... weird, even a little woo, but even the book acknowledges that these things seem weird but are measurably helpful. I'm a scientist by training and trade, so the massive body of evidence behind this stuff is what finally convinced me to give it a go. And here I am, two-ish years out of the most complicated, unwelcome, sad, heartbreaking experience of my life, and I can say that I am very, very grateful that this kind of practice is available to us. Happy to discuss if you have any questions, just shoot me a message.

And be well, friend. Again, I know this stuff is as hard as it gets. I'd be more concerned for you, though, if you were coming here to say that you felt nothing in this situation.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 10:57 AM on November 10, 2020

Thanks for the follow up. A concrete suggestion for you: Steven Stosny's book, Living and Loving After Betrayal.
posted by Sublimity at 4:39 AM on November 12, 2020

Response by poster: I just wanted to extend a huge thank-you to all of those that have responded. I can't tell you how grateful I am to receive these responses. I have read (and re-read) them many times. I just now need to figure out my next steps. I know where I want to be, now I just need to find a path to get there.

I think what really prompted me to post this (outside of the fact that I have been dealing with this for a while and too long), is I recently had a close friend have her marriage end rather suddenly. Her husband left her after many years of marriage and two young kids. She was devastated and very upset and after 3-4 months, started seeing someone new. She said to me that it had been long enough (3-4 months) and she was ready to move on. I envied that so much and it made me reflect on myself and how I can't do that. Some people can, others have more difficultly. Not sure if this came out in my original post, but I just need to get to this point.

Again, thanks so much for taking the time, energy, and effort into your responses (many of them very personal). Thanks for sharing and reaching out.
posted by konaStFr at 4:22 AM on November 17, 2020

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