How do I let go without turning negative & internalizing
April 27, 2024 6:16 PM   Subscribe

Hi I’m new to this and made an account after seeing posts about breakups but they couldn’t answer my question. The story is, my boyfriend and I broke up months ago after being together for several years. We’ve been through a lot. However, while we were dating, resentment grew and we argued a lot until we eventually grew apart. There was a lot of blaming.

After awhile, he finally decided to end things. I didn’t want to even though I knew it was best. It was so difficult giving each other appropriate space so most of our subsequent talks, turned into huge hurtful arguments. Recently he said he wanted to work on us but then said he is truly done and won’t talk to me at all or is short. I’m in my head all the time (I struggle with controlling my emotions but I am currently getting help for it). I forced him to specifically say that he never wants to see me again because I’m convinced that’s how he feels. I need people to be very direct with me to fully understand. I know best when people are clear and literal. I don’t know why I felt I had to do that but hearing it out loud would make me disappear from his life and believe it. He would also say “I don’t want us together RIGHT NOW.” & offered us to “maybe be friends” but it sounds misleading and slightly offensive. I want him to be brutally honest. I know I can be difficult (I’ve struggled a lot in my life in which he already knew) but I really never wanted things to end. I wanted it to work out so badly w/ the best intentions. I really looked up to him and thought highly of him. I thought he was my true partner. Honesty, loyalty, and trust are crucial to me.

I guess my question is why is letting go so hard when the answer is in front of me, and why am I willing to do anything to hang on even if it makes things worse. I truly do care about him and never wish any harm but I don’t quite wish him well right now. I hate admitting that but I feel so negative and biased and I really want to get over this. I’m fighting myself because I don’t want to turn hateful towards him. Nothing he said (good or bad) is helpful, I keep getting angry. I feel abandoned, lost, and unlovable. I feel unfairly played and misunderstood. I also feel ashamed and ponder “why” after many years. I try to look beyond and be reasonable to both our perspectives but it is hard. Sorry this is long but any help would be great.
posted by bosqueencantado24 to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The why is simply break ups are hard! They are so so disappointing. There is so much time and energy and hope that's lost. If course it isn't easy. There is just going to be lots of feelings even in breakups that your initiate.

Honestly the best thing to bring a person to a better light after a break up is to give it time and space. Don't talk to that person. Give yourself time. Be a little angry. Journal about it. Talk to your friends. Listen to as many break up songs as you can stand.

And then... look for something new. Maybe not a new partner. But a new hobby. A pet. A new friendship group. A new couch. Whatever it is, the purpose is to help you be your best self without this person. You can do that! There are things to enjoy and stuff to do in this world that's not wrapped up in what came before. You will find it.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:43 PM on April 27 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I think there are two answers here; the first a bit political, the other personal.

You are hurt in part because society is made such that men hold unfair amounts of relationship power in interpersonal relationships, and it creates dynamics where people who date men wind up in several-year relationships where they have been chasing diminishing returns quite frequently. Meanwhile, he gets to go move onto another relationship where he will likely once again have most of the relationship power. It's reasonable to feel resentment and anger in such circumstances, even if he didn't create the structural power imbalances that create the circumstances, but just took advantage of them. It's likely that he enjoyed you, but not enough to stop - I think the kids call it 'breadcrumbing' you these days - giving you morsels of his time and attention, but not fully commit.

The second is that after a breakup where you still care about the other person, it's natural to wonder why you weren't enough to keep them. Don't. I'm still friends with most of my exes to the point that I was able to interrogate them about the breakups after about ten years had passed - in so, so many circumstances it wasn't even really about me, but more about who they wanted to be at the time and how they thought I could or couldn't fit into the life they wanted to lead. A breakup doesn't mean you're unloveable, even if someone else fell out of love with you.
posted by corb at 6:45 PM on April 27 [18 favorites]

Best answer: On the one hand you say that honesty, trust, and loyalty are important to you, yet on the other hand you mention a history of blaming that led to resentment and the eventual falling apart.

One thing that I think will help you let go of this relationship and move on (to better things) is to really dig in and be honest with yourself about what the relationship actually gave you. Did the actions and behaviors you both showed each other demonstrate the honesty, trust and loyalty you value or in hindsight is it clear that those things were always lacking? It sounds like there was a lot of push and pull and very little stability from which trust, loyalty and honesty can grow from. It doesn't mean that either of you were/are bad people, just not right for each other.

Also consider the actions and behavior that you think demonstrate love, caring, respect, desire, were those present in this relationship or not?

All relationships take some work, but it can be very easy to slip into a belief that, when something just isn't right, if you just work a little harder you can fix things. As you grow you need to develop more of an internal compass so you better assess when the work of a relationship will pay off and when it's better to move on.

Also, just be kind to yourself. Take walks, buy yourself a nice treat, take hot baths, drink tea, connect with friends.
posted by brookeb at 10:19 PM on April 27 [3 favorites]

Best answer: To answer the specific question, I've been reading psychology articles lately and one of the reasons breakups can be so hard is that they really mess with our self-identity (how we view ourselves) and how we represent ourselves to others. Breakups make us lose track of who we are as people, and most people hate feeling confused in that way. This psypost article explains how that can often lead people to want to get back with their partner even if it was a really bad relationship. I think the desire for a "bad breakup" (which seems pretty common) instead of a nicer but ambiguous one is related to this. A soft breakup can make the identity confusion feel worse because nothing really went wrong so it doesn't feel like a large identity change need to happen. But, things cannot go back to how they were before.

So, one way to deal with this is to actively change your self-identity to match your new situation. Going no-contact can help with this because it cuts off the aspects of your old relationship identity that are no longer part of who you are. Journaling is good because you can try to figure out what parts of the old relationship identity you want to bring forward, and what parts you want to leave behind. This is a good time to pick up a new hobby or try out something you were afraid to do before. It always takes a while for our self identity to shift, but you can probably help speed it along by consciously working on it. It sounds like you have some things you already want to work through, and now would be a great time to do it. Good luck!
posted by JZig at 11:43 PM on April 27 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I guess my question is why is letting go so hard when the answer is in front of me, and why am I willing to do anything to hang on even if it makes things worse?

It might be helpful to keep in mind that you are evolutionarily, physiologically built to not let go. You’re a member of a social species and that means psychological mechanisms have been honed over eons to do whatever it takes to preserve the ties that bind. If you didn’t feel this, if you felt it was easy to let go of someone with a shrug, you would be an outlier.

That reflection onto deep time also reminds us that our species has had to deal with loss of relationships at the same time as we’re prioritizing social connection. People die, right? People are left behind during migrations, separated by movement, separated by growth and aging and a thousand other surprises. It would do little good if those losses sent us into an unchanging state of permanent, intense grief and longing when, in a practical sense, life continues moving along. And so, just as our brains are machines that insist on closeness and relationships, our brains are machines that slowly recognize the absence of a social connection and just as slowly prune back the neuronal links that imbue our memories of someone with the intense emotional charge. Over time, the memory of the pain of separation remains as the emotionally intense feeling about that pain is sanded and polished away.

It is a sad thing, this awareness, and also a remarkable thing. It’s what people are referring to when they tell you to give it time, to go through the pain to get past the pain. Five years ago I came here asking similar things when I was going through a divorce that came as a surprise to me. It felt like it took a long time for these changes to be apparent, maybe a year and a half to two years (after a 15ish year relationship), but I look back on that question and I honestly marvel. I remember it all, but those memories don’t shut me down with an emotionally overwhelming cascade like they once did. As others have mentioned, taking time to stay out of contact with this person can help, very simply by giving your brain the reality of separation it needs to do its work of helping you recover. You can always come back into contact with this person once you feel better, if you choose. But for right now, you may find some peace in feeling your feelings on your own rather than through them. It is a painful but honest truth: your feelings are yours, and you don’t need them around to make your feelings real or true. Feel them.

I hate admitting that but I feel so negative and biased and I really want to get over this.

It’s OK. You don’t need me to remind you that you’re human, but it always helps me when people remind me that I’m feeling things that they’ve felt. And I’ve had my share of experience admitting this exact same sentiment to myself.

If it’s helpful for you, this workbook was helpful for me. It’s still helpful to me. This kind of therapy, called ACT, is a good place to start when you feel like this. I’m oversimplifying, but it’s helpful to take time to reorient yourself to yourself. It takes practice, and patience. It’s pretty common for people to get wrapped up in these situations to the extent that you kind of lose touch with how your deeply personal values and interests are what should be guiding you (when it feels like your brain is crying out for someone else, for a relationship that is absent). The truth is, both of those things can exist at once: you can feel negative and biased and not wait for that to pass to pay attention to what’s inside you that guides you into living your day in a way that feels good to you. That feels like being you to you. You’ll get over this in time, and you’ll get over it over time. In the meantime, you can direct yourself with some attention to how you are and how you want to be, how you want to show up for yourself (and for others) in your life.

Hang in there.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:41 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]

Best answer: First of all, corb makes some great points. Bring the less-powerful person in a relationship, over time, will mess with your head.

Another reason breakups are terrible is that they force us to mourn a future we pictured for ourselves. You likely imagined life in the long haul, and now you need to grieve and imagine something different.

Plus, you have to absorb the tough lesson that you won't get the emotional satisfaction you want from your ex.

He's been stringing you along for a while now, He's not going to become a better, healthier, more caring and considerate person now that he's your ex.

Instead, you're going to have to tell yourself that his lack of answers is all the answer you need.

He's simply not the guy. You can't hang your future on potential, on what you hope someone will become.

You have to look with clear eyes and see that he's not that great, he doesn't fill your needs, and maybe you're not your best self with him.

And instead of pursuing him, look to restoring yourself.

You're free, what's next? What did you give up to keep this relationship afloat? Can you go back to it?
posted by champers at 3:48 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Spend some time thinking about the relationships you saw when you were a kid. Especially the adults you lived with - how were their relationships in marriage, dating, and within their families, like with their siblings or their parents? And what was their relationship like with you as a child?

It's very likely that you are copying relationship patterns you learned in childhood - most people do. Learning more about those patterns can help you improve on them as an adult.

You can read about attachment styles too, that can give good insight since many people will choose a partner who has the same attachment style as their closest caregiver had, because that relationship dynamic feels most familiar to them.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:17 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My theory is that unhealthy relationships are hardest to let go of. You spent so much time hoping that things would get better… and then with the split, that hope was taken away. Every pleasant moment stayed in your mind as if it represented the real relationship while you put aside the disagreements and disrespect. Then after the breakup, you might experience “euphoric recall”… remembering the lost relationship in a positive light even though your mind knows it was bad for you.

I hope you will stop communicating with him and also find new fulfilling things to occupy your thoughts and your time.
posted by wryly at 3:40 PM on April 28 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry you are going through this. Please allow me to give a man's perspective. Two issues jump out at me from your post. First, you want to know in plain English that the relationship is over (in his view) or that a chance exists (in his view) to salvage it. Second, you want to understand why this is happening.

First, From your post, I infer that he has told you, imperfectly, that it's over. He didn't say it precisely the way you needed to hear it. For now, you can chalk it up to his inability to distance himself from saying bullshit things, either in an attempt to lessen the pain he knows you are experiencing or to make himself feel a little better for causing you this anguish—maybe both.

Second, you are in the middle of a painful experience. While journaling may be helpful, your first few weeks will likely be spent trying to make sense of the awful dynamic that you are experiencing. You won't be successful, at least not now. As you said, you are feeling unloved, so you are unlovable. Conclusions right now are not possible. Let the distance of time give you perspective. Meanwhile, know that perspective will come with time. Right now, your priority is getting through the night. Tomorrow, you get through the week. Next week, you will get through your life. Somewhere along the line, you will stop having to replay this pain constantly.

In my view, when two people enter into an exclusive relationship, they create a third entity--the relationship. When that relationship ends, that third entity dies a figurative death. Like the death of a loved one, mourning its loss is a natural and necessary part of your life. Unlike the death of a loved one, it's also natural and easy to suppose that the relationship may somehow be brought back to life, so we resist mourning because we don't want to admit to the finality of the relationship's demise. In this case, don't look to him to decide if the relationship is over. He cannot make that decision for you. Don't evade the issue by trying to "be friends." Let him deal with his own angst, if he has any, all by himself. Go be with friends who value your company.
posted by mule98J at 8:25 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You can end-run this entire "he says confusing things" issue by deciding entirely by yourself that you are done. You have assessed this person as a potential long-haul relationship and neither he nor the relationship the two of you built meets the qualifications, on top of the fact that he doesn't particularly want to be in it or do the work - which is, you know, the end of the discussion really. You can't make this guy be in your relationship any more than you can force a job candidate to come work at your company, even if they had a great interview.

If you will make the narrative shift to "this is over and it is time to mourn and then pick myself back up", you will start moving past the disappointment and rejection and will start seeing more clearly that this didn't work out because, welp, it wasn't a great match. There's no shame in that, there's no failure except maybe hanging on too long when you should have walked, but most of us only learn this lesson by living it, so there you go, you got your classroom experience.

Nobody's an actual bad person here. Also you will not be publicly denounced if you spend some time cranky, angry, frustrated, and not wishing him the very best. I mean, don't do something you'd get arrested for, but you are allowed to feel all the totally normal human unpretty feelings you need to feel. Do your processing. Learn your lessons.

Once you start looking forward instead of backward, you can start working on your relationship with yourself. Once you place a healthy value on your time and attention, you will be less inclined to linger for years in a situation that you can see isn't working.

"Let's Be Friends" is propaganda. It's a thing people pretend is very important, but if a truly great friendship is going to bloom out of this situation - and mostly it does not - it has to spend some seasons dormant first before that's even feasible. In a couple of years, if you really still want to be friends (you won't) you can reach out. If you do not have children or property together, there is no need for ongoing interaction after the breakup. It does not make you a better or nicer person to stay in contact.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:01 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

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