Passive-Aggressive Ex-Boyfriend Guilt-Tripping Me to Return — Should I Get Back With Him?

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Reader’s Question

Last month I broke off a long-term relationship that I had been in for two and a half years. My boyfriend was very neglectful of me and was also what I would call passive-aggressive. For some reason, I had an exceptionally hard time ending this relationship.

Now that I’m out of the relationship I have been feeling a lot better. But of course, as soon as I start doing better, my ex starts contacting me. He initially left me a voice-mail, and then messaged me online when I didn’t get back to him right away. I made it clear to him then that things were over and that I was not just “thinking about” ending things. He then e-mailed me again, guilt-tripping me over everything. His family had a trip planned for us, and he went on and on about how this was going to be a big thing for “us” and how he had made “plans.” This is very upsetting for me, as all I ever really wanted from him was some type of commitment, which he never gave.

I am 31 and would love to get married and have children. This man, however, has denied me all of this for years because of his own issues and immaturity. I could not even get him to move in with me after all this time. I’m an RN and have my life together in every way aside from this relationship; I just don’t understand.

So my question is, should I contact him back? And if so, what should I say? I am curious but am afraid that I will just end up getting upset. I was moving on with my life, and this has slowed things down a lot; now I am feeling confused about things. I am even doubting whether I should have broken up with him: my heart tells me no, but my head shouts “yes!” It’s just that if I had even the slightest bit of hope before I broke up with him, I would have stayed. Now he is waving it in my face. Part of me thinks he did this just to hurt me. I don’t know whether he’s that manipulative, but that’s just the way things seem to work between us.

Psychologist’s Reply

First of all, there’s nothing “passive” about the tactics you describe. As I’ve pointed out in other posts, the correct term is “covert-aggressive“. (Also see ‘When Passive-Aggression isn’t Very Passive‘.) The entire purpose of a “guilt-trip” is to make an overly conscientious person feel badly about taking action on their own behalf. Once you see yourself as a person who’s wounded another, you’re likely to feel badly and to have the urge to correct the so-called damage. And, as effective a manipulation tactic as this can be, it won’t work at all on a person who lacks sensitivity and conscientiousness. That’s why manipulators, given tons of chances to do the right thing, fail to do so unless the plug is pulled on them. I’ve posted many articles on manipulation and the kinds of characters who use various tactics to manipulate the behavior, impressions, and feelings of others. Many of these articles are excerpted from my book In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK], which has been newly revised and is enjoying its 16th year in print.

Whether you decide to give this guy another chance is ultimately your decision. But if you allow yourself to succumb to emotional blackmail, you may forever be caught in a destructive cycle of neglect, exploitation and control. Base your decisions on clear, consistent, behavioral evidence that the other person has your interests at heart and is willing to merit your trust and fidelity.

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