Letting Go of My Ex: Was the Violence All My Fault?

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Reader’s Question

I was with my ex for almost five years. We broke up about four months ago. I am finding it really hard to move on. I keep churning over everything in my mind. We had a great first year together. She had some commitment issues but worked through them somewhat. After two years, she became violent (by the way, I am also a female and can get very angry at unpredictable times). There wasn’t serious violence, but every two or three months there might be some grabbing, pushing, squeezing me around my neck and throwing things at me. This was followed by apologies, and I kept forgiving her.

My ex is a lovely person to her friends and is seen as carefree and the life and soul of the party. But I experienced the brunt of her anger; it could be after a night out or just anytime. She was verbally abusive, too: it was horrible at the time and then it would pass. We tried couples’ counseling for a year and a half. She discovered she has some issues, because she’s always blamed me for things. She had worked on her commitment issues and gave me a commitment ring about two years ago. But even with the counselling she found it hard to follow through on agreements we made. She didn’t want me out with her socially, and when we were I was sometimes anxious because after a night out she might be angry or criticize me for things I said.

Eventually, we broke up. I didn’t want to, but I knew the violence wasn’t improving even with counselling and she’d stopped apologizing for it. Besides, all the blame was put on me and she made it out to be all my fault.

I have had a terrible and heartbroken few months. She, however, started a sexual relationship with a friend that lasted for a couple months and a week, and after that started dating another woman she’d met and is now pursuing.

I keep wondering: was the violence my fault? She kept telling me it was. Is she likely to be violent in other relationships, or was it just something about ours? I can’t believe how fast she moved on and has gone from a sexual relationship a month after we broke up, to breaking up with her and going straight into dating. There were real strengths in our relationship, and she said she loved me for most of it, except when she was angry and violent.

Did she even love me? I can’t seem to work things out in my mind. When I had hopes for her to compromise, negotiate and work with me it all fell apart. I think she was selfish in some ways. Why would she not be heartbroken, and how could she disrespect the long relationship we had (we even owned a home together) and move on to others so quickly?

It hurts so much.

Psychologist’s Reply

Your situation is complicated, but there are some things you can take to the bank.

No one is responsible for the behavior of another. While it’s not uncommon for folks in troubled relationships to be confused about who bears responsibility for what and to feel unwarranted guilt, each individual in a relationship is responsible for their own behavior.

The other thing you must recognize is that not everything is as it appears in a relationship, especially relationships in which perceptions become distorted as the result of emotional desires, concerns, and needs. There are persons for whom the most “threatening” possible relationship is one of true intimacy and mutual regard. Relationships with such individuals are often characterized by much intensity and passion but lack substance and commitment.

My best suggestion: do your best to replace your ambivalence, self-questioning, and undue guilt with gratitude and acceptance. Then, before you get into another serious relationship, come to terms (perhaps with the aid of a counselor) with the issues with which you struggle that led you to be so invested in a troubled relationship and might keep you from accurately assessing the kind of situation truly likely to make you the most happy.

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