Putting the Ex-Boyfriend in the Past

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Reader’s Question

A couple of years ago I went through a nasty breakup with my boyfriend of three years. He left me pregnant with his child, although I decided to have a termination because I was disturbed by the relationship, which had been drug-filled and manipulative.

He got the new girl pregnant within two months and she kept his baby. I warned her that he would treat her badly but she continued to see him and they have non-stop problems (exactly the same as he and I had).

He insisted that he hated me and never loved me, and he tried to cause trouble in my life. I got kicked out of two of my homes. Recently he seems to be following me. He is always in my neighborhood and drinks in the pub where I work. I have no feelings for him anymore but I wondered if perhaps he does. Is he following me because he realized he did wrong or is he simply trying to wind me up?

I have a new boyfriend and I am more than happy. I don’t want my ex trying to ruin anything.

Psychologist’s Reply

A lot of people make the mistake of believing that hate is the opposite of love — but it isn’t. With both hate and love, the feelings are strong. Thus, the real opposite of love is indifference. If your ex-boyfriend truly was over you, then he wouldn’t have made the effort to cause trouble for you nor would he now show up to drink at your workplace. Similarly, if you were truly over him, you wouldn’t care what his reasons were for following you; you’d just want him out of your life.

If you are hoping that he realizes how badly he treated you, then you’re probably going to be disappointed. People who manipulate and engage in one conflictual relationship after another usually have very little insight or compassion. They rarely accept responsibility for their own behavior, which means they don’t have the motivation for personal growth. Thus, he may apologize for certain things but only if he believes it will get him something. Consequently, a more likely explanation for his behavior is that he wants something from you, whether it’s merely attention or a resumption of your previous relationship. Don’t fall for it.

If you truly want to get away from this guy, start by putting as much distance — both physical and emotional — between the two of you as possible. Try not to be where he is. If you must be around him at the pub, treat him just like you would a stranger: polite but not friendly. If you believe that he is stalking you, take steps to ensure your safety. Talk with the local authorities about your options and make sure you are surrounded by other people whenever your ex-boyfriend is near. Do not ever be alone with him.

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Several years ago, you were strong enough to leave what sounds like an incredibly unhealthy relationship. Use that same strength to continue moving forward. People often repeat familiar relational patterns unless they develop healthier interpersonal skills, so I hope that you have done this. Insist on better treatment from your new boyfriend. Set boundaries and be able to function without a man. Figure out what a healthy relationship looks like for you and find a partner who is willing to work toward that goal with you. If you do all these things, then it will be that much easier to put the ex-boyfriend squarely where he belongs: in your past.

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