Re-Examining a Former Relationship

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Reader’s Question

I am a 30-year-old woman, who has been in a wonderful relationship for three years. I recently found out that my ex-boyfriend (we dated for six years and have been apart for almost four) has been dating someone for about a year and they are serious. I am finding myself having feelings of jealousy and anger towards him all of a sudden.

The last two years of our relationship were terribly hard on me — he was very dishonest, constantly interested in other girls, but insistent on keeping me around, and I stayed. I am taking his new relationship personally. “Why can he love and commit to her fully, and why was he unable to do that for me? Why wasn’t I good enough?”

I know these feelings are unhealthy and I adore my current beau, but I am in desperate need of help in getting over my ex. How can I do this? Why am I not over him already?

Psychologist’s Reply

It doesn’t sound like your current distress is about getting over your ex-boyfriend but is instead more about you and who you were in that relationship. From your description of him, he was no prize to keep. Thus, the question you should be asking yourself is not why you weren’t good enough, but why you stayed for two years in a relationship with a man who wasn’t treating you right.

I suspect that you were in an emotionally abusive relationship. These kinds of relationships often follow a certain path. The abuser isolates his victim so he has greater control, and he then is free to be abusive and keep his victim in line by blaming her for his own faults. For example, your ex-boyfriend may have told you that you weren’t good enough for him to commit solely to you, so basically it was your fault that he had to stray outside the relationship. He most likely bombarded you with his version of the truth and, in the absence of other viewpoints that would highlight the error of his logic (thus one of the reasons for isolation), you may have started to believe him. If you internalized his ‘truth,’ then he could do whatever he wanted without having to be held accountable for his actions.

When abusive relationships end, it tends to be very difficult for the victim to get back her sense of self. People frequently enter into other relationships, but still have unresolved feelings about the previous one, or are scared that the new relationship will end up like the old one. I imagine this is where you are right now. I doubt you are truly jealous of your ex’s new partner (since you know first-hand what she must be experiencing) but instead could be feeling sad and afraid. Anger is generally used to mask the vulnerable emotions but, if you really want to get over your previous relationship, you will have to address what you’re truly feeling.

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One good way to do this is, of course, to work with a psychologist to figure out what’s going on and how you can move forward. She or he most likely would provide information about abusive relationships, and explore your past for reasons why you were vulnerable. You then would work on developing healthy boundaries and increasing your self-confidence so that you believe that you are entitled to a loving and mutual relationship. We all deserve that.

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