About Last Night: How do I move on from a bad relationship?

Giving up an affair can be as hard as quitting cigarettes.

Giving up an affair can be as hard as quitting cigarettes.

Q: I’m struggling to let go of my ex, and am allowing him to keep mistreating me. We agreed to part in February, but I’m drawn to him. He doesn’t want contact but I keep persisting, so he relents and we see each other and are intimate. That comforts me, but then it’s over, and I feel even worse. It’s an awful cycle of disrespect, to both myself and from him. How can I move on?

A: Ending a relationship is one of the hardest things to do. Apart from all the obvious reasons it hurts, we can be in love with being in love, which can keep us in dead-end relationships, even when they are abusive.

Maureen Matthews.
Maureen Matthews. CREDIT:SIMON SCHLUTER

Time is a great healer, but a wound will not heal if you keep removing the dressings to poke at it. You need to cut off contact with this person. Stop pestering him to meet up with you. Stop ghosting him on social media, in fact, unfriend him. Sometimes, we strive to be friends because, secretly, we hope the flame will be rekindled. However, there is a difference between remaining friends and being friendly. Bearing a grudge, or becoming enemies keeps you connected.

Giving up an affair can be like quitting cigarettes. There are triggers and reminders in every aspect of your daily routine. Are you able to take a holiday, or stay with your family, or a friend? If not, consciously disrupt your routines and establish new patterns, and associations.

You say that you are in “an awful cycle of disrespect, to both myself and from him” but I suggest you are also disrespecting your ex, and his decision to stop seeing you. Engaging in unwanted “mercy sex” is harmful for you both, but is his acquiescence mistreatment?

In an article in Psychology Today, Dr Jennice Vilhauer, from Emory University’s School of Medicine, observed that: “Most people don’t want back the relationship they actually had. What they mourn for is the relationship they thought they could have had if things had just been different. But the truth is, that relationship didn’t exist.”

In order to dispel this fantasy, write a list of the bad things that were the reality of the relationship, and read it over when you get wistful. The aim is not to stay angry, but to remember why it was it needed to end.

Never regret a relationship. Vilhauer says, “The relationships we have in life last forever. They last in our memories, in the feelings we have when we think of them, in who we have become because of them, and in the lessons we take from them. Ultimately, moving on from a relationship that wasn’t working is about loving yourself. For some, this is the hardest part”

You can’t expect someone else to treat you better than you treat yourself.

You do not have to wrestle with this on your own.

“Believing that you deserve to be in a loving relationship with someone who shares your values and treats you well requires that you view yourself in a positive light. If just the thought of this seems daunting because your inner dialogue is filled with negative self-doubt, criticism, or self-loathing, you may need to enlist the help of a professional [therapist or counsellor]. You can’t expect someone else to treat you better than you treat yourself.”

This is a learning opportunity. Do not blame yourself, or stir up negative emotions. Instead, as Vilhauer suggests, “choose to turn the pain into a gain. Every relationship, if we let it, can teach us something about ourselves and give us greater clarity about what we need to be happy.”

“Acknowledging your role in what went wrong with a relationship can be an important part of the learning process. If you gain insight into your role, you will be able to make changes. Perhaps you could learn to set better boundaries, or to improve your communication skills.”

We do not find ourselves by looking within, we do so as we relate to others. As Vilhauer concludes, “a relationship is not a failure because it ended. If you grew as a person and learned something to move your life forward, then it served a purpose and was truly a success.”

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