OK, GMBT, this is a complicated one. And that means it’s going to be time to break out the Chair Leg of Truth to sort it out.
On the one hand, you have an absolute right to decide what kind of relationship you want (or don’t want) with your ex.
As I’ve told people before, you aren’t required to be friends with your ex or even have any contact with them whatsoever. You have the right to decide that staying in contact with an ex is entirely too painful for you and that seeing them again will be like a hammer to your gut and sandpaper to your soul. That is completely legitimate. I’ve seen far too many people who’ve kept emotional wounds open and bleeding because they were trying to be “the bigger person” and keep a relationship going even though it was killing them inside.
On the other hand… I think you’re being an asshole here. Yes, it’s based on ignorance – which I will get into in a second – but you’re absolutely being an asshole about this.
The problem is that you’re missing a critical factor in your break-up with your ex: the fact that she was in an abusive relationship. That changes the math on her relationship with her ex. See, people who leave abusive relationships rarely make a completely clean break. In fact, part of the cycle of an abusive relationship is that many times, the survivor of abuse will leave their abuser… and then end up going back to them. Often repeatedly. What tends to happen is that the abuse survivor will try to leave, only to have their abusers re-enter their life. When this happens, the abuser will frequently love-bomb them and express guilt or remorse and make grandiose promises of how things have changed and they’ll be different this time. This is known as the reconciliation/honeymoon stage, and many, many survivors will end up going back to their abusers during this stage. It’s made all the more insidious because there’s frequently a calm period, where the abuser will make any number of promises – including agreeing to go to counseling or couples therapy. But this period never lasts, and the cycle will start again.
The obvious question is “so why do they go back?” And the answer is “it’s complicated”.
Part of it is that abusers prey on the fact that their victims want to believe the abuse is an aberration. Most people don’t want to believe that they’re the sort of person who would accept abuse or that they could love someone who’s an abuser. They want to believe that the person that they care for – and yes, survivors do care for the people who abuse them – could be that cruel, that deceptive or that dangerous.
Another part is that abusers will cut their victims off from their friends and loved ones, leaving them isolated.
Part of why survivors go back is that they find that their support networks are gone or damaged… many times because those friends and family will tell the survivor that it’s a “fool me once, shame on me” situation and that going back means that they’re choosing to be abused. Again: this is something that abusers will frequently rely on as part of how they keep their victims under their thumb.
(And this is before we get into the fact that many survivors don’t leave because they can’t; their abusers control them financially or through threats against family members or even pets. And then there’s the fact that leaving increases the risk of someone being killed by their abuser.)
So while I understand how that it feels like you didn’t count for anything when she was back in contact with her ex, the truth is that it’s far less about you and far more about the way that abuse and abusers absolutely fuck with a survivor’s head.
I’m not saying that understanding this could have helped you encourage her to stay away from him, but I am saying that you’re holding onto insults that were never actually there. And to be perfectly blunt: I don’t know if I believe you that you say this isn’t about punishing her. The tone of your letter carries the very distinct air of “…and she fucking deserves this for leaving me.” There’s a lot of wounded ego in this and frankly, I think it’s coloring your perception of the situation.
Are you obliged to meet up with her? No. You made your stance clear when you broke up with her. You have a right to decide where your boundaries are and to stick to them, regardless of what other people think.
But to paraphrase Nick Fury: seeing as that was a stupid-ass decision, I think you should elect to ignore that.
I think that it would do both of you good to hear her out. I think it would be valuable to her to have a chance to clear the air, express her regrets and explain where her head was at when she left you. I think it would do you some good to hear that as well. And just as importantly, I think it will do you good to forgive her in person. Forgiveness isn’t for the benefit of the person being forgiven, it’s for the benefit of the person doing the forgiveness. Carrying around the anger and hurt – which you are clearly doing – is toxic to the soul. Forgiveness is a way of letting those wounds heal and cleansing the infection from within you. And while they’re plenty of crimes and slights that can be too much to forgive and nobody is obligated to forgive someone… I think this is something both of you need.
But as I said: you have the right to not have a relationship of any kind with your ex if that’s what you really need. You have the right to never see or communicate with her again if that’s what you want.
But you’re the only person who can decide if that’s the right decision for you.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’ve gotten myself into an awful mess. I got back with my ex a few days ago who is mentally ill. We broke up a year and a half ago, and I started really missing him, kind of forgetting how bad things were between us.
I was romanticizing all the positives, which were non-existent during our last several months together. He has BPD, bipolar disorder and acute anxiety. He was suicidal when we broke up. He is heavily medicated and I thought he was stable, but I’m beginning to see that he is far from it.
I feel trapped already and I’m starting to have anxiety over getting back with him. I’m not even sure I love him. I don’t know what to do, and I feel terrible about breaking up with him as this will set him back even further. He has a 14-year-old son at home. I am selfish for doing this, and I have a host of health issues, depression being one, but mostly physical, including pain issues.
The stress is going to crush me I feel. I’m also afraid he will become suicidal again if I break up with him. Please help!