How to move on from my boyfriend not being over his "ex"

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This topic contains 5 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  anita 11 months ago.

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    I apologise in advance for how long this post could be, but it’s something that has been part of the relationship with my boyfriend from the very beginning. I didn’t know whether to place this in a different topic section – although it’s about how my boyfriend has hurt me, I also realise that most of the issues I will mention are down to my own actions and mental health.

    We met through mutual friends after a night out, and probably one of our first conversations was about a girl that he had loved for a while, who ended up betraying him in some way.

    We started dating, and a year and a half later we’re still together. However, for the first year of our relationship he kept bringing up the girl from before, who I later found out he worked with. At the start of the relationship, he told me that their “thing” had ended about a week before me and him met. He spoke about her in quite an intense way, saying things like “I would have died without her”, “she was so hard to please”, “she doesn’t know how to be loved” – but he never actually explained what their relationship was. I was okay with this at the very start, the wounds were still very fresh for him and I thought he just wanted someone to vent to.

    Things changed when me and him passed her in the street, he sparked up a conversation with her and asked her if she wanted to do pills with him at the weekend. She said she was busy and left, and at the time, because I was quite young and it was my first relationship I didn’t quite know how to be assertive enough to tell him I really wasn’t happy with it. I found out a few months later that they ended up taking pills because it was what they used to do when they were “together,” we had an argument about it and he said that nothing sexual happened, they took mdma and talked so they could both “end it” and because he needed to know whether she ever loved him or not. I didn’t like thinking about the night they had together, mainly because I know they used to do pills quite often and he’s told me about experiences they’ve had together that me and him never will, simply because I don’t take drugs (neither does he, anymore.)

    The stories about her began to change – it wasn’t just angry venting anymore, it was nostalgic and sometimes seemingly for no reason. Like we would be walking to somewhere to meet friends, and during the entire journey he would be telling me about how she’s afraid of storms (the topic of storms or phobias would not even have been mentioned beforehand, he would just start on a random tangent about her). We’d meet our friends and he wouldn’t bring her up again. That’s what made it so confusing – it was like he knew he was being either thoughtless or inappropriate enough to hide the conversations from other people, but while he was having it with me there was no concern.

    I know things about this girl that I don’t even know about my own friends – her childhood history, her sexual habits, her family life, her relationship history, what she sounds like during sex, how her vagina compares to mine, pointless things she’s done while she’s been drunk. I tried several times to tell him to stop talking about her. I saw her on a night out and she greeted me like you would greet any friend’s girlfriend – she said hello, asked me whether I was having a good night, and said something along the lines of “Sam’s a good friend, I love him (my boyfriend) like a brother.” It wasn’t as uncomfortable as I expected it to be, given the amount of time my boyfriend spent talking about her. Later, my boyfriend asked me what she had said to me, and when I told him he laughed and said “I’ve never wanted to f*ck my brother before.” I laughed it off, but it was uncomfortable to hear and still see him so visibly upset over the fact that she didn’t see him as a romantic interest.

    Over the next few months I asked him to stop bringing her up, but it just didn’t seem to register with him. He kept getting annoyed and saying that he hadn’t even seen her or spoken to her outside of work for months – as though he couldn’t understand. The issue wasn’t that I though he was still seeing her and cheating on me (apart from the time they did pills together, and I briefly thought something had happened) the problem was that he was thinking about her almost every time I saw him, and he never thought to take my feelings into account while he’d spend a good fifteen minutes telling me about her life and her thoughts and feelings. It became less about how upset he was about their relationship not working out, and more just about her in general.

    He has done other things to make me feel under valued as a girlfriend. In a pub he grabbed a woman’s bum, saying she was an old friend and it was just a laugh – later, I ended up placing my hand on her shoulder so I could move past her and she span around to face me and said “don’t start a fight with me just because your boyfriend can’t keep his hands to himself.” She had completely misjudged the situation – I was annoyed at seeing my boyfriend touch her but I wasn’t about to fight her because of it. It was just humiliating to see that he had given a stranger such a bad impression of our relationship.

    Another time, after I had been rejected from a university I had applied for, we went out to celebrate with other friends who had been accepted. We had a good night, but it still felt very disheartening to look around at most of my friends and see them celebrating, while I was worried about what my future plan would be after I had to give up on a dream of studying physics at a university level. Towards the end of the night, we were stood outside with a friend of mine. A girl approached us and started talking to my boyfriend, and he turned to me and whispered that she had been flirting with him earlier in the night at a different bar. The way he said it made me feel awful, because there was such a sense of accomplishment in his voice. He asked me if he could kiss her, and he asked me loud enough for my friend to hear, who started becoming angry with him. The girl was still standing there. I told him no, he couldn’t kiss her, and he asked a few more times. I ignored him because I felt too ashamed to even say anything to him. Meanwhile, the girl stood around us for a little longer, she continued trying to talk to my boyfriend and then asked me if him and I knew each other. I looked at him, desperately wanting him to just say that I was his girlfriend of 5 months, and then tell her to go away. He remained silent. She asked me again whether we knew each other and because I was so annoyed and embarrassed at this point, I sarcastically said “Yeah, just a little. I think we know each other a tiny bit.” Eventually, she got the message and left. My boyfriend didn’t see a problem with his behaviour at all, and he didn’t apologise until the next day when I told him about it and he jokingly said it wasn’t him, it was his twin brother. It’s like he had no idea how to behave in a relationship during our first year together.

    I brought it up more times, we got into arguments about it and he would tell me that I was the arrogant one who acted weirdly that night because of my sarcastic comments to the girl he asked to kiss. He said he only wanted to give her a peck on the cheek, and couldn’t seem to understand the embarrassment and worry it had caused me – if he was willing to behave like this while I was there, what was he doing when he was out with friends by himself?

    I went to a different university and started a different degree, and we would end up going a few weeks without seeing each other. Because I’ve only really described the negative things he’s done, the relationship as a whole may seem toxic and draining to an outsider looking in (and yeah, sometimes it really is) but for the most part he is my best friend. We both enjoy the same things, I love spending time with him, he’s funny and generous and interesting and so so intelligent. So the time we spent together while I was at university was fun, and generally I didn’t suspect him of cheating or talking to anyone else – we spent so much time together that it would have been impossible for him to find the time to be seeing someone else. However, when he had to go away for a few weeks at a time for work I would just sit on my own and replay all of the hurtful things he had done to me in my head. All the information about his “ex”, all the flirtations with other women. Sometimes I would (and still do) sit for hours and hours staring at nothing in particular, just thinking. I’d replay the conversations as they happened, I’d replay them and think about the outcome if I had just been more assertive, I’d replay them and think about what other people would think if they knew what our relationship was like – whether they would be on my side or his, what they would say to him, whether they would tolerate the same thing from their partner.

    I had been on antidepressants for the entirety of our relationship, but when I came off them at the start of 2017, I gradually became ill again and it was all I could think about. I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve spent five hours replaying a 2 minute conversation over and over in my head. I forgot to eat, I forgot to sleep, I couldn’t focus and I just don’t have the energy to talk to people when I feel so low.

    I tried telling my boyfriend I thought something was wrong with me other than depression, but he told me I was overreacting. Over the Christmas period, he dislocated his knee and I spend my holiday time looking after him, sat in a tiny box room in his dad’s house, dressing him, spending my dad’s birthday in hospital with him, helping him get to the toilet, pushing him around in his wheelchair. I didn’t complain – I knew he would do the same for me, and if anything I think it brought us closer. However, I decided to spend my birthday at his house so we could see each other, and because of the pain in his leg and the frustration of everything he ended up being snappy and calling me names. I was feeling so exhausted by this point, and I was still thinking about the girl he asked to kiss and he woman whose bum he grabbed and the stories about his ex, so I decided to start an argument. He turned to me and said “what’s wrong with you? why do you want to argue? me and (the ex) only argued once!” and it just put me in floods of tears.

    Over the course of our relationship he had told me that he would take her on dates only to find her texting some other guy halfway through. She slept around with other people, but still enjoyed the benefits of being taken on dates by him and also a shopping trip that reportedly came to about a grand. He’s told me of several fights he almost got into because of different people she’d either slept with or talked to. Basically, it sounded intense but overall casual, and I felt so hurt that he would even compare us like that when we were two completely different people in two completely different types of relationships. Even now just the memory of it makes me want to cry and yell and ask whether he really thinks she would have ever looked after him day and night with a dislocated knee, or whether she would have just moved on to someone else.

    During this period, he went through photos he had of her saved on his computer and showed me. I had seen them from a previous time he had shown them to me, but I didn’t realise how many there were. He clicked on one and started zooming in on their faces, and told me that he thought they looked like a good couple and it was his favourite photo of him and her. I can understand keeping the photos – I have photos of myself with old romantic interests that he has seen, but I don’t scroll through them by the dozen and explain each one in detail. Some photos weren’t even of them together, a few were just of her stood laughing, or walking, and he didn’t find it weird or uncomfortable to show them to me. This was in January and by this point we had been together for almost ten months.

    At the time, when he was talking about her or showing me the photos, I never thought of asking him to stop because right from the start of the relationship it was something I had tried to be supportive of. It obviously hurt him, and I wanted to be there for him. As we got more and more serious and the conversations about her still continued, I just hoped it would be something he forgot about and moved on from. I didn’t want to be the one to say he had to cut out a part of his life and not say anything about her at all, especially when things between them felt so ambiguous – I still wasn’t completely sure about what had happened between them, because when I asked him he would usually become defensive about it. In the past he’s told me they lived together for two years, that he was going to move to the city where she was going to university – during our arguments he’s insist that they were real and that he loved her and that she was hard to move on from. He talked about it all as though it was in the past, but it still felt like he wasn’t over her. He brought her up less frequently – probably because I asked him to stop – but by this point, because I had asked him so many times, and because it was such an insecurity and sadness for me, just the mention of her name was enough to send me either into an intense anger or a sadness it felt impossible to get out of.

    I had been there for him for the entirety of our relationship, supporting him and loving him more than I had ever loved anyone, and it felt like all he could think about was someone he couldn’t have, and he didn’t even have the respect to not make it obvious. I felt like he thought he had settled – like I was the rebound he didn’t know how to get rid of, and it was shattering to look back on a year I thought had been so fun and not be able to see past the worry and jealousy and insecurity he has caused.

    The last straw was when we had been together for over a year. We had a nice meal out with family, and I was feeling good because he hadn’t brought the ex up in a while and things were going well. Out of nowhere, he brought her up again and told me that he had been so hurt, he told me about the time he had taken roses to her house (a story I had heard twice by this point) and he began crying. At this point in our relationship, he had asked me about engagement and had planned on saving up enough money to buy me a ring. After that night I told him not to bother, because how could we possibly move on with our lives when he was crying about taking another girl roses?

    I told him that if he brought her up again I was done with our relationship. Over several arguments and discussions, I explained my side of the story and he finally understood that he had been acting thoughtlessly. Despite me never asking or expecting him to, he changed her name in his phone from their quirky inside joke contact name just to her normal name, and deleted all of his photos of her. Initially, he understood why I was so upset and he said he was sorry.

    He stopped bringing her up, but I still couldn’t stop thinking about everything he had told me about her, the night he had with her on pills and whether he still thinks about her as much as he used to talk about her. It’s as though I get some weird thrill from feeling sorry for myself. I’ve told people about the things he has done, mainly because I enjoy feeling validated when I see their reaction after so long of my boyfriend dodging apologies and making up excuses for his actions, but also because I just want their advice. Most have told me they would leave him. At this point however, I feel like all the difficulty in the relationship is over – he doesn’t bring up other women, he has changed how he speaks and acts around other women, he apologises regularly for how he’s treated me and I can see that now he’s realised his actions he feels terrible. About 95% of the time we work perfectly – he’s my best friend and I really do want to spend the rest of my life with him, despite everything. I look back and I think if I made it through the stories about his ex and the flirtation with other women, why can I not make it through now, when things are going well between us? Why does this part of the relationship feel so much more difficult than the part before?

    I want to stay with him, but at this point I feel so incredibly insecure that it’s impacting my health. He hasn’t mentioned his “ex” in months, and now it’s like the roles have been reversed. I go through cycles, where I think and dwell on everything he’s said about her until the urge to argue with him and hurt him like he’s hurt me becomes too overwhelming, and we have an argument. He said that I go over the same things every time, usually about once a month, picking out the details of things he did a year ago and then telling him how sad and angry it made me. Normally it starts out with me crying, but it ends with him trying to apologise, me shouting anyway and then he cries. I feel very manipulative for doing it – every time it becomes worse and more heated. The last time it happened, I brought her up while we were on holiday. I was angry with him because I suddenly remembered how hurt I had felt when he asked her to take pills with him in front of me (about a year an a half earlier) and I thought they were still sleeping with each other. I was screaming at him, and to calm me down he told me he had only ever slept with her once. That made it all the more confusing, because for the past year and a half he had made it seem like so much more and every time I questioned it he would become defensive. So I became angrier. The argument was one of the worst we have had, and I thought we would be coming home from holiday both single.

    I don’t know how to stop the  cycle of bad thoughts about him without talking to him about it, which always leads to shouting. I don’t ever suspect he has ever cheated, and I know he’s a genuinely good person, he’s just thoughtless and lived a very different life before I met him. I feel so horrible for wanting him to hurt as much as he has hurt me, but at the time it feels so incredibly essential to talk about why he’s done the things he’s done, despite getting the same answer from him every time – he was thoughtless and it didn’t mean anything. I can look back on our relationship and obviously see that he was nowhere near over his ex, it’s just so worrying to think that we were together for over a year before he realised what he was doing and saying was wrong. I felt completely worthless, and still do when I think about it.

    There have been times where I think I have forgiven him. I look back and I try to see his actions with compassion – he was hurting and he wanted someone to talk to. But some things (him telling me her voice warmed his heart, talking about how nice her butt is) are hard to look back on and say that his intentions weren’t cruel – it seems impossible that that would be the case. For example, he told me that when our mutual friends had described me to him before introducing us, he told them that his “heart only belonged to one girl” (meaning the ex). I can look back on this and not take offence to it – he didn’t know me at the time, he was madly in love with her despite her cheating, and he never meant any harm by it. What I find distressing is that he told me this while we were lying in bed together, and didn’t have any thought about how it would make me uncomfortable. This is the issue with most of it – I don’t care that he had a past with someone else, I care that he was disrespectful enough to bring it up all the time despite me asking him not to.

    How can I get rid of this anger without wanting to hurt him like he’s hurt me? He truly understands what he’s done and he’s sorry for it, but now when I look back on the relationship it just feels tainted anyway. I feel like I can’t talk to him about it anymore because just the mention of his ex’s name has become taboo as a result of all of this, and I’m so exhausted of arguing. I don’t know how to forget what he’s told me about her, and the other things he has done and focus on our future together. I read about forgiveness, I’ve tried meditation, I’m seeing a therapist and still the cycle of thoughts is continuing, and even after so long, the pain I feel over it physically hurts my chest and weighs me down.

    Sorry for such a long post! Any advice would be really appreciated.





    Dear abi:

    I read your post slowly and attentively. This is my understanding, at this point:

    your boyfriend has significant mental health issues. He has been obsessed with this woman you refer to as his ex. She was probably not his girlfriend, and if she was, it was not for long. They may not have had sex at all, or it they did, it might have been a one time thing, perhaps when intoxicated. Everything he told you about this woman and about a relationship with her is suspect to me, probably made up. Not true, not real.

    His obsession with her predated you, has gone on throughout the relationship and is still going on: the reason he doesn’t talk about her is that you do. If you stopped talking about her, bringing her up, he would do it himself.

    Why is he obsessed, I am thinking that she triggers in him strong feelings of being unlovable, unwanted, rejected, feelings from childhood.

    If you talked to this woman, it will be, I am thinking, an amazing experience for you.

    Unless he attended serious psychotherapy, for a long, long time,  such dysfunction on his part, cannot just go away. Again, if you stop bringing her up, he will. Or some other, new obsession will take hold.

    I hope you post again with your thoughts and feelings.




    Hi abi,

    It’s great that he’s (finally!) stopped talking about her, but it’s too little, too late.

    There is an age-old tradition, going on in colleges and universities everywhere, called The Great Thanksgiving Turkey Dump. Every November, when kids get home from school, millions of old boyfriends and girlfriends get dumped. He, too, needs to be part of this late November tradition, even if you are from Canada or Europe.

    It’s November. He was a turkey. It’s time.





    Hi Abi,

    I went through a similar experience with a guy over the last two years. He was fresh out of a relationship, and while we started great, but after the honeymoon phase of our relationship, he started to bring up his ex in ways that made me feel like he was very much still hung up on her and was comparing the two of us. Like you, I asked him to stop repeatedly, but it was like he literally couldn’t help himself. It turned me into a depressed, anxious mess, and sent me into a tailspin that saw me lose my job and alienate some of my closest friends.

    Eventually I realized there was no happily after with him and I cut him out of my life entirely. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it hurt like hell for months. The recovery came in pieces- first I realized that forgiving him and forgiving myself for getting into the situation were linked, and if I wanted to truly move on and find happiness, I needed to forgive both of us. Holding onto the bitterness or as you called it, anger, only hurt me. A month later, I took myself on a date and saw the first movie I’d seen without him in almost two years, and it hit me- just how much better I felt without him in my life. The final realization I’ve had lately is that if he truly loved me at all, he wouldn’t have treated me the way that he did. He wouldn’t have made me feel so inadequate or unworthy of his time.

    My advice to you is to do the same- cut him out of your life. Find a therapist to help you navigate the emotional recovery and to help you rebuild your self-esteem. Lean on your friends to remind you that you’re not alone in this world, and there are people who love you deeply and want to see you happy again. Above all, be kind to yourself and remember that life is a journey. You seem smart, sensitive, and compassionate, and I don’t doubt that you’re capable of achieving anything you put your mind to, but remember to be patient with yourself as well. There’ll be good days and bad days, but eventually you’ll look back and realize how much you learned from this experience and that knowledge will positively impact your relationship when you do find the right guy.



    <p style=”text-align: left;”>Thank you for all your comments, I found most of the advice very comforting. I’ve never really entertained the idea of leaving him; it feels like he’s my entire world and without him I’d be miserable. I know there are other people out there for everyone, and even being single might be good for a while, but I want to know that I tried everything I could to fix us before I even began thinking about breaking up with him.</p>
    This week has been a particularly difficult one. I recognise that because I’m sad, I dwell more on what he’s done. At this point it feels like it’s my neurotic cycle that’s ruining our relationship – not him. He’s going to Nepal in just over a week, and I won’t see him until February. I want to talk to him about it, similar to the way I have done here – maybe writing a letter addressed to him and going over the points I’ve already mentioned. That way he can read it and remember it, and also it avoids and argument from me getting too angry by talking about it and shouting at him.

    Still, I’m unsure. I want to know whether he’s over his ex or not before he goes to Nepal – while he’s out there it will be difficult to contact him, and without being able to speak about it I’m worried that my thoughts are just going to eat away at me for the three months he’s gone. However, I really don’t want to start another argument again, and we’ve had this conversation so many times it feels almost pointless.  Should I write the letter, or just keep my thoughts to myself and hope that the time apart from each other will heal what he’s done in the past?



    Dear abi:

    You wrote: “I want to know that I tried everything I could to fix us before I even began thinking about breaking up with him”-

    I suggested to you in my first post to you that the man is obsessed, or has been obsessed with this woman and no longer talks about her because you do, and so, you carry on his obsession.

    Do you think it is a good idea if you talk to this woman, whom you already met? Ask her if there was a relationship at all between them and what kind? You may learn more about this man that you want to … fix. If you learn more about what there is to fix, you will have a better idea about what to do next.


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