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My ex and I still love each other, but can’t be together

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  • #383306
    Candice88
    Participant

    Where to start.

     

    My ex, S, was a great friend at university. We started dating after university when we were both single (5 years ago) and our relationship was extremely passionate, fun, and rewarding. It started over long distance, visiting each other every month with plans for me to move to his state as I waited to hear if I got accepted for a job in Japan.

    4 months in, he cheated. He admitted that it was from laziness (he was drunk), and that there were no other reasons for it. This traumatized me, and we took some time to figure things out. Eventually I moved to his state, got accepted by the job in Japan, and we lived the next 8 months happy with each other while preparing for the pain of long distance.

     

    I did experience a couple painful flashbacks from the cheating while living with him, but I kept them in check. However, a couple months after I moved to Japan everything changed. We knew this job had a one year contract, and were determined to make our relationship work.  However, he is a huge social butterfly and would go out drinking often with mostly girl friends. I would ask him to please tell me when he was home in our bed every time, and every time he would forget.

     

    This would trigger flashbacks and my whole year in Japan I had panic attacks. He resented me for this, and when I asked for comfort and reassurance he would tell me to pull myself together. Things got awful between us, my attacks got worse and more frequent, and he pulled away.

     

    Until one day he said he was looking at engagement rings. I decided to not renew my contract (Japan itself wasn’t the place for me anyway), and moved back to the US after one year of long distance to live with him again.

     

    Our relationship did not get better, he got more annoyed with me and I got more anxious. He got a job offer in a different city 6 months after my return to the US, and broke up with me.

    I had to pack all my belongings and move across the country to completely restart within two days. Good friends for 5 years, dating for 2.5 years. Moving was a painful process, one where I felt discarded and disgusting. I started eating again, got a new job, and eventually started dating a new person, M, who I love.

    My ex, S, would occasionally email me to wish me well, but the anger and injustice I felt towards him was fairly consistent and I never reciprocated the well wishes. Therapists tell me I have PTSD from him cheating, and that the cheater, if they wish to stay with the cheated, must always console the cheated when a panic attack or flashback is happening. I now know S was too immature and defensive during our relationship to do that for me. But the unfairness of being blamed when he ruined me has always been present.

     

    Now, I found out 6 months into the relationship with my new boyfriend that M that is an addict, and it became clear that a stable, happy relationship with a family future would not be possible with him the way he is. COVID happened, we stayed together, and it’s been 2.5 years with M now. I am moving out, we are resetting our relationship, and I told him I need distance while we both seek therapy. I consider M to be someone I’m in a complicated relationship with, because “boyfriend” sounds too painful given all of the lies and hurt.

     

    I’m in the process of moving out, and I went to visit my mom in Denver, Colorado to breathe. A mutual friend told me that S, my ex, is here with a new girlfriend. We have so many memories here together that flashbacks came involuntarily, and given my problems with M I began to wonder if some closure with S would help me move forward.

     

    He agreed to meet yesterday. We were both nervous, but open to discussing the breakup – I was honestly hoping that he would still be an asshole, and I would be able to walk away saying “it is what it is, I’m glad I’m not with him even though I didn’t want the breakup”.

    But that’s not what happened … We talked for hours about our lives, and about what we were feeling back then. We talked about what we should have done (therapy, empathy), how we have changed. I realized that the anger I felt this whole time was because I still love him, and he told me he still loves me too. How we are both on each other’s minds, how we are each other’s “big ex”, the relationship we always wanted to work out. He said “it should be you with me”, and “I never thought I would see you again and NOT be with you”.

     

    After all this connection and understanding, waiting for my ride home, we asked “what now?”. He said he has some issues with his current girlfriend, but that because he still loves me we can’t talk. I said I wanted to be open to fixing things with M, if possible, and that talking with S even platonically would mess with my head. We also agreed that if we talked, it would not be truly platonic. We hugged, and he said a pretty final goodbye.

     

    Now.

    I am heartbroken over this. S has grown so much, seems like a much more emotionally intelligent and sensitive partner. But it’s unfair that I didn’t dodge the bullet – I got shot. And it made him better for his new girlfriend once he took some time to learn. Meanwhile I have grown, but my relationship with M has not been good for a long time. I’m not sure I will be with him for much longer. It’s not fair that S and I still love each other, but that we are where we are. And that him and his new girlfriend might become truly happy while I still hold this bullet in my chest. I always wanted him to mature and change for the sake of girls who came after me, but I also wish he had learned all of this before me so that we could have the relationship we should have had.

     

    I had dreams about S all last night after our meeting, and woke up confused yet a little happy that we still mean something to each other. Then he emailed me reinstating that we cannot be in each other’s lives at any capacity for the foreseeable future, which I know is the mature move. Yet I haven’t stopped crying since.

     

    It just hurts.

    I don’t know what I’m asking for here, I’m just hoping to hear some words that can be a balm for my heart as I move forward with this pain.

     

     

     

     

    #383321
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Candice88:

    You shared that you were great friends with S at University for five years, then dated him. Four months into dating while the relationship was long-distance, he cheated on you while drunk. Your reaction: ‘This traumatized me”. Next, you lived with him for 8 months, experiencing “a couple painful flashbacks from the cheating” but happy otherwise.

    Next, you moved to Japan for a year, and the relationship resumed a long-distance status once again. While living in Japan, you experienced “flashbacks and .. panic attacks” in regard to his past cheating. Your “attacks got worse and more frequent, and he pulled away”. Next, you moved back to the U.S. and resumed living with him for six months before he broke up with you.

    “Therapists tell me I have PTSD from him cheating, and that the cheater, if they wish to stay with the cheated, must always console the cheated when a panic attack or flashback is happening. I now know S was too immature and defensive during our relationship to do that for me. But the unfairness of being blamed when he ruined me has always been present”-

    I will pause retelling the story you shared so to ask you a few question regarding the paragraph right above. I ask because I want to understand, but you are welcome to answer, or not answer:

    1) I never heard of a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis (PTSD) being made where the Trauma in the PTSD is finding out that a boyfriend had sex with another woman long-distance (in contrast to, let’s say, being restrained and forced to watch it). Does it mean that every person who was cheated on by a boyfriend or a girlfriend is likely to suffer from PTSD (flashbacks, panic attacks) based solely on the cheating?

    2) When you say “he ruined me”- you mean that his act of cheating on you long-distance ruined you for life?

    3) Is the message your therapists told you the same as the following (I paraphrase): if a boyfriend cheats on his girlfriend, regrets it and does not repeat it, he still has to be reminded of his one-time cheating event for the rest of his life, availing himself to always console his girlfriend/ wife each and every time she needs him to do so… for the rest of his life?

    anita

     

    #383327
    Candice88
    Participant

    Hi Anita,

     

    To answer your questions:

    1) I’ve been to a few therapists and they said depending on the person, yes, PTSD can occur even if the cheated hasn’t witnessed the cheating. I was surprised by this diagnosis, but apparently it does happen. Not everyone gets, it’s rare, but it’s not abnormal.

    2) Ruined meaning my mind was permanently redirected that at any moment, reality could become a nightmare state. Hence the anxiety and panic attacks. The breakup was very life altering – I’ve moved countries and across the US multiple times for this person, lost jobs, lost money and a home, and I still don’t feel like I’ve recovered. So while realistically I know I’m still alive and have had and will have good memories since the breakup, I worry that I won’t be the whole healthy person I was before he cheated.

    3) Yes. They told me that even if a flashback or panic attack happens once a year, daily for a month, or suddenly after 20/30/40 years…the cheater, if they still want the relationship, should comfort and console the cheated in moments of panic. That’s the only way for trust to be rebuilt, instead of teaching the cheated that the partner hasn’t changed.

    #383330
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Candice:

    I read your recent post and would like to reply further but I am not focused enough at this time. I will return to your thread in about 16 hours from now. I hope other members will reply to you before I return.

    anita

    #383333
    TeaK
    Participant

    Dear Candice88,

    I am sorry you feel like a big loss happened in your life and that what happened is unfair.

    I can imagine your stress and anxiety when you were in Japan, and S was out drinking every night (or often) with his female friends. It sort of gave the perfect setting for you thinking the worst – that he would cheat again, when drunk. You asked him to let you know when he comes home from those parties, but he never did. That caused you even more stress and anxiety, i.e. panic attacks.

    It’s like he didn’t care about you, he didn’t have understanding for your concerns, on the contrary he behaved in a way that tortured you. And he told you it’s your fault and to pull yourself together.

    Your only fault was that you tolerated it and stayed with him (perhaps your hopes got up when he mentioned engagement rings?). I guess his behavior was the same when you returned from Japan and came to live with him? It culminated in him breaking up with you just before he was to transfer to a different city for a new job. You needed to pack up and leave his place within 2 days, causing you great stress and financial losses.

    Yes, this guy was an a**hole, and it’s good you’ve moved on. What’s not so good is that you’ve met with him again. Now you say he has matured and has more compassion. Has he apologized for treating you like he did – for partying with his female friends, and then accusing you of being paranoid? Has he realized what exactly he has done wrong?

    He told me he still loves me too. How we are both on each other’s minds, how we are each other’s “big ex”, the relationship we always wanted to work out.

    Well, he didn’t love you back then. His behavior wasn’t love. And I don’t think he wanted the relationship to work out, because he kept accusing you of being too sensitive, when in fact he was too insensitive. He made it all to be your fault. I wonder if he’s realized that now?

    He said “it should be you with me”, and “I never thought I would see you again and NOT be with you”.

    I am sorry but this doesn’t sound sincere to me. It’s like he is putting up a front of this mature, considerate guy and white-washing his past actions. Unless he actually apologized for his past behavior?

    S has grown so much, seems like a much more emotionally intelligent and sensitive partner. But it’s unfair that I didn’t dodge the bullet – I got shot.

    You did get shot, but you can recover. There are ways to treat PTSD. You don’t need to suffer for life, and you don’t need to suffer because of him, because I don’t think he’s so irreplaceable…

     

    #383348
    Candice88
    Participant

    Dear TeaK,

    I have a hard time letting go of love. I want to explore every avenue before I throw in the towel on relationships, even bad ones. And at the time I definitely gave too much credit to “long distance” as the issue of our relationship, and not on my ex himself. His behaviour was the same when I got back from Japan, and when I asked for therapy he denied it.

    I believed what he said this time, because of all of the negativity that surrounded our breakup. He never would have “stooped” to admitting he had made a mistake or regretted anything when we were together, so hearing these words from him was a shock.

    He apologized for everything, for blaming me for my anxiety and depression when he should have shaped up himself. When his current girlfriend texted and asked where he was (she was nervous about us meeting), he immediately responded and even sent a picture of the restaurant sign to show her. He did it naturally and without a fuss, but when we were together a simple “I’m home” text was always too much to ask of him.

     

    The past day has been difficult, it feels very similar to an actual break up again. And I really appreciate you reading and replying.

     

     

     

     

    #383350
    TeaK
    Participant

    Dear Candice88,

    you’re welcome. It appears he really did change and is much more considerate now. How did this change come about – what motivated him?

    I have a hard time letting go of love. I want to explore every avenue before I throw in the towel on relationships, even bad ones

    I understand. That’s why now you’re giving a chance to M too… With S, he was completely closed off at the time and unwilling to even consider that he might need to change. And yet, you stayed with him until he broke up with you. Perhaps you believed him at the time that it was your fault, and that you’re the one to blame?

    I always wanted him to mature and change for the sake of girls who came after me,

    This is interesting what you’ve said. It means you sort of knew he was to blame, or at least that he too was to blame, but you’ve stayed with him anyway. Have you hoped that he would still change at some point? That you would “save” him, so to speak?

     

    #383353
    Candice88
    Participant

    Dear TeaK,

    He told me that he changed from reflecting on what I may have gone through, and never wanting to make someone feel that again.

     
    <p style=”text-align: left;”>Yes, I had massive self esteem issues from him, a very successful, ambitious person who I was supposed to trust, telling me over and over how I should get “over it” and that I was embarrassing. I definitely absorbed that. I also want to try every avenue before ending relationships because I cannot live with thinking “what if?”, then absorbing that as guilt as well.</p>
    That desire for him to change for future relationships came after the breakup, when I blamed him completely for it’s failing but still hated myself. Before the breakup I begged for change, but he never acknowledged then that there was anything wrong with his actions.

    I never wanted to save him – both S and M presented themselves as whole and healed people, and it took time for me to realize for myself that they were anything but. I’m focused on emotional intelligence and communication, so I ended up having to carry the weight for both relationships in efforts to do my best by them. Despite the suffering it caused me.
    <p style=”text-align: right;”></p>

    #383354
    TeaK
    Participant

    Dear Candice88,

    He told me that he changed from reflecting on what I may have gone through, and never wanting to make someone feel that again.

    Maybe I making bold assumptions here, but I don’t think he spontaneously started contemplating about you and your suffering, realizing how badly he treated you. To me it seems more likely that something triggered his change, e.g. that he went through a similar experience himself, of being mistreated and manipulated, and maybe that’s when he sought therapy? Has he been to therapy btw?

    Yes, I had massive self esteem issues from him, a very successful, ambitious person who I was supposed to trust, telling me over and over how I should get “over it” and that I was embarrassing. I definitely absorbed that.

    And it seems to me that your self-esteem issues didn’t start with him, but earlier, only perhaps they weren’t so strong? You might have been attracted to very self-confident, ambitious people because you yourself didn’t feel that way?

    I may have a follow-up question (sorry for bombarding you): you say M is an addict, and he presented himself as a “whole and healed person”. Could it be that he is on cocaine or a similar drug, and also looks like an ambitious, self-confident person on the outside?

     

    #383372
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Candice88:

    You wrote:  “Therapists tell me I have PTSD from him cheating... yes, PTSD can occur even if the cheated hasn’t witnessed the cheating. I was surprised by this diagnosis, but apparently it does happen. Not everyone gets, it’s rare, but it’s not abnormal“-

    Although learning that a long-distance boyfriend cheated on you has traumatized you, the event of him cheating is not the kind of Trauma that fits into the PTSD diagnosis. ptsd.va.gov lists traumas as relating to war and the military, disaster and terrorism. Wikipedia lists traumas in regard to PTSD as “sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions, child abuse, domestic violence or other threats on a person’s life”.

    A counseling center in San Diego, California called Freedom Within, in their website freedom within center. com/constitutes-trauma-comes-diagnosing-ptsd state the following:

    “In order to be diagnosed with PTSD one has to have endured a traumatic event which includes witnessing or experiencing a threatened death to self or others, actual or threatened serious injury or sexual violence… I have had many folks come to me and say they think they have PTSD because they got divorced and it was very traumatic, or because they are having a hard time grieving the loss of a family member. While those are all very sad and traumatizing events, they do not qualify as “trauma” for the purposes of diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder according to the DSM-5. However, we don’t want to dismiss the impact that those life events can have on an individual and therapy can be a very powerful tool for overcoming those losses. The therapy would likely be more focused on grief and loss and life transitions, not on PTSD”.

    The last sentence above says that the kind of therapy a person needs for an event such as you experienced (having found out that a long-distance boyfriend cheated on you) is different from the type of therapy a person needs for events such as experiencing violence in warfare, child abuse and sexual assault. I think that you should consider seeing a competent health care professional who will diagnose you correctly, and recommend an effective treatment for you, based on the correct diagnosis.

    anita

    #383378
    Candice88
    Participant

    Dear TeaK,

     

    He hasn’t been to therapy. A mutual friend confirmed that he regretted the break up months after it happened, and that she told him how he messed up. According to him he hasn’t been hurt by anyone after me, so I think this is what started the contemplation for him.

     

    Yes, I’ve had depression since childhood. But as an adult I was able to be truly happy, until the cheating with S and Japan. The self esteem issues that came at that time definitely harkened back to my childhood issues. However, I was very stable and happy before S and I even got together, and I also lived with confidence and ambition before then.

     

    No, with M it’s not cocaine, but similar. He seemed down to earth, sympathetic, calm, and generally wholesome when we first got together. He and S actually have very little in common.

    #383379
    Candice88
    Participant

     

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rediscovering-love/201709/how-infidelity-causes-post-traumatic-stress-disorder%3famp

     

    You used multiple sources that excluded certain types of trauma from PTSD from other lists, so I wouldn’t be so close minded about how PTSD can manifest. One of your lists limits PTSD to war, terrorism, and violence, while another includes emotional abuse and sexual abuse.

     

    One of your quotes said “witnessing or experiencing“, so even if I did not witness the cheating I still experienced it. I am someone who holds sex as sacred, and this felt similar to sexual abuse (which, yes, I have been directly sexually abused before as well).

     

    I would prefer it if people who replied would address the actual issue here that I’m talking about, the dilemma that I’m in, and not try to dismantle a diagnosis that isn’t so relevant to my dilemma (my ex and I still love each other but have partners) by the end of my story.
    <p style=”text-align: center;”>Dear Anita,</p>
    I have seen multiple therapists who specialise with infidelity and couples as well, and I respectfully think it’s not fair for you to tell me that it’s not what I’m experiencing. And diagnosis aside, the result was panic attacks and overwhelming thoughts that I am dying, as a result of the cheating. Those are the feelings my therapists were addressing, along with depression and anxiety, which have the same treatment plans as people who have been abused in the past that match your idea of PTSD. It was never a conversation of gauging and comparing trauma, which is extremely subjective.

     

    You seem to be focusing on PTSD as a result of a physical traumatic response, where someone’s physical well-being was threatened. Emotional trauma absolutely can morph someone’s thoughts to the point where they feel as if they are physically unsafe as well, and I think that is something you should consider, as it was my case

     

    .

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by Candice88.
    #383382
    TeaK
    Participant

    Dear Candice88,

    He hasn’t been to therapy. A mutual friend confirmed that he regretted the break up months after it happened, and that she told him how he messed up. According to him he hasn’t been hurt by anyone after me, so I think this is what started the contemplation for him.

    It’s interesting that he didn’t need therapy or some sort of a crisis to realize those things, but okay, everybody is different…

    Yes, I’ve had depression since childhood. But as an adult I was able to be truly happy, until the cheating with S and Japan. The self esteem issues that came at that time definitely harkened back to my childhood issues. However, I was very stable and happy before S and I even got together, and I also lived with confidence and ambition before then.

    Right… it seems that due to depression in your childhood, S’ cheating and his behavior afterwards really hurt you badly, so much so that you developed panic attacks and PTSD symptoms. It sort of pushed you back into the old trauma…  Would you like to talk some more about the reasons of your depression in childhood?

    No, with M it’s not cocaine, but similar. He seemed down to earth, sympathetic, calm, and generally wholesome when we first got together. He and S actually have very little in common.

    Is there anything in common between S and M? Or perhaps M seemed like the opposite of S (calm and humble, as opposed to ambitious, self-confident and high-energy?), and this is what attracted you to him?

     

    #383383
    Candice88
    Participant

    Dear TeaK,

    I definitely think the cheating brought back childhood feelings of being inferior, not wanted, not worthy, etc. My mom was quite harsh with me, alternating between showing me love and then neglecting me or punishing me – eating from the floor if I was messy at the table, stabbing my hand with a fork if I reached across the table, not talking to me for days if I cried while telling her I was being bullied at school, unapologetically ransacking my room for a webcam to prove that I was a 15 year old cam girl (I had a job at a diner, she knew that’s where my money was coming from), telling me I walk like a coward THEN telling me to walk with my head down because I’m not better than anyone..etc etc.

     

    Once I moved out at the end of high school I was able to learn to love myself, and that continued through university and after. But the cheating definitely brought me back to “you’re not good enough, of course”. And S wasn’t patient enough for that healing process when we were together.

     

    S and M are both creatives who enjoy music festivals and traveling. But yes, their personalities are quite opposite. I think I wanted someone more low-key after S because I attributed his inability to take responsibility as a symptom of his ego. Ironically, M also has accountability issues.

    #383386
    anita
    Participant

    Dear Candice:

    Maybe I do not understand: are you saying that before this man came into your life, you never experienced significant anxiety or depression: that you had a good childhood, enjoyed good mental health as a child, and a teenager, all the way to adulthood, and then you (a mentally healthy adult woman with no history of mental health issues) discovered after the fact that a boyfriend cheated on you on one occasion, and as a result of that discovery- your mental health turned upside down, catastrophically destroyed, and therefore he indeed single handedly ruined your life?

    *Complex PTSD, (C-PTSD) is “a response to prolonged, repeated experience of interpersonal trauma in a context in which the individual has little or no chance of escape” (Wikipedia), and it applies to children who, stuck with parent/s they couldn’t escape, suffered prolonged, repeated trauma inflicted on them by their parent/s. An adult suffering from C-PTSD originated in childhood is more likely to react severely to events in adult life, such as in the context of romantic relationships.

    anita

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