You Need Help: Is It Normal To Be Happy In a Relationship and Still Think About an Ex?

Q:

Through a moderately complicated series of events I ended up leaving a troubled relationship and almost immediately starting a new one at the end of the pre-Corona times.

During the break up process, my ex admitted to having been gaslighting and generally manipulating me since the beginning of the relationship. I was pretty shocked by that admittance. I knew that the relationship hadn’t been light-hearted or easy for a while, but that such incredibly toxic things had been happening since the beginning was really unsettling. According to her she was unaware of her actions and only upon later reflection did it become apparent to her that that was what she was doing. I believe that she may have not acknowledged how much she was manipulating, but that she had absolutely no idea is not something I really believe.

Me and my new partner are doing well despite having basically u-hauled by sheltering in place with each other for almost two months (something I would have never normally done). I feel fulfilled in this relationship and have the space to grow and be myself that was never afforded in the previous one. I truly value my partner and can see remaining with them for a long time, but there is one thing that’s really bothering me. I keep thinking about my ex, and I can’t figure out why! It clearly isn’t a relationship that I want to return to, and honestly I’m not sure if I really ever want to resume contact with her despite the fact that the queer community here is miniature.

I’ve given it my best go at meditating and trying to let anger and hurt go, which feels like it has been working, but these thoughts keep plaguing me. My therapist has been less than helpful, so it’s time to turn to the elder-queers.

Is it normal to be happy in a relationship and still thinking about an ex? Is this one of those “time will fix it situations”? Why is it months later and nothing has changed with me thinking about her? I’m very upfront with my new partner about all of this and they are so very supportive of my pain and healing, but is it unfair to my new partner that I’m still thinking about this other person months later? I feel very confused by this situation and am hoping that y’all can shed some light on the situation.

Love,
Clueless in the eastern hemisphere

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A:

When I got out of a relationship that entailed a pattern of gaslighting, betrayal, lies, etc., I casually fired off a tweet to the effect of “will I ever stop obsessing over what this person did to me?” Some kind strangers told me that yes, with time, the intrusive thoughts would go away. But I had close friends who were real with me. They said that I probably would never completely stop thinking about it. And now I want to impart that same intense but honest knowledge upon you: It’s extremely likely that you’re never going to stop thinking about your ex.

That might sound bleak at first! But I actually found this realization extremely freeing, and I hope you will, too. Because once you accept it, it makes it easier to be kind to yourself when you do start thinking about them. It’s really easy to get stuck in a vicious cycle of 1. Trying not to think about your ex 2. Thinking about your ex 3. Being hard on yourself for thinking about your ex. Once you accept that you probably won’t ever stop thinking of them entirely, you can more easily take #3 out of the equation. Suddenly, thinking about your ex doesn’t become a failure of yours or something that is wrong with you.

That said, it’s still extremely valid (and helpful) to seek out solutions for minimizing these thoughts. It sounds like you’ve tried a lot of these already. You mention meditation and therapy. And even if those aren’t working completely, I think they’re still good things to practice. The end goal isn’t necessarily eliminating these thoughts entirely (because again, I don’t think that’s possible in situations like the one you’ve described with your ex) but rather minimizing the thoughts and also making sure that they don’t lead to self-destructive or harmful behaviors.

Being manipulated and gaslit by a partner long-term is an immensely destabilizing experience. In my experience, intimate partner betrayal creates a haunting. It’s something that stays with you. Your brain isn’t necessarily hung up on your ex; you’re haunted by thoughts about what they did to you. Which is incredibly valid! Especially because this JUST happened to you!

Early on in the healing process following a toxic relationship, it’s easy to get stuck thinking about the “warning signs” of the betrayal(s)—and then get hard on yourself for not seeing them—and also all the potential other times they did something to you that they haven’t admitted to. Those are thoughts that you should actively tell yourself are not helpful for growth, but it’s natural to have them in the beginning. You’re still very much in the trenches of processing all this pain, and that can be challenging to do from inside a new relationship, but you’re taking all the right steps by being in therapy and also communicating with your current partner.

On that note, I think it’s great that your new partner is being so supportive, and I do not think you’re being unfair to them at all. But do make sure to regularly check in about their capacity to listen to you talk about your ex. And also make sure they’re not the only person you talk to about these thoughts. Talk to friends and other people in your support network. I’ve found that not talking about the thoughts at all tends to make it worse. And I’ve also found that the people who really care about me are never annoyed by me talking about my ex, even when I was going through a period where it seemed to be ALL I could talk about. I’ve found journaling to be helpful, too.

I do think that over time the thoughts might become less frequent, especially since you have some coping mechanisms in place already like the meditation and the therapy. But it’s not a linear process. Certain times of year, certain places, and other things like that might cause a spike in thoughts about your ex. Try not to think of these as relapses or a lack of progress. Try not to think of it as taking away from your happiness in your new relationship either.

I’d also like to gently suggest not resuming contact with your ex or, at least, not feeling pressured to. I think the stereotype about queers always staying friends with exes can be really harmful. You seem to be having a lot of hesitation about the possibility of ever resuming contact, so I think it’s not something that should happen any time soon, especially if minimizing these thoughts is so important to you. It’ll of course be harder to stop thinking about them if there’s still contact. I started thinking about my ex noticeably less once I decided for good that I did not want to remain in contact with them.

I don’t think this is a “time will fix it” situation, but it IS a “time will make it incrementally easier” one (which doesn’t have as nice of a ring to it, but alas). The more distance you have from the relationship and the more time you invest in healthy coping mechanisms, the less destabilizing these thoughts will feel. And it’s likely that any one coping mechanism isn’t going to be the magical solution, so try a bunch, mix it up, pay attention to what helps (again, journaling can help with keeping track of that stuff). I wrote about actively changing associations with people/places/things in the wake of my breakup, and I think that could be a helpful thing to think about. I’ve found this book helpful, too. But it’s extremely likely that nothing will expel the thoughts for good, so above all else, don’t be hard on yourself.

Published at Tue, 28 Jul 2020 11:00:35 +0000-You Need Help: Is It Normal To Be Happy In a Relationship and Still Think About an Ex?

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