Dear BreakUp Coach: Can one bad breakup ruin a person for life?

After a period of intense work activity followed by a vacation, and in response to reader demand, I am resuming the Dear BU Coach feature of this blog. So feel free to start sending me letters again. Here is one I received recently. The emphases in the text are mine, added to highlight some aspects of the letter upon which I will comment in my response.

Dear Breakup Coach,

Where to start? I don't know. I think I should tell you that I am seriously messed up. First of all, I haven't even broken up with anyone recently. It has been years actually. But I find myself going around in circles and coming back to this one point in my life.

I have always had lying girlfriends, or women that have cheated on me. I thought I had a great relationship with my ex-fiancée. We had been together for years. She was the girl that swore she would not do any of the stupid s--t that other girls had done in the past. She spent time figuring me out, and undoing all the wrong all the other women had done and gaining my full trust.

It's hard to pinpoint all the good moments because there were so many. She was my everything. But one night changed everything. She sat me down and explained to me that she had been cheating on me, that everything was a lie and she did not think that we would go this far. She had been doing this for quite some time now and she finally had to put a stop to it by letting me know.

She said she was sorry for everything she had done and returned my ring. I guess she moved on with her life, I am not really sure because I don't speak with her anymore. But before doing that she left me broken and pretty f----d up. She had done it all, from cheating, to amateur porn, to lying about her mother being dead. Turns out, after all these years that her mom was alive and well. I just never got to meet her because I was lied to. This is just one example of her pathological lies that I was brainwashed with. Just about everything was a lie, and she finally couldn't do it anymore.

So that's that. I didn't date anyone for a year. After that I tried a little but there were no connections. It seems that I have become incapable of establishing connections. And when I think I do, usually it's just temporary. I don't feel anything towards anyone anymore. It's as if I sit there and wait for the betrayal to come, or for the girl to screw something up so that I can get rid of her. I don't know if I am capable of dealing with people anymore. How can I? After the one woman that swore she would never do any of the other wrong things every other woman did turns out to be the one that did it all?

I guess this really isn't a question about how to cope but more of a question that goes "can a break-up be so bad that it leaves a person broken for the rest of their life?"


Bitter (and Possibly) Broken Boy

Dear BBB,

To mirror your own phrasing, where to start? Okay, I will start by answering your closing question. I don't think your past has to define your future, and I don't believe that you are damaged beyond repair where love is concerned. I believe that there is part of you yearning, hoping, and possibly even ready for love right now. However, it sounds like you need to work on some stuff before that can come to pass.

One one hand, you seem to present your ex-fiancée's betrayal as a single experience that has left you wounded and mistrustful of other relationships. How painful it must have been for the one thing you were really trying to avoid, that you thought you had taken such pains to prevent, ended up happening after all.

However, I can't help noticing your comments about your relationships beforehand, in that you "have always had" lying, cheating girlfriends. Have you ever wondered why that was the case? I don't know this for certain, but I have found that often when we reccurently end up with partners that have the same negative qualities or behaviors, it's because there is something in us that is actually pulling for that. Conciously or unconciously, we repeat the same patterns by choosing the same type of partner, or (more far-out but I still believe to be true) unintentionally encouraging or setting the stage for our partners to behave in the same way. I have also noticed that some of the things which we fear the most, and try the hardest to avoid either by running away or trying to control situations that we're in, have a way of turning up again and again in our lives.

From your letter it sounds like you already had a pattern going before you met your ex. You were already telling yourself a story about your life: that you were someone whom women lied to and cheated on, and who therefore couldn't trust women or his own judgement about women. You shared this story with your ex and then placed the expectation on her to gain your trust and "undo all the wrong every other woman had done". You were looking to her to fix you, and yet you set the stage for the exact same betrayal to happen as had happened in the past--the very thing that you most feared (and yet expected) from a woman.

In truth, the only person who can fix you is you. The only person who can make you feel whole and retore your trust and faith where love is concerned is looking right back at you in the mirror. One of my mentors taught me (and my own experience as a therapist and coach has borne this out) that people who have trouble trusting others are actually challenged in their ability to trust themselves--to know and appreciate their own worth, and to value their own intuition and judgement. When you truly trust yourself, you will attract people and build relationships in which real trust is integral.

As broken and "f----d up" as you may have felt when your ex chose to tell you the truth about herself and return your ring, I am glad that this pathological person is out of your life. You could have married her and found out even later. I am also encouraged by your level of self-awareness in identifying that you are thinking and doing things now, like sitting and "waiting for the betrayal to happen", that are perpetuating your old pattern. Now you get to change the story.

Building trust in yourself is the type of self-work which will serve you most now. Specifically, I invite you to read How to Change Your Life in 30 Days by Rhonda Britten (the title isn't my favorite--it contrasts with the depth and beauty of the content). The whole book is great, but for you I particularly recommend Day 15 (Trusting Heart) and Day 19 (Forgiveness). But honestly there is a lot in the other chapters that you will likely find helpful.
Again, please know that you are NOT broken. But your beliefs about women, and more importantly yourself, are keeping you stuck.


The BreakUp Coach

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks to both of you. I have recently split up from my boyfriend. He was kind and loving but so heavy from the beginning. He too was paranoid about being cheated on. The heaviness scared me and the volatilty -he kept breaking up with me and then getting back together- I wanted the fun togetherness of the relationship rather than pledging our lives to each other. I ended up seeing an 'unavailable' ex a few times. It was wrong and out of character but it was a light relief.