Home > Marriage, relationships > Ending a Painful Relationship and Starting Over

Ending a Painful Relationship and Starting Over


99% dissolvedMy marriage is falling apart. How will it affect my children? I’ve worked so hard at this relationship, maybe if I just work a little harder. My best friend slept with my wife. I can’t make the mortgage payment. My business is failing. Nothing I’m doing is working.

This is “life.” It’s happening around us and to us at all times. Things change, people change, circumstances change and then our lives change.

These experiences are often incredibly painful, but they don’t need to signify the end of your world. Life and relationships are about beginnings, endings and renewals.

We’re odd creatures. We remember the few positives of an otherwise painful relationship and disregard the overwhelming evidence that it’s time to cut the tie because we’re afraid of letting go. We fight against it, bide our time and make bargains with ourselves and others to try to find new ways to hang on.

We have a tendency to get caught in untenable situations in which we keep trying and trying to make something work, only to feel more frustrated and hurt when the inevitable occurs. We don’t think to ask ourselves, “Why am I holding on so tightly to something that generally makes me feel so bad?”

sinking_shipThis calls to mind the image of a sinking ship. If you were a passenger on the S.S. Slow Boat to Nowhere, would you cling onto the deck of the ship yelling, “No! No! We can make this work!” as it begins its descent to the ocean floor? Or would you be doggie paddling like crazy to one of the life boats? As for me, “woof woof.”

There’s a freedom in finality. It gives you permission to start over. Take what you learned from the old relationship and your experiences and try something else. Who you are today is the sum total of all of your past experiences. You carry these lessons with you not as reminders of what didn’t work, but as primers of how to better succeed in future relationships.

Letting go is not synonymous with failure, although a lot of people think so. Some people going through a break-up or divorce believe they can only be happy or “win” if they make their ex miserable. That’s not true happiness. Happiness comes from acceptance and embracing your passions, whatever they may be. If you’re carrying your old baggage in both hands, how are you going to catch new opportunities when they come flying past you? Let it go.

Every ending is an opportunity for something new. Let it inform your future choices, not poison them. These experiences are often very painful at first, but this is where, when and how real growth can occur, if you let it. Just remember, it’s not the end of the world, but the beginning. Okay, then keep telling yourself that until you believe it.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

Private Consultation and Coaching

I provide confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. My practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit Services and Products for professional inquiries.

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Related material:

The Secret to Happy, Long Lasting Relationships

Photo credits:

99% Dissolved by Donna62 on flickr.

Sinking ship on unsong.

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  1. Matt
    October 12, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    If there’s one thing that does not work it’s logic! I’ve tried that too. To try save tantrums now i just sit and say, that’s fine (even when i just don’t understand) and try biting my lip. I can’t help myself from making comments sometimes that light her off, “Don’t worry i’ll keep looking at the ground…so you feel safe and secure i’ll feel like the hunchback of notre damne…coz that’s normal” …..”DONT GET SMART WITH ME AND LOOSE YOUR ATTITUDE!!!” is usually what i get back!

  2. Tyv
    October 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm

    Matt.

    She suffered a psychotic episode – ABRUPTLY. I didn’t see it coming even though she had behaved (more) wierdly for a month or so. I have been in the most extreme situations with her many times before, where I just left my life to care for her and her agony and turmoil So I did it again. I don’t want to say what happened exactly, but suffice to say – She CRUSHED me, stomped on my bleeding heart she just ripped from my chest. And then proceeded to make the vilest accusations I ever heard. And this from a person I loved and cared about like I’ve never known. She could have ruined my life with some of the accusations she made. And I have been extremely traumatized by this change in her. I saw the monster she was – clearly !! And I was TERRIFIED. I’ve changed numbers, blocked everything, am sleeping at friends houses just to avoid anything from her side.

    Quote: “you have three choices: 1) Leave me and never come back, 2) stay and be broken until you see the “truth” 3) Stay and do my bidding – without any objections whatsoever

    After I had taken care of her in a manner only a MOM would have done. So I chose 1).

    And then she was in my home when i got back later that day (we moved apart some time ago). Screamed at me WHY would I leave, why why why, how dare I I was so evil blahblahblah. She then screamed accusations for 6 hours while I was holding her hand just saying relax relax, I’ll take your pain, just relax, HORRIFIED.

    And then she calmed down. And then she wanted to be held and cuddled. And I did it out of terror. like holding a rabid dog. I just wanted peace.

    Since then, I cut all contact.

    So you ask: how do I feel? I feel like I’ve just woken up from nightmare version of silent hill. I still can’t believe it. its unreal. But I can see my old self somewhere in the distance. I can reationalize rationally (i think). Its AWESOME to be out. I think there is LIFE somewhere!

    Matt – GET OUT OF THE ABYSS! I just hope for your sake that you get out, Or (hope not, but…) she does something so vile, that you have no choice but to leave. I got many years left on this earth. 50 more years with her? thats hell on earth…

    Good luck

  3. Matt
    October 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    You have my total and utter envy! What was it like when you first no longer felt obligated to call or ring? the freedom, how does it feel?

  4. Tyv
    October 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    HAHAHA, this is some sort of conspiracy. These are my thoughts EXACTLY. i don’t know how many times I’ve been sitting outside my apartment after work just dreading to go in to see if she’s crying or waiting to blame me for not asking about some obscure thing I had no idea had relevance. Oh man, I could write a book on the weirdest discussions I’ve had. And I never won. I try to use logic (I’m a scientist). That was the main reason I lost all discussions, I now see. and i actually apologized for trying to convince her that I thought I wasn’t a bad guy.

    I also loved just going to sleep once upon a time. But then i had nightmares for one year straight about zombies and armageddon and all sorts of horrible stuff. The nights i slept that is, because I had to hold her while she was crying for so many nights and going to work exhausted.

    And you know what! i haven’t talked to her for 10 days now, and the nightmares are GONE ! :D

  5. Matt
    October 12, 2011 at 11:59 am

    tyv,

    I laughed in despair at this site too. How many post’s have you read saying, “oh my god I thought it was just me!” When i read the post saying “it sounded forced and rehersed” i near cried and laughed at the same time. I heard those very words last night! THOSE EXACT WORDS. Are these people part of an international society of drama queens????
    There’s only so much work you can do. For every bit of “effort” I put in, eventually i need a break. I love going to sleep. It’s like going to the movies for me. I get to see my friends, we chat, go on trips, it’s a great break. Then the alarm clock goes off and its work time again.

    I know they say relationships are hard work but they shouldn’t be torture. When I rather be out cold to awake and living, I’m gonna say thats a bad sign.

  6. Matt
    October 12, 2011 at 10:01 am

    oh my god just read this….

    mighty1500
    September 2, 2010 at 9:56 pm | #10 Reply | Quote
    0 0 Rate This
    I am in the process of dissolving a 10 year relationship with a woman who has some of the traits found in Cluster B………She would floor me with complaints that I don’t ever compliment her or pay attention to her when I know I clearly did. She would say it was not enough, or she had to prompt me or it “sounded forced and rehearsed”. Hell, you’d rehearse too if you had to perform for THE QUEEN!

    THAT IS MY LIFE!!!!! WHAT THE HELL IS IT WITH THESE FREAK WOMEN?????

    • tyv
      October 12, 2011 at 11:19 am

      haha. I’m seriously laughing in despair over this site. Matt, thank you for making me laugh. I’ve been living this for two years straight. Walking on egg shells? thats way too soft a term. I’m thinking bear traps, landmines… etc

      I was under the impression that love was all you needed and if you worked HARD at your relationship, it could work. And I am a driven man. I do not give up easily, but I has seen the light (years after everybody else). I cannot win – EVER. Dalai Lama could not win if he was in this situation. Thor himself would be ground to dust.

      RUN AWAY from these monsters!

  7. Tyv
    October 11, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    oh my god. I just found this site. I just got out of a two year relationship resembling a horror movie. Where I was the virgin girl. Who just had to see what was in the woods. The very dark woods.

    I think I have been in a relationsship with a borderline girl. some of these stories resonate throughout my entire being. My boundaries have dissolved. I have seriously considered if I myself was bipolar. Why nothing ever made sense. Why she cried for hours if I didn’t wake her with a kiss (true story!) millions of other stories of completely unacceptable behaviour. Behavior that just became normal for me over two years.

    what convinced me of my sanity was my therapist. and the fact that my now ex-girlfriend has suffered a serious reality break where she accused me of some HORRIBLE stuff. and thinks shes going to save the world (literally, she thinks she’s reincarnated female messiah, even though shes atheist). marijuana is not good for you if you have borderline and PTSD and whatever else she has.

    Hurray! I am free ! I miss the girl I thought I loved. Not the monster that has appeared before my unveiled eyes.

  8. Irishgirl
    September 17, 2011 at 1:59 am

    “Who you are today is the sum total of all of your past experiences. You carry these lessons with you not as reminders of what didn’t work, but as primers of how to better succeed in future relationships.”

    That’s exactly right. Instead of looking at what went wrong as mistakes or failures, look at them as experiences to learn from. As long as we learn from our ‘mistakes’, then they are no longer mistakes. They are experiences that can actually improve our lives….and other people’s lives in the long run.

  9. September 3, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    And another thing… according to *her*, it is wrong of me to raise my voice, stomp and make angry gestures becasue it “scares her” and she does not know when I might hit her. I never hit, pushed, shoved or did anything physical to her. *She* has, on the other hand, punched me in the chest and back several times, thrown objects at me, including a glass Pyrex measuring cup full of hot liquid. I am so lucky I dodged it or I may have lost an eye. She has also destroyed personal belongings during these tirades. All that should be excused because 1) she is a WOMAN and has hormone issues, 2) she has a physical handicap, 3) I was being an asshole and I deserved it.

    Double Standard Deluxe!

    • del
      September 17, 2011 at 12:45 am

      minus the physical handicap,,,,,sounds like my ex-wife….

  10. September 3, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    I experienced a lot of the things in the above list. Come to think of it, she says that I create many of the feelings and conditions in her in the list above as well. I don’t try to, it just happens. I may do some things such as nonverbal cues or passive-aggressive moves such as “not listening” or procrastinating. I think I may be somewhat of a bastard too, but she takes it and makes a huge deal out of it i order to make herself feel right and in control. Making a huge deal out of the speck in my eye while sporting a log in her own. Buy then again according to her, I’m “in denial” and “You are just like your father and can’t help it–it is unconscious.” she also says “you are too nervous, I can’t relax and be myself with you and that’s why I want out of this marriage”. I just did not show up nervous. In fact it was my self-confidence in the early days that attracted her to me. Then once we moved in together, she went to work on me and I reacted badly and hurt her right back.

  11. September 3, 2010 at 1:36 am

    “One of the best ways to tell if you are being abused is to trust your gut feeling. This is a difficult task, if your abuser has managed to make you doubt your own sanity, but it is vital to your survival and healing.”

    Do you feel nervous around her?
    Do you have to be careful to control your behavior or what you say to avoid her anger or bad temper?
    Do you feel pressured by her when it comes to sex?
    Are you afraid of disagreeing with her?
    Does say or do things that make you feel ashamed, embarrassed or humiliated?
    Does she make you feel like you are wrong, stupid, crazy, worthless, or inadequate?
    Do you ever feel scared around her because of her violent or threatening behavior?
    Do you often do things to please her, rather than to please yourself?
    Do you feel that nothing is ever good enough for her?

    Your situation is critical if the following applies to you:

    ◦You express your opinions less and less freely.
    ◦You find yourself walking on eggshells, careful of when and how to say something.
    ◦You long for that softer, more vulnerable part of your partner to emerge.
    ◦You find yourself making excuses for your partner’s behavior?
    ◦You feel emotionally unsafe.
    ◦You feel its somehow not OK to talk with others about your relationship.
    ◦You hope things will change…especially through your love and understanding.
    ◦You find yourself doubting your memory or sense of reality.
    ◦You doubt your own judgment.
    ◦You doubt your abilities.
    ◦You feel vulnerable and insecure.
    ◦You are becoming increasingly depressed.
    ◦You feel increasingly trapped and powerless.
    ◦You have been or are afraid of your partner.
    ◦Your partner has physically hurt you, even once.
    [ Situation Critical… from drirene.com. Thank you for making this information available ]

    Feeling scared, humiliated, pressured or controlled is not the way you should feel in ANY relationship. If you have those feeling,s listen to them. They are telling you that something is very wrong with your relationship

    Credit: http://www.heart-2-heart.ca/men/page1.htm

    I’m not sure what ‘critical’ means here…trust your intuition / body. It will tell you what your heart and mind have been too traumatized to reveal.

    • Mike
      May 18, 2016 at 6:39 am

      Wow. I honestly answered yes to EVERY single bullet point on the ‘situation critical’ list. I know my girlfriend is abusive and, from my own lay observations and research bares a lot of NPD traits. I know I should leave her but it is just not that simple. I cannot stop doubting the extent my own issues have gone into creating this situation… I am afraid because I don’t trust her and don’t trust my own judgement. I think I need professional help because I am so utterly confused and I actually love her despite the misery. I wish she could be the same girl I fell so in love with again. I wish I could be the same guy I was then too.

  12. September 2, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    I am in the process of dissolving a 10 year relationship with a woman who has some of the traits found in Cluster B. Unfortunately I have some of my own personality issues and combining the two was like a bad chemical reaction. The thing I have the hardest time determining is which behaviors I acquired from being with her and which were totally part of the personality I brought into the relationship. She accused me of harboring so many thoughts and attitudes I did not believe I had. It always made me wonder if she knew me better than I knew myself. It created a ton of self doubt. Add to that her blase’ dismissal of my gifts and compliments. She would floor me with complaints that I don’t ever compliment her or pay attention to her when I know I clearly did. She would say it was not enough, or she had to prompt me or it “sounded forced and rehearsed”. Hell, you’d rehearse too if you had to perform for THE QUEEN! And throw in her assertions that she thought she was different than ordinary people because she claimed to have some psychic gifts such as being able to feel other’s feelings (empathic), healing and other metaphysical weirdness, and you can bet she felt pretty damn special.

    • del
      September 17, 2011 at 12:40 am

      holy crap dude,I just divorced that same person,claimed to have a higher understanding/feeling of the world…into spirituality,buddhism retreats,but when she got angered ,she would quickly revert to the old nasty person she was…yet,hereb I am doubting myself of what more I coildve done..Im amazed at this phenomenon

  13. Ms Reason
    March 31, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    What a beautiful, refreshing and philosophic and to-the-point article that celebrates freedom and letting go! instead of advising to self-immolate by trying to make something toxic ‘work’ (like some other therapists try to do by sympathizing with a monster and placing the burden of helping her/him on the healthy person.)

    Thank you Dr. Tara – for your wisdom and insights, and even more so for the hope and refreshing optimism you bring in your work that not only gives logical explanations to crazy NP/BP exes, but also allows us to rethink our own patterns or definition of ‘love’, and most of all helps in recovering and looking onwards and upwards. And empathising with those who have been through similar traumas themselves.

    “If you’re carrying your old baggage in both hands, how are you going to catch new opportunities when they come flying past you? Let it go. Every ending is an opportunity for something new. Let it inform your future choices, not poison them.” – How true! and beautifully put. Really, where were you all those years when so many emotionally abused men had nowhere to go?! (and either did not find good therapists or used their work-colleagues as ‘free shrink confidantes.’) Thank goodness you are here now!

  14. John
    November 9, 2009 at 2:09 am

    Well, that explains alot. Been in a relationship for five years with a binge drinker/drug user and blamed all her behavior on that.. pretty sure there’s a bunch of underlying problems that she’s self-medicating herself over, and her behaviors are pretty consistent with what I’ve read so far. Maybe not as extreme, but lots of similarities. We have a beautiful son together, and I’d hate to not be around for him, but there’s just no end to her rapid fire mood changes, and she always seems to think that it’s a win-lose situation between us. Nothing is ever good enough, and no matter how nice I am to her or how much I spoil her, it seems to be forgotten by the next day and we’re right back to square one- moral of that story, money doesn’t solve everything. There’s lots of stuff I can bring up, but the list goes on and on. She refuses any kind of therapy for anything.. won’t let herself be helped. I figured her age was a factor on that, or maybe pride. Not so sure anymore.

  15. Freedom
    October 30, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I also think it’s important to surround yourself with good, loving, honest people. my friends and family are all wonderful people. they love me, support me thru tough times. but one of the other things that makes them so special is that they’ll tell me as they see it, not necessarily what i want to hear. but even when that happens, i never leave the discussion feeling taken for granted, feeling low, feeling anything bad. it’s simply a difference of opinion. they’ll tell their opinion, tell me why they think/feel a certain way, let me digest it and make my own decisions (knowing that i get the only vote), and still support my decisions because they also know that they are not me, or not in my position. they are lovingly objective, they always root for me, and will always be there for me. those are the types of people you/me/i/we should all have in our corner when times get tough.

    as for me currently… i’m doing GREAT. everything in my life is splendid. i’ve got a dance to my step, my head is clear, my heart is pure, and there’s a song in my soul!!! all is good…

  16. Freedom
    September 3, 2009 at 3:34 am

    Every ending is an opportunity for something new. Let it inform your future choices, not poison them. These experiences are often very painful at first, but this is where, when and how real growth can occur, if you let it.

    Dr. T has given so much good advice on this site. but this may be the best. before any new journey can begin, the previous journey must end. let it end with lessons learned, not baggage taken with you. and please don’t make the next girl pay for the mistakes of the previous girl. that doesn’t solve anything.

    • shrink4men
      September 5, 2009 at 6:49 pm

      Thanks, Freedom. I appreciate the positive feedback and hope you’re well.

  17. Jon
    July 28, 2009 at 7:23 am

    I just wanted to say thank you for maintaining this website and for all of your helpful articles on it. Working with a therapist, I’ve recently recognized what an abusive relationship I have been in for the past 9 months. After much agony and dithering I collected the strength to end it and I feel like “myself again.” My confidence and belief in myself is back. It’s scary how cunning some of these women can be. I realized that a lot of it has also been who I find myself attracted to and a propensity for drama. Well, I’ve realized that I’m more whole and more emotionally healthy than I ever gave myself credit for. And I want to find a woman who is like that as well! Not someone who I might be able to save if I try hard enough.

    • shrink4men
      July 28, 2009 at 8:37 pm

      Hi Jon,

      Thanks for reading and the positive feedback. Congratulations for ending the relationship. I’m sure it was difficult for you. The realization of what attracts you to these women is incredibly important. I wish you the best and want to reassure you that there are loving, healthy women out there.

      Kind Regards,
      Dr Tara

  18. shrink4men
    February 23, 2009 at 1:13 am

    Thanks, Victoria!

  19. February 19, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    Well said and I love the images.

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