Holding On, Moving On, & Dealing with Your Ex

When Karen and I decided to write about exes, I had to risk annoying my good friend by telling her that I don’t have any. I met my wife when I was 17. We married when I was 20. I became a dad at 21 and again at 22. Looking back I marvel at how young and dumb I was. Against all odds and prevailing statistics, we celebrate 25 years this April. We’re real people and we’re very much in love. This seems to mystify folks but we assure you it is possible.

Brigitte and I have watched the demise of many marriages and partnerships. We’ve stood on the sidelines and supported dear friends who decided to split. It’s never the same afterwards. What you’re used to is being friends with a couple. It can still be good relating to one or both separately, but it’s going to be different because it’s no longer Bob & Susan. Now it’s Bob…and Susan.

Bob wants to tell you what a cold hearted bitch Susan is but we love Susan and it’s hard to hear. Susan wants to explain how short Bob’s penis and attention span are because apparently we needed to know…

In mid-adolescence my daughter asked me, “Dad, you ever notice that everybody’s ex girlfriend is a crazy bitch and every ex boyfriend was really bad in bed?” I wanted to tell her that it gets better in adulthood, but it often doesn’t.

As a therapist, I watch folks try to hold on to their exes through friendship or to win them back. I’m a big fan of dignity and I suggest things like, “How about f@ck that? Move on. Be civil and no more”

In codependent relationships, the person who has a poor sense of self sees their value in belonging to others and so of course they struggle to let go. We don’t just lose them we lose ourselves too.

Holding out hope means holding in pain.  This is how we create baggage and we’re the ones who get to carry it. We can’t expect to be happy while hoping our exes are miserable without us and that their new girlfriend gets fat.

We get stuck in unanswerable questions, “Why wasn’t I enough?” We go to therapy and ask the nice middle aged hippie chick where we went wrong? She tells you that you need to focus your energy on being more positive and that sounds nice but it doesn’t help you understand why s/he decided they wanted to go have sex with other people. (Um, because s/he wanted to have sex with other people).

We compare ourselves to their new partner as though we’ve been replaced. This is misguided. It’s not like trading in a car. So s/he went out and got a shiny new sports model and s/he kinda looks like a model and so you need to feel bad about yourself, eat more salads, and make empty promises about going to the gym. F@ck that. They filled an emptiness and we’re fueling our own insecurities.

It’s time to assemble your best friends, get drunk and vomit your feelings. Maybe give your ex a call around 2am? Follow this with assorted clichés that involve not bathing all weekend and spend plenty of time stalking your ex on Facebook!

You run into your ex’s friends and that’s weird. Maybe they offer condolences. Maybe they try to date you. You tell them you’re “not ready for a relationship” meaning, “I hated you when you were his/her friend, why would you think I’d date you?”

You’re going to run into your ex sooner or later. Don your fake smile (like they don’t recall what it looks like) and profess how well you’re doing. They’ll likely do the same. Remember those heart to hearts you used to have about hating fake people? Right, now you’re that to each other. Karen couldn’t be more right – being friends with your ex is a nice idea that’s largely unattainable. Just be yourself – a new and healthier version of yourself!

Maybe you both struggle for a bit and decide to “talk”. You know this is probably a bad idea but drawn like a magnet, you go. Somehow you end up in bed after meeting for “coffee.” Wait…what does that mean? Are you back together now or was it just sex? It was never just sex before…Better call up your closest friends and ask what they think. Maybe you can have “coffee” again this weekend?

Keep tearing off that scab and wonder why it doesn’t heal. Before you find someone new – find you.

Deal with the baggage you have – don’t just move forward. If you don’t work through your issues, your last relationship will significantly impact your next. Karen explains, “Real friendship, like any relationship, involves give and take, forgiveness and compromise…” Take stock of what you have to give and what you’re willing to take. Forgive yourself everything and do not compromise on your standards, your needs, or your values. Become the type of person you most wish to attract.

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About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.