My Fiance's Ex

 

Dear Ron, 

My fiancé and I have been together for almost 4 years. The only thing that has bothered me in our relationship was his past relationship. Her name was H. and they were dating together for a year and a half Freshman year of High School. We are now in college and obviously that was a long time ago, but I just can't seem to get over thinking about her every. single. day. I think that the reason why I am so obsessed with her is because they each took each others virginity and that is something that is so special to me and something that I wanted to take. He has no cares for her whatsoever and whenever I mention her he always tells me not to worry about her and that their relationship was horrible (she cheated on him sexually too). I find myself stalking her Facebook, social media everyday and it lowers my self confidence knowing that I will never be like her or be the one who took something so special from him. They say that you will always have a special attraction the first person you first have sex with and it bothers me that he will always have that with her. What do I do? It has been years with me being like this and I don't know how to move on. I love him with all of my heart and he doesn't know that I am THIS obsessed with her... I’ve prayed and I've blocked her from social media, but I always find my way back to thinking of her. What do I do?
Meg



Meg,

First, I want to thank you for your question and I'd like to acknowledge the pain these thoughts are giving you.  You seem like a very sensitive woman and I'll wager your fiancée is proud of you for that reason.  Also, thank you for providing the additional information I requested.

Let me speak first to your fiancée (you'll have to relay the information, of course), I'll call him Mr. Meg: 

Mr. Meg, I appreciate that you try to be helpful to Meg when she is insecure about your former girlfriend.  I'll guess that sometimes you cannot understand why she asks about Haily; shouldn't she be over it by now?  But she is not; she has a pain deep inside of her.  Meg loves you so deeply that she wants to partner with you for the rest of your lives.  Somewhere in her past, Meg was trained to believe that she should marry a virgin and that she would be your first lover.  That training informed Meg that first lovers are indelibly etched in our psyche and while you know that is not true, she does not have that same certainty.  So you see, Meg's pain is not about your ex-girlfriend, it is caused by Meg's fear that you might somehow not be emotionally (or physically) available to her in the future.

For that reason, Meg needs more than simple reassurance that you have no further interest in your former girlfriend, Meg needs for you to stand under her when she experiences this pain.  Do this: (1) Ask her to talk about her feelings, then (2) validate those feelings and then (3) ask her again and repeat until Meg reassures herself.  Remember to use your two ears for listening and to use your words very judiciously and mostly for the purpose of validating her feelings.  Do that instead of immediately reassuring her (which, I agree, intuitively seems to be the right thing to do); your reassuring words, unfortunately cannot be heard when Meg is in fear and feeling that pain.  Furthermore, this pain is deep, so Meg is likely to share her fear several times; if you are patient to just listen... and then validate, eventually this pain will go away.  BTW:  If you cannot be patient in this way, Meg may not overcome this pain.

Though you have never betrayed Meg, this is still a betrayal in her heart; that's what she feels.  Despite your own innocence in this matter, Meg has experienced relational trauma.  And because this trauma has not yet been resolved, her mind keeps stumbling over the pain every time she thinks about how much she loves you.  Mr. Meg, I emphasize, you did not cause the trauma but you are the central, and only, person (aside from Meg herself) involved in the trauma.  If you learn to do this well, Meg's trauma will heal and she will be grateful to you.

And for you Meg:

Your relational trauma will heal as Mr. Meg helps you to heal; you will begin to feel relief immediately.  In addition, however, you have turned these anxious thoughts into habits and you are responsible to rid yourself of them.  Trolling the ex-girlfriend on social media is a habit which can be broken.  Any such sort of behavior is a habit which can be broken.  Here are some simple rules but if you can't make these work, you'll have to seek some 1-1 help with a counselor to break these habits.  Consider:

1) A fast from all social media for a time (it is Lent, after all) as a way to lessen the importance you give to vicarious information about people.  I am not trying to be critical about social media in general, however, allowing yourself to casually view information vicariously can lead you to decide to make that extra leap into the debilitating behavior of trolling the ex.

2) Give yourself a consequence to do should you cross the line in order to view the ex-g/f.  Don't think of a consequence as punishment, think of it as a way to re-train your brain.  Thus, don't give yourself a 'harsh' consequence but instead make it a 'significant' consequence.  For example, consider giving $25 to an organization you politically or philosophically disagree with whenever you cross the line.

3) When you are tempted, interrupt the temptation with a different behavior; for example, turn off your phone and take a walk when the thought crosses your mind.  In other words, put yourself in a completely different frame of mind when you are tempted.  Do this even if it is 3 AM.

4) Finally, be patient with yourself.  You have convinced yourself that the ex-girlfriend is important and you have given this person importance in your brain.  Think of the lesson of the pink elephant: whenever I tell myself to not think about the pink elephant, I of course, think of the pink elephant.  Your job over the next several months is to allow the significance of that pink elephant to extinguish from your brain.

I know that's a lot of information so here are the important principles to consider:

1) You have experienced relational trauma (though your fiancée is not responsible).

2) That trauma must be healed or complete health will not be attained.

3) Your fiancée can be your most effective healer (see above note to Mr. Meg).

4) You are responsible for breaking your own harmful habits.

5) Habits only change when we take action, we must do more than just think about them.

Meg, I hope this is helpful to you, please let me know if I can be of further assistance.  

Ron Kaufmann, MA, CO LPC #11336, EMDR Clinician

 

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