Ask Charles: "Should I go back to my ex?"


Dear Charles: 

I am a 43-year-old divorced woman with three kids. I met my current fiancé four years ago. He jumped in hard and fast, promising me the world. I bought into his lies only to spend the next three years watching him flirt with other women—possibly more. When I called him out on his behavior (he had given me his passwords at one point, to prove he wasn't doing anything wrong), he broke down crying, told me he loved me and that he did those things to protect himself, as his first wife and last girlfriend both cheated on him. He begged for a second chance and promised to change. We reconciled.

We ended up breaking up. He had enough of my snooping (and catching him) and left me to be with another woman. After a very difficult time letting go of him emotionally, I met a wonderful guy.
He ended up finding out I was with someone new—and happy—and came running back. He proposed. I said yes, and he again promised the world to my kids and me. He confessed everything, including having sex with his former girlfriend (now still his good friend) and begged for forgiveness. He begged me to help him to stop being basically a cheater and promised to go to counseling. It was good for several months. He continues to talk to the girl he slept with and says I need to trust him they are only friends. I can't stop nagging him about her because it makes me uncomfortable. Every time I bring her up we fight and walk away for several weeks only to end up right back together.

I have this addiction to him I can't stop and keep hoping he will be the person he promised. I know I would tell my friends to run away fast if they were in this situation. My head tells me to run and my heart tells me he is very broken and we will get through this. 

What do I do? 




Dear J:

It does sound like you are making the relationship happen all by yourself... and that you are really working on saving him—perhaps from himself. The issue with that is... you can't save him. You can assist him in his change/recovery, but ultimately, it is HIS CHOICE to alter his behavior.

Tangible examples:

  • People don't quit smoking until THEY choose to.
  • People don't stop drinking/drug use until THEY hit their personal rock bottom.

To consider: After you had moved on and found a new level of happiness in a new relationship... you left that relationship to return to one that was broken. Why? (Please don't hear me wrong; rekindling things with an ex *can* work... but it won't work if you go back to the old relationship; you have to start a *new* one.)

Most people keep/return to a broken relationship due to fear. It feels familiar... safe... and it gives us a sense of security because we are used to it — and if there is a Savior/Save Me dynamic in-play, the draw to the broken relationship is even stronger.

My question to you: What are you getting out of this dysfunctional relationship that has you so hooked in? Are you saving someone from your past? Are you seeking validation? A sense of being worthy of love... that if he changes, you are "worth it" and therefore lovable?
Here's the crux of the issue: Because you are putting up with shabby treatment, you are showing him that you don't respect yourself. You are showing him that you are only worthy of the way he is treating you... and each time you go back and forgive him, you are reinforcing his behavior. In essence, he is conditioned to deal with whatever short-term fallout there is between you... but he also knows that you will eventually let it go and get back into the swing of things. It's a roller coaster that you are both on... and with awareness, you are not a victim of the situation... you are a participant.
My advice: Letting go of this cycle is very difficult. I would venture your senses of self-worth and esteem are locked up in that relationship. The only way out of the cycle is.... out. Cut things. Move on to someone who will treat you like a treasure. And by "someone", I don't mean a new relationship... I mean move on to YOU. Self-worth and self-esteem emanate from SELF. Start with you... respect and value YOU... and everyone around you will have no choice but to follow your lead.