Q. I dated someone for three years after his divorce. He promised me he was over the divorce, even though we got together pretty soon after. They were married for almost 20 years.
Throughout our relationship he gave me clues that he was not really over it. He refused to acknowledge her in public, he was angry when I let her in our house, he didn’t like the idea of her dating, etc. I tried to be nice to her because they had children together and I saw it was hard on them. I forged a tentative friendship with her and immediately saw how it benefited the children. I tried to do the best for everyone involved. Eventually I realized I was doing the best for everyone except myself. I was giving too much and not receiving much in return.
He would constantly pick fights with me over trivial things and it became harder to justify to myself why I needed to stay in the relationship. I finally decided to move out and move on with my life. Initially, he tried to get me back. He went to therapy and said he was trying to be better, but I knew it was not what I wanted, so we did not reconcile.
Later, I found out that he had instead reconciled with his ex-wife and now they are back together (shortly after I moved out). Now I do not speak to him or her. I also am not in contact with the children, which makes me sad. Just when I think I am getting better, something will set me back. During the holidays it was seeing a family ornament we had made, or running into them acting as a happy family again.
It hurts my heart and I wish I didn’t feel this way. I continue to pursue therapy for myself but I am still struggling. I feel all sorts of emotions — sadness at the loss of the relationship with the children, anger at him (and her), embarrassment imagining they were pursuing something together behind my back, betrayal at her promise that I would continue to be a part of the children’s lives, uselessness that I am not worthy of being loved appropriately, loss over my previous life.
Is there anything else I can do to move past this or do you think it just takes time? Thank you for listening.
A. I understand why you feel every one of those feelings! You lost so much after scrambling to make everyone happy. This grief might last a while, and it won’t be a linear process.
For the record, I was angry on your behalf after reading your letter. Then I was sad. Then furious all over again.
After reading your letter a second and third time, I felt … relief, which seems worth mentioning.
I decided that your decision to leave was a shortcut to a much better status quo. Now you’ll have the chance to build something that doesn’t involve negotiating with a bunch of people who can’t put you first.
Easy for me to say, I know.
Relationships take effort, but yours required too much, and it was all for others. You seem open to so much kindness. You embraced a relationship with a partner’s ex to help a family stay healthy.
I believe there are people out there who will be capable of loving you very appropriately.
It does take time. And therapy. And new memories. And new friends.
Take care of yourself. Embrace the new. If you run into them again, call someone funny. Laughing helps.
When I was 20, I dated a girl with a 2-year-old daughter. She was adorable and I did love spending time with her. To this day I still remember the image of her standing in a window waving goodbye to me. She was too young to remember me of course, but I still like to think I brought some joy into her otherwise chaotic life.
Try looking at it this way: You were right. He wasn’t over her, they were still quite enmeshed, and not just over the children. You did the right thing by extracting yourself from the situation before you got hurt even worse.
Consider what you have learned as a result of this relationship. You know you are fully capable of loving selflessly. That’s a strength! Keep up with the therapy to process it all. You will move forward in time and be proud that you made the (good) decision to leave and put yourself first.
Send your own relationship and dating questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out this form. Catch new episodes of Meredith Goldstein’s “Love Letters” podcast at loveletters.show or wherever you listen to podcasts. Column and comments are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.