Bethany asks: I broke up with my boyfriend of 5 years just over a year ago. At the time, I thought that it was because I met someone else but after a short relationship with the new man and some serious self-reflection while single, I realised that it was because I never really asked for what I needed in the relationship. We had one big fight at the beginning which was definitely all my fault (long story short, the man before him dented my self-esteem and so I was pushing my boyfriend away) and because I felt guilty about this behaviour, I never liked to argue or confront him if I was unhappy with something in our relationship.
My ex would have given me everything I needed if I’d only known myself well enough to ask. We’ve both matured and I believe our breakup could make us better partners. I can’t get him out of my head. He is the first person I think of when I wake up and the last person I think of at night. I am constantly driven by a desire to be back with him but afraid of grovelling on my knees and being rejected. Is it even possible to make it work a second time round? If not, how on earth can I get over this?
As humans, we have a habit of rewriting the past to suit a present-day narrative. When we’re self-critical and prone to being a blame absorber and something goes wrong, we misremember aspects of how things went down. Now that we know how things have turned out, we convince ourselves that we did XYZ and that the reason why the other person was or wasn’t being or doing ABC is because of us. We then work out what we think are the conditions for being OK and try to make it happen, or we beat ourselves up because we can’t turn back time.
How do you know that he would have given you everything you needed “if only” you’d asked him? Do you want to get back with your ex or do you have regrets about leaving a five-year relationship for something and someone that quickly didn’t work out?
Going through some serious self-reflection is no bad thing, in fact, if only more people would self-reflect to a more balanced perspective, there would be less chaos in dating and relationships.
That’s something that you can learn straight away: Whether you get back with your ex or not, what you’ve learned will make you a more emotionally available and engaging partner within your relationships.
Suppressing and repressing your true needs, expectations, desires, feelings and opinions to avoid conflict, criticism, rejection and disappointment (people pleasing) is very detrimental not just to your sense of self but to how you show up in your relationships and even to who you choose as a partner.
Conflict is a necessary part of life. We only truly experience intimacy when we can disagree and express our innermost feelings and thoughts even when they might not be ‘pretty’, opening up our awareness about each person’s perspective and allowing us to work together for resolution as well as to grow in self-awareness and self-knowledge, but conflict isn’t an automatic result of any and all expressions of needs, feelings, expectations, desires and opinions.
Consistently being authentic and showing up in the relationship represents our needs to ourselves as well as to our partners.
Some people assume that once in a relationship that they don’t have to meet any of their own needs anymore but actually, they have to meet theirs as well as express the needs that involve their partner, as well as be open to meeting those of their partner, who will also still be meeting their own needs.
Feeling that you’d provoked the argument (possibly not over your previous ex at that point), the guilt prompted you to make a rule to avoid speaking up out of fear of what might come out and/or that you would alienate him. Unfortunately, this was a self-defeating activity because doing things out of guilt just creates more fear as well as resentment plus you were cut off from intimacy meaning that your relationship couldn’t really grow. You were making a rod for your own back by trying to influence and control his feelings and behaviour with people pleasing and hoping that this as well as him potentially reading your mind would solve the issues and make you feel better.
When we feel that our needs have been repeatedly ignored and/or inadequately met in the past, we on some level decide that it’s less painful to silence our needs than it is to express them and run the risk of it being unmet. Throw in a negative association with conflict, and there’s a recipe for pain right there.