'I'm haunted by thoughts of my cheating ex-girlfriend'
Lately I’ve been thinking about a past relationship that ended a few years ago.
We still speak and I messaged her recently to say that I was sorry for how I behaved and she was sweet in return.
She cheated on me in our early days and I carried that resentment throughout our relationship. I knew what she needed from me but I never gave it to her and I feel ashamed about that.
I’m in a relationship and although I admire my girlfriend and enjoy spending time with her, it feels like something is missing. She would be really hurt if she knew I was thinking about my ex.
I’m confused about what to do. What’s your advice?
The ghosts of our past tend to haunt us when we’re dissatisfied with our present.
‘It sounds like you’re in a long-term relationship with someone you’re not entirely in love with,’ says Dr Angharad Rudkin. ‘It’s too simplistic to say that you’re not in love with her because you’re still in love with your ex but something about the unfinished business of your last relationship is spilling over into your current one.’
When there is an intensity to an ending, our attention is easily pulled backwards like a powerful undertow – and ruminating about what has been can be a way of avoiding the situation in front of us.
‘It’s more exciting to think about the drama and anger of a past relationship than the humdrum nature of our current one,’ Rudkin adds.
We wonder if you’re also unconsciously concealing something else from your past and whether a bold excavation could liberate you from a painful pattern of being.
‘You say you withheld what your ex-girlfriend needed, which created shame,’ says Rupert Smith. ‘Has it occurred to you that you’re doing the same to your current partner?’
We suspect you have more examples of this pattern and that unless it’s challenged you will continue repeating the same destructive cycle.
‘It’s important to find the source of this withholding and shame,’ says Smith.
‘What could you be repeating? Is there an old experience of abandonment that you’re keeping buried?’
Ceasing contact with your ex-girlfriend would be helpful, allowing you to invest time and effort into exploring your past while focusing on your new girlfriend and seeing whether you have a future together.
‘You don’t necessarily have to tell your girlfriend that “something is missing”, which might be cruel,’ says James McConnachie. ‘But you could tell her that you’re struggling to connect.
‘You could start by just asking her for help. Because the help you need is much more likely to come from her than your ex.’
- Dr Angharad Rudkin is a clinical psychologist
- James McConnachie is the author of Sex (Rough Guides)
- Rupert Smith is an author and counsellor
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