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November 21, 2014 - Welcome Guest!

Advice » Relationships

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Still bitter after all this time

Question:

I have been separated for about 2 1/2 years now and actually divorced for almost a year. I've been having a problem with relationships ever since. I've met a lot of great guys - I haven't had a problem meeting guys at all. My problem is that I'm still so angry and bitter about my ex-husband, that I find myself backing off, and even ruining relationships once I see that things might start getting serious.

I have this little mental checklist of what my perfect man should be and I start finding little things wrong with the guy and just start getting irritated at the smallest things. I also find myself comparing guys to my ex-husband much too often - if I see any similarity what so ever, my attraction is totally turned off.

Does this bitterness ever end? Is my mental checklist too limiting? How can I work on this?

Heather (27 year-old woman)

Answer:

Hi Heather,

I'll be answering your letter line-by-line. Hope this makes it feel more "conversational"...

Heather

I have been separated for about 2 1/2 years now and actually divorced for almost a year.

Tony

So how long have you gone without any significant contact with him? If he's still in your life at all (except for quick, businesslike things), in a way you haven't completely let go of him.

Heather

I've been having a problem with relationships ever since. I've met a lot of great guys - I haven't had a problem meeting guys at all.

Tony

Great! Glad you keep trying, etc. Please realize that the odds of finding the right person are about one in twenty to start with - so looking around a lot and experimenting with different types of men is the way to go.

Heather

My problem is that I'm still so angry and bitter about my ex-husband, that I find myself backing off, and even ruining relationships once I see that things might start getting serious.

Tony

Another way to phrase this problem is to see that you really haven't "let go" of your ex-husband yet. People "hold on" to past partners just as often through their unresolved bad feelings as through feeling sadness about the good things they've lost. You need to acknowledge your anger at your ex as physical energy you need to Use Up. Whenever you do anything energetic in your life, think of it as using up your anger at him - and keep noticing that the remaining amount of anger goes down every time (until it is finally gone and you feel great relief). There is a lot more I'd want to know if we worked together regularly about this, especially about how he treated you and why you are angry. If he mistreated you physically, or if he betrayed you, or if he was basically a good person who suddenly left, you would have various types of anger and you may need different kinds of advice about how to use up your anger.

Whenever we lose someone close we feel "grief." And grief is waves of sadness (at the loss of the good stuff..), followed by waves of anger (as we celebrate the loss of the bad stuff...!), followed by a day of wonderful relief. People get stuck at various stages. Some people don't let themselves cry and keep their sadness. Others can cry but don't let themselves express their anger physically to use it up. Many people try to turn their initial sadness into anger - and these people may think that they need to be angry but they actually still haven't faced the sadness, which comes first. I'd need to know a lot more about you to know which group you are in.

The bottom line is that nobody is really ready for their next relationship until they are finished with the grief from the last one.

Heather

I have this little mental checklist of what my perfect man should be and I start finding little things wrong with the guy and just start getting irritated at the smallest things. I also find myself comparing guys to my ex-husband much too often - if I see any similarity what so ever, my attraction is totally turned off.

Tony

And, of course, everyone you meet will eventually show you some traits that are similar to your ex-husband, so the real problem here is that you are keeping yourself away from getting close to anyone at all. This is what we do when we haven't finished off our sadness and anger.

Heather

Does this bitterness ever end? Is my mental checklist too limiting? How can I work on this?

Tony

As I said above, yes, the bitterness has an end. About the mental checklist... I'd suggest that you throw away anything on the list that doesn't directly relate to how the new person actually treats you when you are with them. All other things on your list are meaningless, and how you are treated is everything in a relationship.

You don't mention therapy or counseling. Why not? It could speed things along for you immeasurably.

Thanks for writing!

Tony Schirtzinger, ACSW, Therapist

This question was answered by Tony Schirtzinger.

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