[Two Pronged] I can’t stop replying to my ex

[Two Pronged] I can’t stop replying to my ex
'I feel no romantic ties or physical attraction towards him, but the niggling desire to still be his confidante continues. How do I stop feeling this way?' Arabelle writes about her ex boyfriend

Rappler’s Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.

Jeremy has a master’s degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives

Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.

Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr. Baer,

I need help dealing with impulses after leaving a toxic relationship. My first boyfriend and I shared a dream of attending the same university. Our relationship turned sour after 6 months.

He was uncomfortable with my family being better off and I was unable to make him feel secure in my love. I had a hard time forgiving him, made the same mistakes he was angry about although I tried not to. What bonded us was his listening to me calmed him. I was happy knowing I could do that for him. But the brunt of his temper turned towards me, scaring me. 

He cheated on me and we tried to fix our relationship but I was pretty cold by then.

We broke up after 3 years but continued to go through a cycle of negativity well after university. 

I’ve found someone who I love deeply – a mutual friend of ours. He is selfless and kind. I would like to be a better girlfriend.

One issue: my need to respond to my ex’s calls and texts.

I don’t hide these conversations from my current boyfriend, but it makes him uncomfortable. 

My boyfriend has not asked me to stop talking to my ex, but no one feels good after my conversations with him.

I feel guilty that my ex is in such a bad place after we broke up, and that I “took away” the friendship between my ex and my current boyfriend. My non-logical part wants to continue calming my ex.

I feel no romantic ties or physical attraction towards him, but the niggling desire to still be his confidante continues. How do I stop feeling this way?

I have tried blocking all forms of communication with him, but the desire is still the same.


Dear Arabelle,

It is quite normal to carry memories of past relationships, romantic and otherwise, and it is clear that you remember both the good and bad times with your first boyfriend. Hopefully these should guide you to replicate the former and avoid the latter.

Your new relationship seems a big improvement on your first and indeed you have nothing but praise for #2. Your criticism is, in fact, self directed as you find yourself unable to sever your contacts with #1 even if there are no longer any romantic ties or physical attraction.

There are a number of possible explanations here.

First, you may simply be unwilling to admit to some residual feelings for #1. It is common to have a special connection to your first boyfriend and even if it ended in tears there were obviously memories to be treasured.

Second, even if you acknowledge #1’s infidelity and anger issues, you seem anxious to assume as much blame for the breakup as possible. Your family was better off, you got into the university, you did not make him feel secure in your love, they were your mistakes that made him angry. Third, you are proud of your continuing ability to calm #1 which is perhaps not a feature of your relationship with #2.

With all these (and no doubt other) possibilities to hand, you need to consider what exactly is driving this refusal of yours to sever ties with #1 and ask yourself if it is purely within you or a function of something you miss with #2. Finally, remember that even if we sometimes have desires which we cannot suppress, that is ok provided we do not act on them.

All the best,

JAF Baer

Dear Arabelle, 

Thank you very much for your letter. Mr Baer has covered all the necessary issues involved in your dilemma, so I shall merely add my take on some of his statements, ok?

“Your criticism is, in fact, self directed” which has both good and bad implications. Good, if this self direction is due to your objectivity and ability to be unflinching when admitting your mistakes. Bad, if it merely allows more self focus.

Some people mistakenly assume that those who berate themselves are taking responsibility for their behavior. True if it happens one – indeed, even 2/3 times – but any more is usually just a way to bring the conversation back to and about themselves.

This is the reason someone who constantly apologizes can be irritating as hell – yes, even if you are who they apologize to. Only an apologizee as “narcissistic” (“narcissistic lite?” or “NL?” ) as the apologizer, will not mind. In apologizing to a fellow NL, they both become the focus.

Indeed, Mr Baer is partly correct when suggesting you think about what “exactly is driving this refusal of yours to sever ties,” but once again, quidao! This may merely be an excuse to ruminate and not focus more on actually controlling your impulses and not just recognize (and apologize for) them.

Mr Baer is absolutely right when he reminds you that “even if we sometimes have desires we cannot suppress, that is ok provided we do not act on them.” It seems like you can refrain from acting on them if you tried, Arabelle.

Simply calling them impulses rather than, for example, what they really are – self indulgent responses to an ex that you can control but won’t because you can get away with them – does not make them okay.

I worry I am being unduly harsh. My excuse is, as a fellow NL, I know how easy it is to rationalize my behavior. We are quick witted and alas, quite manipulative. But we are so in such a charming way that people forgive us, if they even notice our machinations.

I also worry I am simply projecting my weaknesses on to you. But I think I am professional enough to discern if I really am (merely projecting), and in this case, I strongly feel I am not.

You helped #1 directly when together, and it is now time to help him indirectly by staying away. It is also time to help #2 (and yourself).

All the best,

MG Holmes 

– Rappler.com

Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email twopronged@rappler.com with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.

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