Dear Dr. NerdLove:
My girlfriend says she was emotionally abused by her ex boyfriend. He had anger and jealousy issues. He would isolate her and dictate the activities they would do together. He would even say hurtful things to her like that she’s not marriage material or that she’ll be alone forever. They dated for about two years and then she broke up with him. He tried desperately to get her back. He would write long elaborate love notes and even drive 4 hours to show up at her front door unannounced. This went on for about a year. She started to date other people and she slowly cut him out of her life.
About a year ago, she received a job offer at the same job that he works at. This would mean they would work in the same city and the same building. This was her dream job so she said yes. When she moved down here for the new job, they began communicating again. Deep feelings for him began to resurface. She discovered that he had a new girlfriend and it really hurt her. She cried for days when she found out. She was confused why she felt like this after the way he treated her in the past. She tried to get back into a relationship with him but he refused because of his new girlfriend. This hurt her even more.
She decided to just try to maintain a professional working relationship. She began dating again and a few months later, she started dating me. She told me the whole story of their relationship. As we began to become serious in our relationship, she decided it was a good idea to keep our relationship a secret so that he does not cause drama at work. I also work in the same building as them.
The next few months was a struggle. He would call her almost every day and she would pick up the phone every time. He would send long texts apologizing for the past and saying that he would like to get back together. She was very transparent with me about these conversations. She said it was important to maintain a professional relationship with him because they work together but it was clear that he wanted more than just a professional relationship. She said she was working on cutting him out of her life but she needed time and to do it her own way. I obliged and allowed the communication to continue between them. They would speak almost daily.
Our relationship continues to progress and by this point, we are serious about each other. We are saying “I love you”, meeting each other’s parents and even talking about the future. Yet, during this same period of time, I would catch her lurking on the new girlfriends social media page. If the ex would post a new photo with his girlfriend, she would see it and her mood would immediately be ruined. They would have phone conversations where they would argue and cry about the past for hours. She said what she was feeling has nothing to do with romantic feelings and everything to do with the aftermath of the emotional abuse she received. I was very confused by this but she confidently said that she was never in love with him. It still hurt when I would see her continue to have these conversations with her ex and see how bothered she was by his new girlfriend.
I did not like how she was handling the situation but I also tried to remain empathetic. I urged her not to text back or answer his calls but she simply could not. She knew that their communication made me uncomfortable. I was often frustrated and it would lead to arguments. When she couldn’t go no contact, I felt that she cared about his feelings more than mine. It seemed that she had this attachment to him. I began to feel like I was being emotionally cheated on. Yet, she always remained very adamant that she was in love with me and not him. She attributes her feelings and tears to the emotional abuse. She knows he wasn’t the one for her.
I told her that he it is unhealthy for them to be in contact and it would be best if she blocked him from everything. It took quite a bit of convincing but she eventually did. We’ve now been together for 6 months and she hasn’t been in contact with him for about three months.
We are still in love and she firmly maintains that she never felt the same love for him. I believe her but I wonder if there are feelings that she can’t fully understand because of the pain she went through?
I know that it can be very hard to detach from a manipulative ex and I admit that I don’t fully understand the effects of an emotionally abusive relationship. I write this because I want to understand how a past emotionally abusive relationship can affect a current loving relationship and how to navigate those difficulties.
I worry that her ex was like a drug, responsible for her highs and lows, and she was going through withdrawals while dating me. I worry that she has been so conditioned by the emotional abuse that she has come to expect it. I want to be assured that I was not emotionally cheated on. I think that is my biggest fear.
Is it possible that she simply did not have enough time to heal from him? I feel like I had to push her to make the decision to block his number. If she was truly over him and healed, wouldn’t she have willingly blocked him for the betterment of our relationship? I recently asked her to unblock him because I felt that blocking him was just an easy way of not having to confront the problem. I never seen her not text back or not pick up his calls and that is still the one thing that makes me believe she was not over him. Unblocking him was my way of testing her to see how she would react if he does reach out again. Was this a bad idea to unblock him? It seemed to be working but I always wonder how far the communication would have gotten if I didn’t push her to block him.
I feel stuck and don’t want to question her anymore. I don’t want to smother her in pursuit of this clarity and understanding that I crave. Please help me understand all of this.
Stuck In 3rd