Three weeks ago, I received a text message from my ex-partner. It went something like this:
“Hi Kathryn. I hope this message finds you well and doesn’t come as too much of a disruption. I’m going through a hard time right now and I’m really struggling. I was wondering if we could chat sometime? I totally understand if you don’t want to.”
After 18 months of no contact, seeing his name pop up on my phone made time stand still for a moment.
It felt a bit like staring at the lid of Pandora’s Box. To open or not to open?
I already knew the answer.
If my ex had just been reaching out to say hi, it would have been different. But knowing he was struggling made me set aside my own feelings and reply.
And it’s been a swirl of confusing feelings ever since.
It turns out that a culmination of various events had led him to have some dark thoughts. I sat with him in the mess of it all and beside him while he shared it all with his doctor.
I’ve checked in with him most days since and we’ve met up several times.
He wants to reconnect and establish a friendship.
I want to believe I’m capable of that. But deep down I’m not sure I am.
As I navigate my way through all the overwhelming emotions this situation is throwing up for me, I know I’m not the only one to have found myself at this fork in the road.
The fact that you’re here with me right now reading this, means you likely know exactly how I feel.
And so I’m hoping, in sharing the questions I’m asking myself right now, that we can navigate this together.
5) Is reconnecting with this person going to help me heal further or set me back on my healing journey?
It still amazes me how easily our wounds can be reopened. Even when you put a lot of time, effort and focus into healing patterns of behaviour that don’t serve you and processing the lessons that have come from what has happened in your life, you can still be hooked and triggered again at lightning speed.
Unlike my ex, I have not been in another relationship since we were together. What we shared together brought up a lot for me and I knew that I needed to address all of that so as not to have those things continue to reappear in my life.
If you’ve ever reconnected with someone you thought was gone from your life for good, you’ve likely come up against the question of whether a renewed relationship with them is going to do more harm than good.
It can be very cathartic and healing to come together again once some time has passed to own your wounds with one another and acknowledge the roles you played in creating the dynamic you shared.
It can also be bloody hard.
The greatest test of whether you’ve healed from past trauma and completed that piece of inner work is when you come face to face with it again.
And let me just tell you, it has been an utter mess for me.
I’m finding myself being triggered all over again. I feel like I’ve taken many steps forward these past few months and in the space of a few weeks, it’s felt like I’ve taken just as many back.
But, this morning, my eyes landed on this:
“We do not heal the past by dwelling there; we heal the past by living fully in the present.” — Marianne Williamson
It’s got me thinking that perhaps what’s coming up for me when I’m with my ex isn’t as much about the past as I thought it was.
Maybe, just maybe, what’s coming up for me in the present is gifting me the chance to choose to think, behave, and respond as the woman I am today rather than slipping back into the patterns of who I was 18 months ago.
These past few weeks have made me feel like I’m going backward in my healing journey but I’m not sure that’s true.
Although slipping back into old behaviour at times, I’ve also noticed myself setting boundaries and speaking my truth in ways I didn’t when we were together.
That is progress worth celebrating.
It is worth asking yourself if re-establishing a connection long term will help you on your healing journey or set you back.
Perhaps your paths are only meant to intersect again for a short time for you to complete your healing and put into practice what you’ve learned.
Or maybe a friendship truly is possible for you both.
I have a feeling your intuition will guide you in the right direction.
4) Had I not been in an intimate relationship with this person, would I have chosen to have them as a friend?
This is one of those illuminating questions that often bring answers we don’t want to hear.
Let me be honest with you about something. When I was with my ex there were so many behaviours that I was witnessing that were not okay with me.
Angry outbursts, selfishness, self-absorption, arrogance. The list goes on.
I realised that had we not entered a relationship together, I would not have chosen this man as a friend.
His values and belief system at that time simply did not align with my own.
But physical intimacy can cloud your judgement. It can make you overlook things and ignore red flags.
Lesson learned. Next time, asking this question is going to be at the top of my list before I enter into an intimate relationship with someone.
As awful as this may sound, life has gotten so painful for my ex recently that he is desperate to change and his actions are already reflecting he’s committed to his own growth.
While he still has a long way to go, he is certainly a million miles closer than he was to being someone I would choose to have in my life.
I’m still unsure at this stage whether friendship with him is doable for me but at least I know that if I decide to head down that road that he’s someone I would have chosen regardless of whether we’d been together or not.
Consider mulling this one over in relation to your own ex.
If you went back to the moment you first met and you didn’t feel any romantic feeling for them, would you have chosen them as a friend?
And if the answer is no, have they changed enough since you were together to warrant a place in your life now?
3) Can I think about them in a neutral way?
Confession time: I’ve struggled with this one. There was no closure for my ex and me when our relationship ended. It wasn’t amicable and it wasn’t mutual.
I wanted it to be but at the time there were too many hurt feelings and too much pain.
Regardless of the self-destructive and damaging behaviour I’d often found myself on the other end of during our time together, it was my decision to leave and I had to realise that making that choice meant I didn’t get to have it all my own way.
Had things have ended as well as any relationship ever can, then perhaps I would be able to think about him now in a more neutral way.
But so far, that’s not been the case.
I’ve felt every emotion and feeling under the sun since I received that message.
- Anger that he chose to turn to me when his relationship broke down and invite me back into his messy life.
- Compassion and empathy because I know he’s struggling.
- Fear about all these feelings that are swirling inside of me and what they all mean.
- Grief that he’s becoming the man I always wanted him to be but that we’re no longer together.
- Love for him and who he’s becoming.
Basically, everything but neutrality.
I wonder if it’s the same for you? If it isn’t, and you do feel neutral, then that’s a great sign that a friendship is possible.
And if you don’t, that’s okay too. It may mean that you need to remove this person from your life once again or it could mean you simply need to give yourself time to process everything that you’re feeling.
Take the time you need. Your feelings and emotions will either settle and become calm or you’ll continue to feel turmoil inside.
Either way, you’ll have the answer you need.
2) Will I be okay when my ex tells me they have a new partner?
With this all being so fresh for me, I still have a lot of feelings swirling around inside of me that I need to work through.
And right at this moment, I have to say that I would find this difficult.
It’s the question I’m giving the most thought to right now and ultimately, over the next few weeks, my answer will dictate whether or not I choose to have a friendship with my ex.
If the answer to this question is no, take some time to dig a little deeper. Some additional questions may help guide you here:
- Am I secretly hoping my ex and I will get back together?
- Am I still in love with my ex?
- If yes, am I sure it’s love or is what I’m feeling an attachment to the past? Am I confusing romantic love and what we once shared with a love that has grown and evolved into something else?
- Would my being in another relationship change how I feel? If a new partner entered my life tomorrow, would that make me feel okay about my ex also being in a new relationship?
- Is what I’m feeling less about my ex and more about feeling envious/jealous because I long to have someone to share my life with?
Whatever your answers to those questions, know that however you’re feeling is okay.
I imagine there are very few people out there who wouldn’t feel some sort of confusion, twinge or pang if their ex was happy with someone else.
It doesn’t make you a bad person if you don’t feel over the moon for them, it just makes you human.
But, true friendship does mean we want the best for those we love and if we find ourselves secretly not wanting our ex to move on, then that’s not friendship.
1) Taking emotion out of the equation, what is the best decision for me and my wellbeing?
I’m currently having to force myself to take a little road trip into a land I don’t visit all that often — the land of logic and reason.
I don’t know about you but I’m big on trusting my heart and intuition. But, there are occasions when listening to my heart isn’t the right path to take and it feels like this is one of those times.
My heart would do anything for anybody. I hate knowing people are suffering and all I want to do is dive in there and sit with them while they figure it out.
But sometimes that is not in my best interests.
My wellbeing has taken a hit these past few weeks. Mentally and emotionally I’ve struggled. The issues my ex is struggling with have consumed me as if they’re my own. I’ve felt distracted, low, sad, tired.
I am proud of one thing though and that’s that this time around I caught myself going into saviour mode and I stopped.
I’ve realised that his problems are not mine and listening will always win out over fixing.
So that’s what I’ve been doing. Listening. It’s not been easy on me though and I’ve felt overwhelmed by it all.
If I switch off my heart for a minute, logic and reason whisper to me that my own wellbeing has to be my top priority here.
And so it must be for you too.
Whatever you decide to do, your own peace must come first.
“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.”
I’m not sure who spoke those words but they’re resonating with me deeply at the moment.
Do you ever do that? Find yourself so invested in other people that you burn yourself up and out trying to be there for them?
I spent many years thinking that’s what it meant to be a good person, to put other people’s needs ahead of your own.
And yes, of course it’s important to consider the needs of others, but we can get ourselves stuck when we put everyone else first and ourselves last.
When it comes to your ex, don’t ask yourself what’s best for them, ask yourself what’s best for you. Whatever the answer, do it. Your wellbeing is the most important thing here.
Even though we don’t know each other, talking this through with you has been helpful for me. I hope it’s helped you too.
I don’t have the answer yet as to whether or not I’ll build a friendship with my ex but either way, I’m glad he reached out. In a world full of suffering, it’s nice to be able to be a small light in someone’s darkness. Enough people have done it for me and I will always do my best to pay it forward.
It hurts in lots of ways but it’s helping too. It’s nice to have love and understanding replace some of the hurt and pain we were left with at the end of our relationship.
I don’t know what the future holds for you and your ex any more than I know what it holds for me and mine. But I do know this: either way you’ll be more than okay.
Choose whatever path feels true and beautiful for you.
Even though I’m glad you’re here, don’t spend too much time looking outside of yourself for the answers. Every story is unique and yours will be too. What others have done doesn’t matter. All that matters right now is you and whatever you decide, know that you’re a phenomenal person who is deserving of all the love and happiness this life has to offer.