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Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Savvy Minds: Ask Dr. V ~ Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Dear Dr V,

My previous relationship lasted six years, and only sort of ended – we haven’t slept together or been acting like a couple in any way, but the emotional connection still feels like it’s there. Basically he’s a great guy but is grappling with severe clinical depression and we can’t be together as a result. I do care about him and we still talk almost every day, but more in an emotional support kind of way. I’ve started seeing someone new, just a few dates so far, but they’re really wonderful. Everything I’ve been looking for, and they really seem to be grounded and mature emotionally. I now find myself having second thoughts about if I should go back to my previous relationship – like if I should wait and see if things will work out – like what if this new person ends up being just as crazy as the last? What do I do?


Dear Rita,

I think the answer to this question has infinitely more to do with you than with either of these two men you mention. Never forget that we create the majority of the realities we exist in, and what may seem like a conundrum to you seems like a fairly simple choice to me.

How simple? I’ll rephrase your question:

“Hey Dr V., there’s a guy who, while I think he’s a good person, pretty much makes me miserable in a relationship. I just met someone new who I’m excited about and seems like he could be a good match for me. For some reason I’m thinking that going back to something I know won’t work might be the right thing to do. What do you think?”

I don’t mean to come off harsh, but at the same time, being removed from your situation allows me some objectivity. From how you describe it, your previous six year relationship, which may indeed have carried some great emotional depth with it, also seemed to be very dysfunctional. Simply in that if your ex does suffer from clinical depression, I can only imagine how hard it must have been for both of you to exist within such a dynamic. I don’t say this to smear depressed people.  On the contrary, I say it from a place of empathy. Being depressed is much like suffering from any other serious chronic ailment: It is debilitating, painful and certainly inhibits people from functioning at their fullest potential.

You also said that your ex’s depression was the cause of your breakup. Fair enough. So if it caused your breakup, let me ask you this: Why would you continue to want to let that energy into your life, and worse, why would you want to allow it to influence what happens in your future relationships? I don’t mean to say you should completely brush off your ex, but you both (perhaps one more than the other) need to realize that if the relationship is over, then your responsibilities to each other as romantic partners has ended as well. Again, I’m not saying you shouldn’t or can’t be friends, but at the same time you might want to reconsider your boundaries with this person. What it really boils down to, and this may be the hardest thing for you to really integrate into your post-relationship self: You are not responsible for your ex. It is unfair and unhealthy for you to shoulder that burden. How can you make yourself available to others if you are still giving most of yourself to this guy?

The real question here, I think, is why you seem to want to return to a situation you know cannot result in you being happy. Six years is a long time, and I think during that period you could have developed an image of yourself that includes being your ex’s caretaker, meaning that codependent aspect of your relationship went from being “this is something I do” to “this is something I am.” So if you’ve convinced yourself of that (which is not true), and now you are faced with the reality of not having that person to take care of. I could see how that would be a very upsetting, even frightening notion. Almost as if the deepest part of you was saying, “But if I’m not this, what am I?”

I also think the prospect of a new relationship is bringing this feeling to a head for you, because it is forcing you to confront this fear. Though at present it is impossible to know the new guy you’re seeing as well as the guy you were with for six, the blueprint of your last relationship is still fresh within you. And, as this guy sounds like the polar opposite of your ex, it’s now a useless script.

Which brings us at last to what I think you should do. You’ve got three choices. The first is to go back to your old flame, which I strongly advise against, as it will just result in more frustration and sadness for you (unless your ex recovers from his depression, but that’s hardly an overnight occurrence, and to me it sounds as if what you are really looking for is decisiveness). You could also choose to stay out of any relationships until you get your head clear. There’s really no magic formula for how long it takes to “get over” someone. Of course deeper relationships with complex issues can take longer than brief flings, but there’s no hard and fast rules. You can only know for sure in your heart. Your third option is to take a crack at this new relationship, but only if you can establish more appropriate boundaries with your ex. This could mean less contact, and generally limiting the flow of emotional energy you allow into your exchanges with him, which may not be easy. But doing what’s best sometimes isn’t easy.

There’s an oft-repeated truism that will probably soon officially declared a cliché, yet like many clichés it resounds with truth: It’s often easier to stay in familiar pain than move into unknown risk. I think that succinctly sums up the situation you’ve described. Ultimately you carry the answers you seek within yourself. It may be a matter of taking the time and making the effort to listen to that inner wisdom if you wish them to reveal themselves.

With Love and Light,

Dr. V

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