Dear Dr. Frankie, How do I get over an 18 year relationship?
Dr. Frankie Bashan
Photo: Cheryl Mazak
Dear Dr. Frankie,
It has been about 6 months since my partner of 18 years left me for another woman—twice. Right before she left she admitted to me that she had not been in love with me for the past four years because she was in love with this other woman. Needless to say my self-esteem took a major hit and I am trying to rebuild my shattered life. Unfortunately, I only have one person I can sort of talk to. She is straight and very religious so obviously she doesn’t understand my feelings at all. My ex was jealous and never wanted me to have friends. I am currently living in Tennessee where the gay population is limited especially for a 40-year-old. Since I don't have friends or family here I find it very difficult to move on. Eventually I would like to move near my family, but for now I want to start meeting new friends and maybe date again. I am a shy person and not sure how to achieve this. How do I move on and meet good women? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
Have compassion for yourself. Healing from the emotional wounds of an 18-year relationship will take time. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of your relationship and give yourself the space to grieve. Pain often allows us to grow in ways that are difficult to see when you’re in the thick of the suffering.
Think about what activities you enjoy. Since it sounds like there is a very small or non-existent gay community where you live, don’t limit yourself by trying to find activities exclusively for gays and lesbians. You will boost your self-esteem by connecting with people who share common interests, regardless of their sexual orientation. Seek out activities that you can share with an activity partner or group. People who suffer from social anxiety often perform better when there is a common task at hand. For example, mingling and sharing small talk at a cocktail party might make your blood pressure skyrocket, but joining a book club or taking dance lessons or volunteering at an animal shelter is a great way to venture out of your shell. Aside from the social aspect, participating in these types of activities can be healing in their own right.
By focusing on yourself and practicing self-care you will increase your self esteem, which will assist you in setting healthy boundaries with the people in your life. If you feel good about yourself you are much less likely to allow someone in your life who isolates you from your friends and gives you subtle (and perhaps not so subtle) messages that you are inadequate. Identify what you liked about your relationship and would like to experience again. On the flip side, make sure to identify what you didn’t like and never want to experience again.
And keeping on a positive note, don’t let the demise of this relationship taint your outlook on love. Chances are there are many wonderful women out there who are also trying to meet someone like you. If 8 or 12 or 15 of the 18 years were really good than think of your relationship as a positive piece of your life. Some folks have never experienced real happiness-so stay positive. Positive thinking attracts positive outcomes. Best of luck to you.
Dear Dr. Frankie,
I got into a relationship while visiting America. When I finally met a woman we had a very intense and unstable relationship. She struggled with alcoholism and was very demanding. I traveled back and forth until I had some bad luck at border control and was rejected back to the U.K. Now I am not allowed a visa to go back, which will affect the rest of my life.
I have been increasingly furious with my now ex-lover. She was increasingly unable to be there for me and very quickly moved on. She began to lie and be dishonest. I kept trying to resolve it and kept reaching out to her to be there for me. I guess my anger in the past has caused her to withdraw, but she is a pathological avoider and liar, something that she actually admits to. I cannot tell if she will be there for me at all. Of course each time she is unable to—but I am unable to let go. I am left with a debilitating, impotent anger. I am an artist and feel completely stuck. I am unable to motivate myself or draw, and I am now on anti-depressants for the first time in my life. Please can you give me some wise words to let go of such fury and sadness?
From what you describe I think it’s fair to say you have already sacrificed enough for this woman. Alcohol dependant individuals are often focused on meeting the needs of their addiction, which is a substitute for a partner. Alcohol is her true partner as well as her primary focus. It’s time to see the writing on the wall and move on.
There are several extremely difficult obstacles to overcome if you were going to pursue a relationship with this woman. The fact that you are unable to visit the United States would require her to do all the traveling or moving. Then consider her alcohol abuse. Substance abuse alone can ruin even the strongest marriages and close-distance relationships. These two factors combined present nearly an insurmountable obstacle to long-term happiness. And why would you want to take this on for someone who is so unhealthy and emotionally unavailable?
Remind yourself that you and your needs are important and that you’re worthy of a partner who will contribute equally to the relationship. You deserve to be with someone who respects and prioritizes you. Give yourself the chance to be loved by someone who is present and emotionally available in the U.K.
On a final note, consider participating in a CODA group (codependency Anonymous). This program will help you learn how to prioritize your own needs instead of being preoccupied by the needs of others. It will also help you realize the things that you are in control of and how to let go of the angst surrounding other people’s shortcomings.
Hi Dr. Frankie,
My ex and I split up four months ago. It was a painful breakup and we haven’t really talked to each other since then. To be honest, I’m not ready to. We still have keys to each other’s apartments and that’s starting to feel very uncomfortable to me. It’s not that I don’t trust her but it just doesn’t feel right that she could potentially come into my house at any time. What would be the best way to return the key to her and get mine back? Shall I ask a mutual friend or just send it in the mail? Any suggestions?
I recommend sending the key back with a simple note asking for your own key back. If the idea of contacting your ex is absolutely unbearable then consider changing your locks.
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