She Can't Let Go!
Q: It took years, but I finally broke up with a man who chronically lied, watched porn and lost all interest in me. I had become a very insecure, negative woman in reaction to it. Then I met a stunning man who I easily would have dated, but he pushed me away saying he wasn't able to give me what I want. I stayed away.
Now I have moved far away to another country and the second love contacted me again. We are in constant contact, his smile and interest in possibly dating now are very encouraging, yet I don't trust that it will last. Now here is the ex back in my life. I'm very upset and confused. I have given it so much thought, and I was always faithful to my first relationship, but now this other man is luring me back and may be ready to be in a relationship. He confided that he also uses porn but that it's because he's not been involved in a very long time. Yet I find myself wanting him in my life. I worry I will be nasty and insecure around him so I'm glad to be far away. Meanwhile, here I am with the former relationship not saying no. I won't cheat and I am resolved to end it but don't know how.
If the former relationship partner were to clean up his act and do the right thing, I'd never consider the other at all. I'd be his wife and learn to forget the new guy who will be difficult and painful to let go. I have been in and out of therapy, but nothing has got me to leave someone I love. How do I let go? -- Brittany, 51
Dr. Susan: Fortunately, there are more than these two men in the world. You seem to keep hanging on to the hope that one of them will turn into the ideal man you want, though neither of them is likely to become that man. Personality change and disposing of old habits doesn't happen easily. If porn ruined the first relationship, it will surely ruin it again. He isn't going to "clean up his act" because it's part of who he is. He may miss you, but in my opinion, he would like you back in his life under the old terms. And that didn't work out well for you. It took you years to break away. I understand you haven't forgotten him, but he won't be different now than before.
As for the new man, you need to believe him when he said he couldn't give you what you want. When a man or woman says that, they typically mean it. Once you're deeply entangled with them, you may forget they said it. For a while. But it's still true. And he's lying to you that he only uses porn because he's not in a relationship. He is very likely to continue to use it, no matter what.
You may not have found the right therapist who can help you make definite steps to liberate yourself from the hold these men have on you. Either you accept your ex's porn use, lies, and neglect, or you find a new guy (and don't ask if he uses porn).
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Advice for Her
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.