Should I Take Him Back if He’s “Working on Himself”?

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I just turned 32 and my ex broke up with me a month ago. He’s almost 40, and if we talk about attachment styles, I’m more anxious and he’s more avoidant. (I say this because it was an issue in our relationship.) In the beginning of our relationship, (the first 4 months), things were great – we traveled, he courted me, I was treated like a princess. I even recall telling my friends the following, “wow, this guy is literally eating out of my hand. He’s in love.” I then followed my gut (long story), but let’s say I saw some text exchanges with his ex-girlfriend and saw he took her out a few times behind my back. He even spent a night “cuddling her.”

I forgave him, and we pressed on. I bet this was my mistake. The next 6 months were rocky. I was really struggling to trust him and every time we took one step forward, we took two steps back. He started going to therapy and some things changed – he started drinking less, his anger improved, he wasn’t kicking me out anymore after a fight, we weren’t triggering each other as much, etc.

Then there was a breaking point: he didn’t answer my calls one time when he was out, and he admitted to it. I lost it and our attachment styles/needs triggered each other AGAIN. I ended up yelling at him (same cycle I got stuck in after he made a mistake in the beginning), and calling him bad names. He then broke up with me, saying he couldn’t take the “bad name calling anymore” and the control.

Here’s my issue: I don’t know if it’s my ego or true love, but I find myself trying to win him back. I have met up with him to talk, we’ve kissed, we are planning to see each other again to talk and see if we can figure something out. Am I making a mistake? Am I trying to fit a circle peg in a square hole?

I love when you said the following: what marks a great relationship is a lack of anxiety. The ability to feel safe, heard, and understood. Is he talking about a future, is this building towards something, is this going somewhere? The first four months I felt very secure but in the latter, I did not. A lot of our issues were driven by my insecurity and lack of feeling safe. This is also my issue: if I just forgive him entirely (I think I have), can we try this again and succeed, but this time I’ll be less anxious?

I appreciate your help. You helped me leave a dead-end 3-year relationship back in November 2015. Thanks for that.

Kristin

Thanks for the kind words, Kristen. Sorry you find yourself in this predicament.

Alas, this is not a terribly complicated dilemma.

The only thing that’s complicated are your emotions surrounding it, which illustrate that love has an uncanny way of causing smart people to cease critical thinking.

The only thing that’s complicated are your emotions surrounding it, which illustrate that love has an uncanny way of causing smart people to cease critical thinking.

Let’s start off with an acknowledgement of the two positive things in your email:

    • a. You love him.

 

    b. He was good to you for four months.

But then again, pretty much every failed relationship consisted of two people who loved each other who had a good four months before reality set in.

That doesn’t mean those relationships should stay together. Neither should yours.

Read and cringe:

    • 1.

He cheated on you with his ex-girlfriend.

    • Multiple times. This, in and of itself, is largely unforgiveable. But you “forgave” him. Then…

2. You spent six rocky months together. There’s a big difference between a marriage having a rough six months and a one-year old relationship having a rough six months. A reasonable woman who placed a premium on her own personal happiness might have left. You stayed, only to discover…

3. He had a drinking problem. And anger management issues. And he kicked you out after arguments. And he ignored your calls.

4. Then he broke up with you, which is usually a solid indicator that he doesn’t value the relationship that much and doesn’t see himself with you long-term. Naturally…

5. You are trying to win him back. Thus, your letter to me.

I know I’m working off of limited information, Kristen, but regardless of placing blame (and he would fare poorly if blame were apportioned), it’s obvious you guys are a match made in hell.

Forget ego. Forget true love. Just pay attention to how very difficult things are.

Forget ego. Forget true love. Just pay attention to how very difficult things are.

That isn’t a sign that you are fated to be together and that you should work harder to preserve your love.

That is a sign that you should cut him off entirely ASAP and find a man who is considerate, sensitive and secure.

You may be an anxious person, but with a good man, most of your anxiety will melt away.

The only question is whether you would be open to dating a guy who makes you feel safe, as opposed to rejecting him because he’s not as exciting or unpredictable as your exes. I hope you decide to be in a relationship where you are cherished instead of dismissed.

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Comments:

  1. 21
    Marika

    Haha, Jeremy. Welcome back!

    Everyone knows the best relationship partners are tall blond Aussie women…😉

    1. 21.1
      Emily, the original

      Everyone knows the best relationship partners are tall blond Aussie women…

      No, no, no. They’re average height strawberry blondes.     🙂

      1. 21.1.1
        marika

        Whose name being with ‘E’, right? 😉

        1. Emily, the original

          Whose name being with ‘E’, right? 😉

          Mais oui, mademoiselle.      🙂

        2. Sylvana

          You guys crack me up!

        3. Yet Another Guy

          Lol!   I recently acquired a taste for blonds after being drawn to brunettes.     Sadly, most blonds are not true blonds. 🙂

        4. Jeremy

          Alas, that is true. I’ve known many ostensible ‘blondes’, yet never found liquid paper on any of their computer screens for editing purposes. False advertising!

        5. Emily, the original

          YAG,

          Lol!   I recently acquired a taste for blonds after being drawn to brunettes.     Sadly, most blonds are not true blonds

          The only way to prove it to you would be rather disgusting, but I can assure you that the carpet matches the drapes.

  2. 22
    Marika

    Jeremy said

    When I said that Idealists don’t grow in arousal with someone they find “intellectually attractive” what I meant was a man who meets their list of criteria but whom they didn’t find arousing — someone they “should” find attractive, but don’t.   I didn’t mean that intellectualism wouldn’t be attractive to them.

    Ah, now I think I understand. Do you mean that someone like me wouldn’t grow in arousal to someone who is ‘good on paper’. Is that what you meant? If so, I agree. I’ve met many a man who was ‘good on paper’ and felt nothing for. Tried, but couldn’t make it work for me.

    1. 22.1
      jeremy

      Yes.   Or rather…..maybe.   Depends on what we mean by “looks good on paper.”   The problem with the list of what looks good on paper is who wrote the list.   Oftentimes that list is externally-imposed based on societal values.   So if the list is that a man should be kind and successful, well whose criteria are those?   If they aren’t yours, you won’t grow in attraction as an Idealist personality.   A Guardian would, though, since the hallmark of that personality is the adoption of externally-imposed values as their own.   But if the “list” of criteria were your own, you might grow in attraction.   I recall Nissa mentioning Alan De Botton – how when she first saw him in a You Tube video she was ambivalent, but when she heard his accent, his intelligence, his discussion of ideas, and his demeanour, she found him attractive indeed.   But that list of factors was HER list, not society’s.   So I believe an Idealist can grow in arousal once she gets to know someone better, but only if what she gets to know about the man speaks to her directly.

      1. 22.1.1
        Jeremy

        To further clarify by example, I once dated a woman with a strongly Idealist personality. I thought she was beautiful and interesting and was disappointed when, after a month or two of dating, she told me she wasn’t really attracted to me.   We stayed in contact, though, because I was still very interested and she was ambivalent about the breakup, and after a few months of conversation we resumed a relationship. She became quite attracted to me, in spite of her initial ambivalence. But it wasn’t because of my niceness or my job or my status of my husband potential. It was because I understood her. Thoroughly and totally. And to an Idealist, being known in that way is often extremely rare and attractive. It is a personal list, not an imposed one, and is based on identity and meaning – the lifeblood of the Idealist.

        1. Emily, the original

          Jeremy,  

          It was because I understood her. Thoroughly and totally. And to an Idealist, being known in that way is often extremely rare and attractive.

          This is very true. I do have a male friend who understands me (and I understand him), and it is rare. I am very fond of him but I have never grown an attraction to him, despite being friends for 6 years. I don’t find him unappealing. There’s just nothing drawing me to him. I think, to use your terminology, he’s a guardian type, and the explorer part of me gets frustrated that every bone in his body is risk-averse.

        2. Jeremy

          Ha ha, Explorer women and Guardian men….not a great combo in the long-term, though not an uncommon one.   That’s the situation that tends to end in female-initiated divorce where the wife feels bored, and the man can’t understand what he did wrong.   They both usually fell in love because of their difference – he, with how exciting and sexual she was, she with how reliable he was.

           

          Anyway, I didn’t mean to suggest that all Idealists would find being understood as arousing.   Some would find the opposite – mystery and intrigue – arousing, depending on their background.   My point was just to say that each Idealist will have her own personal list of what qualities she actually finds arousing, which will have zero to do with the list that society tries to impose upon her.

        3. Emily, the original

          Jeremy,

          My point was just to say that each Idealist will have her own personal list of what qualities she actually finds arousing, which will have zero to do with the list that society tries to impose upon her.

          Ah, that is so true. That’s why when people argue about status on here in terms of SMV, I’m slightly baffled. I can certainly respect someone’s accomplishments, but they don’t in and of themselves do much for me as a woman.

          I need to read more about these personality types, but you hit the nail about identity and meaning with Idealists. A few years ago, I lost the 3 people who really knew me (three friends; one died, two floated away, although I’m still in limited contact with one) and that was a big loss. I’ve made new friends and have been very fond of some, but I usually end up realizing at some point –these friendships don’t feel like anything. There’s no there there, to use the famous quote.

        4. sylvana

          Emily,

          I find it so interesting that you say that. I’m also an Explorer (thanks so much for that info, Jeremy), and I find myself much the same.

          I do have to say that it does, absolutely, also span to actual friends, not just relationships.

        5. Emily, the original

          Sylvana,

          I find it so interesting that you say that. I’m also an Explorer (thanks so much for that info, Jeremy), and I find myself much the same.

          If you’re referring to having the need to be known and understood (if I am getting this correct; I don’t know anywhere near as much as Jeremy does on the subject), that’s an Idealist trait, not an Explorer. I am primarily an Idealist but my secondary personality type is Explorer. There’s a quiz you can take online.

          I pulled these definitions from the internet:

          Idealists  as a  temperament, are passionately concerned with personal growth and development. All Idealists share the following core  characteristics: Idealists  are enthusiastic, they trust their intuition, yearn for romance, seek their true self, prize meaningful relationships, and dream of attaining wisdom.
          The  Explorer personality  type is forever in search of the next big adventure. They are intensely curious and unusually creative, as well as spontaneous, impulsive, restless and energetic. They are adaptable, flexible, optimistic and fiercely independent.

        6. Jeremy

          Emily, I can’t speak for Sylvana (curious also as to what she meant, because I agree with your distinction).   But rather than looking at the online horoscope-like definitions of the personality types, it basically boils down to how people tend to view the world and based on what we make decisions.   A pure Explorer views the world in very concrete terms (who, when, where, what, how; less concerned about the why), while a pure Idealist views the world in very abstract terms (why, how; less concerned about the details).   Both would have their own lists of what they would find attractive in a man, for example, but the one’s list would likely involve concrete, tangible things while the other’s list would involve her ideas of the meaning behind those tangible things.   The pure Idealist makes judgments based on her own set of personal values, while the pure Explorer makes decisions based on what gives her the most positive affect.

           

          Again, few of use fall squarely into the “pure” categories.   We all have bits of each type in us.   Some fall more to the extremes than others, and those are the ones best described by the model.   For others who fall more into middle-ground the model is less useful.   The value in the types is not in trying to put labels on people, but rather to understand their differing motivations.   It explains why a person like me, a person like you, and a person like Sylvana could look at the same thing in the world and come to 3 completely different conclusions.   Our basic assumptions differ, and they differ systematically.

        7. Emily, the original

          Hi Jeremy,

          Jeremy,

          But rather than looking at the online horoscope-like definitions of the personality types,  

          Was that bitch slap? 🙂     I liked the short descriptions I posted. For me, at least, they perfectly described the two sides of my personality.
          Explorer makes decisions based on what gives her the most positive affect.
          Wouldn’t they be looking for a romantic partner who excited them?
          The value in the types is not in trying to put labels on people, but rather to understand their differing motivations.
          I tend to attract a lot of Guardian types, which baffles me. I have a hard time relating to the rule-following and logic.
            

        8. Jeremy

          @Emily, I suppose it was a slap, but not directed at you 🙂   Rather, at the way this stuff is sometimes used.   Theories about personality have been rightly criticized as being unscientific and tests such as the Myers Briggs test have been debunked as inconsistent and not necessarily informative.   Because people don’t fall neatly into categories, and most of us can recognize some aspects of ourselves in all the descriptions unless we really fall to one end of the spectrum.   I find the stuff useful, but only when looking at root motivations, not as predictions of behavior or how good someone will be at any given job.

           

          Root motivations.   Remember when Sylvana posted about how “a woman” will leave a man who will not attend to her pleasure?   Or when you wrote that you need a man who “takes care of business” or that you like to “jump off a cliff with no pants on?”   Or when I wrote that “people around me made no sense, refused to examine their motivations?”   Or when Robert Glover (in Evan’s latest podcast) told people to be their “authentic selves?”   All of those things speak to the root motivations of the people writing, but not to other people.   Being my “authentic self” is not my personal motivation – it makes me smile because it is so illogical and irrelevant from the perspective of a Rational personality.   My authentic self changes, I have many authentic selves, and my authentic self is whatever I choose it to be at the time.   But to an Idealist, being one’s authentic self is the primary motivation!   Glover’s words would be very meaningful to other Idealists, just as Sylvana’s would be to Explorers and yours to Idealist/Artisans, and mine would be dry and bizarre to all those types.   But we can understand each other.   We can get along.   We can learn to not be surprised by what we each say and think if we understand our root motivations and how they differ.

        9. Emily, the original

          Jeremy,

          Root motivations.   Remember when Sylvana posted about how “a woman” will leave a man who will not attend to her pleasure?   Or when you wrote that you need a man who “takes care of business” or that you like to “jump off a cliff with no pants on?”    

          LOL Man, do you have a good memory! You get points for that. Not a lot of people are good at listening.

          Being my “authentic self” is not my personal motivation — it makes me smile because it is so illogical and irrelevant from the perspective of a Rational personality.   My authentic self changes, I have many authentic selves, and my authentic self is whatever I choose it to be at the time.   But to an Idealist, being one’s authentic self is the primary motivation!

          I was just going to say — being your authentic self is the only motivation there is. Unconstrained personality takes balls.

            Glover’s words would be very meaningful to other Idealists, just as Sylvana’s would be to Explorers and yours to Idealist/Artisans, and mine would be dry and bizarre to all those types.   

          LOL “dry and bizarre”

          But we can understand each other.   We can get along.   We can learn to not be surprised by what we each say and think if we understand our root motivations and how they differ.

          Yes, very true.

  3. 23
    Kristin

    Hi Evan,

    It’s Kristin! Yesterday I saw you posted my question right when my ex came over to talk about possibly “working on things.” How ironic! Your advice and everyone’s comments certainly help. My main issue or what I’m currently struggling with is this: now he wants to see if we can work on things and has suggested seeing each other once a week to build a connection. A part of me says NO! Move on this is a fraud, and another part of me stills says, “give this a chance. You may regret not trying in the future. Things have changed, trust issues have dissolved, and things MUST be better now.” He also told me he does love me, (he only told me twice during the year we were dating. He says there’s a part of him that feels our relationship was volatile because of the trust issues and control issues, but a part of him too feels now that time has passed-2.5 months- that maybe we would be better the second time around.   I guess i toy with this because i did struggle in the relationship after the trust issues came into play with his ex, and sort of punished him for a long time for it. I know that contributed to a lot of our issues. I feel i have moved on and forgiven him. Am I an idiot for entertaining this? My brain says yes but my heart says no. Appreciate any thoughts.

    1. 23.1
      Christine

      Hi Kristin, thanks for updating the situation.   I hate to be negative and I know this probably isn’t what you want to hear…but my own take on it is to listen to the part of you saying no.   Take this from someone who WAS you at one point, with another noncommittal guy…and is now happily married to another guy who I didn’t have to convince or win over (if anything, my husband was the one working hard to win ME over)

      Excuse my language but I have to call bulls—- on what he said. He dated you for two years and that wasn’t enough time to “build a connection”? He already took up so much of your time and isn’t entitled to more.   I also don’t think that someone who wants to “demote” you from dating you regularly, to then seeing you just once a week, is your future husband.

      I really wish I could tell you this will work out but at least from what I’ve read from you so far, I am just not convinced and think you should move on.

    2. 23.2
      Christine

      Oops I mis-spoke earlier saying you dated for two years, when you just said it was one year…but I still stand by what I said and I think he’s already had enough time to have assessed where things are going.

      If anything, I think you may regret spending more time on this guy, that you could be spending on finding the right person for you.

    3. 23.3
      S.

      Thanks for updating us, Kristin.

      The question is, what has really changed with him in 2.5 months? Have the trust issues really dissolved? There is a slim chance it could work out.   If you both work on your issues together and on each of your own.   And what about the drinking problem, anger management issues, and the cheating that Evan mentioned?

      Those are kind of big issues to dissolve in three months. Has he taken responsibility for those?   You can still forgive him, but that doesn’t mean you have to get back with him.

      I do wish you well.   It’s a difficult situation.

  4. 24
    loubelle

    if he wants to work on himself thats good , if thats the real reason. i feel hes cheating and wants to keep you on a piece of elastic just incase. do not be his fallback girl. let him ‘work on himself’. in that time go no contact, delete his numbers, block him, block emails, delete emails and texts, delete photos, then go ‘work on yourself’. exercise, go out with friends, take up a new hobby, whatever to get your old life back. i was in all honesty a confident woman when i met my ex, at the end of 5 years with him im a shell of who i used to be, that was my fault too, i allowed him to take over my life and i at the end showed signs of co dependancy (his whole family is co dependant), it was dysfunctional and toxic. i got out of there eventually after 5 years. i went no contact 31 days ago deleted everything, blocked the lot. the only way he could have got in touch was turn up at my door or send a letter, and he did neither, which tells me i made the right decision. if he couldnt chase me for one last time, that shows me his laziness isnt isolated. he isnt granting my wish of the break up he is just too lazy to shift as i did all the running about after him. never again. let him work on himself (it angers me that i put in all the hard work for 5 years for another woman to benefit the possibly new and improved ex) i have to get out of thinking that way. let her have him, after a year itll be self pity and another co dependant relationship, unless shes wiser than me and gets out sooner.

  5. 25
    loubelle

    contd:

    i have worked on myself in 31 days no contact, ive got a little bit of myself back like before i was with him. i gave him everything, in that i gave up myself and my hobbies, my time and friends etc and he never complained, he never gave any of that up for me lol. he used the injured soldier routine to keep me isolated to him. i now walk alot with aim to get fitter and feel good about myself, ive lost 7 pound in a few weeks, i feel great although still sad, it gets better believe me. i have been out with friends. i have joined a meet up group and meet new friends. i volunteer at a food bank and atm i am being nominated to be a director of a homeless charity. hows that for a month! i am grieving still and i do embrace all emotions but it gets better. keep busy. go no contact. go live.

  6. 26
    Joy

    Kristin,
    I am sorry to hear what you went through.
    To share a personal experience, my dating life was the happiest before the internet, but like you, I started entertaining the idea of “working on” myself and someone “working on” themselves. In the past if something did not work out, I just let it go. There was no Googling then. But with google questions and answers, etc, there has been enough persuasion to put up with unacceptable behaviors. I started forgiving acts of selfishness, etc and participating in multiple break ins and out of a relationship.
    So, what I have realized is that I can work on myself for the next relationship. Not being married and already trying to fix one thing after the other vs trying to find many ways to kiss sounds problematic to me. I hope you reach a resolution that gives you a peace of mind.

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