Married but still think about my ex, please help!

I have been married for three and a half years and I love my husband. Before I met him I was in a relationship of five years. That person was emotionally abusive and I suffered a lot from it, yet I loved him so much. After years of him cheating or being really mean, apologizing and going back to the same thing, he proposed to me and swore he had really changed. So I said yes, but it didn’t feel right. Deep down inside I knew I’d be in for the same thing. Maybe even worse. So I called it off. My husband came into my life and was just the total opposite. He’s caring and sweet and loves me so much. Yet, I think about my ex a lot and it’s been years. I feel haunted by his memory and the what ifs. I feel guilty for thinking about him and it makes me feel horrible. I don’t know what to do anymore. I don’t want to live like this. I don’t want to be back with my ex. I don’t even want to think about him. It tortures and depresses me.

Thank you for taking the time to come here and share your story.

You didn’t mention if you were sexually active with your former boyfriend or not. If you were I can tell you that this would significantly contribute to the problems that you are facing, even if you were not, what you are going through probably has a lot to do with your husband and very little to do with your boyfriend actually.

When a woman has “flashbacks” of a boyfriend and she is happily married she can often wonder why she is having them. I believe this is because God intended all along since the beginning of creation for a woman to have these kind of feelings for her husband! However if a gift of sexuality or intimacy is given to someone that is not her husband, the mind carries these memories and the emotions are confused.

You may be having these feelings and thoughts of your old boyfriend, because in a way I believe that God wired women to be hard-wired to have flashbacks and pleasant thoughts of their first loves and husbands. This is the way that God designed life and marriage to be in order to bond the couple. Because your husband was not your first love you are feeling upset and frustrated and trying to push these thoughts away.

When the thoughts come, instead of trying to push them away instead offer a prayer. Say something like "Jesus yes this man was once in my life and I am thinking of him again. I can’t control my thoughts Jesus but help me to know your love and help my old boyfriend to know your love too. " Having these thoughts doesn’t mean that you love your husband any less. It is easier to stop the rain from falling than to stop your mind from wandering! Instead of getting mad at yourself offer the thoughts as a prayer. satan wants you to feel like a bad wife for having these thoughts so don’t let him succeed. Hope this helps a little, please be assured of my prayers.

I think that’s good advice.

In a somewhat different situation, there are certain locations that trigger thoughts about my miscarriage. My miscarriage was three years ago and when I was in the throes of grieving it, I would have obsessive negative thoughts that I found difficult to stop (and honestly, wasn’t trying that hard to stop, as they’d worn a sort of groove in my mind). With time, those episodes became more widely spaced and milder. Whenever I find myself in locations that trigger memories of my miscarriage, I pray, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy” and I think that approach is gradually fading the triggering response.

Given how powerful the emotions you experienced with your ex-boyfriend were, it’s not surprising that they’ve worn a sort of groove in your mind. Years ago (19 years ago now), I had a very damaging relationship with a boyfriend, and a thought about that time flickers now and then, but fairly rarely.

I would suggest responding to the thoughts as they start with material of your own choosing (for instance a prayer or “I’m so glad I have my husband–if I had stayed with X, I wouldn’t have my husband” and when you have kids “I’m so glad I have my baby. If I’d stayed with X, I wouldn’t have my baby”). With time, you may find your mind becoming less and less responsive to the initial cues that were previously so overwhelming.

And if that doesn’t do the job, try getting some more specialized psychological help to get the tools to get your ex out of your head.

Best wishes!

Praying for your intentions.

As someone who’s been on the emotional rollecoaster of an abusive man…the good times are really really good, and they feel even better in contrast to the bad times. Oftentimes they feel even better in the moment than the same thing from a good man, just because of conditioning (in the extreme form this is the basis of stockholm syndrome).

So first off, look at what it is that you liked, and try to objectively evaluate it. Is it something you can’t have with your current husband? Is it something not all that good really? Second, remind yourself why you left. You don’t need to go into detail, but keep a good memory on your shoulders.

Yes, there’s a good psychological basis for all of this.

“Pigeons experimented on in a scientific study were more responsive to intermittent reinforcements, than positive reinforcements.[17] In other words, pigeons were more prone to act when they only sometimes could get what they wanted. This effect was such that behavioral responses were maximized when the reward rate was at 50% (in other words, when the uncertainty was maximized), and would gradually decline toward values on either side of 50%.[18] R.B Sparkman, a journalist specialized on what motivates human behavior, claims this is also true for humans, and may in part explain human tendencies such as gambling addiction”

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reinforcement

See also the classic book “Why Does He Do That?”

goodreads.com/work/quotes/217475-why-does-he-do-that-inside-the-minds-of-angry-and-controlling-men

I had one boyfriend who, in the end, didn’t treat me well, and I was even the one who ended it. Yet, with time, I forgot about how bad it was, wanted to go back to him, in truth was obsessed with him for years.

Then, one thing helped me. I began talking about this with a close friend of mine, and somehow, admitting my feelings made it go away, ironically.

With obsessions, sometimes the more you resist them, the worse they become, sort of like the idea, “What you resist will persist”. So, try a different strategies. With obsessions, one way is to ignore them.

On one show, it was saying, “Whatever you do, do NOT think about pink rabbits! DON’T think about them!” as a way to get a kid to think about rabbits instead of something upsetting. It was showing how, when we resist something, it makes it stronger.

Another way is to seek counseling from a psychologist on ways on how to deal with this, since it seems to be somewhat obsessive, possibly, talk it out, and ask for strategies to help handle this.

I actually wouldn’t beat yourself up about this, because I think that would only draw further attention to it, make it worse, rather than better.

When you think of how much you loved him, start to remember how bad it honestly and truly was, to a point you wanted out.

Well if it was me and the boyfriend was abusive each time I thought of him I would thank God I did not go down that path and would say a little prayer of thanks. Read stories about women in abusive relationships, it’s horrible for them and the kids. If you have a great husband be doubly thankful that you were smart enough chose the right path. Abusers always apologize but never change, that is their MO. Remember that.

I think it may help to study abuse and figure out what the methods used are. If you can tell yourself, “That was a line, that was manipulation, I bet he did that to every woman he dated” rather than evidence that you were a special snowflake living a one-of-a-kind greatest love story ever told, it may help a lot.

Good luck!

When I read the OP I immediately thought “Stockholm Syndrome” and I see DarkLight has already mentioned the syndrome.

You could do with some “deprogramming” by taking this specific thing to counselling. It’s not too different than the type of work that drug addicts have to do after giving up their drug. They still get plagued with the desire for that ‘high’ and it throws a damper on the joy and contentment of their good life.

Have you ever asked yourself why you stayed with him for five years when he treated you so badly?

It is often said that the reason why we are attracted to abusers in romantic relationships is because they remind us of childhood experiences, and we are unconsciously seeking to “fix” our childhood by rewriting it through this new adult relationship. Do you think something like that is happening interiorly for you?

A good psychologist will help you get to the heart of why the past still has a hold on you. Don’t feel like you are betraying your husband by these disturbing thoughts about your ex. It’s not about your ex. It’s something inside of you that probably just has to come to the surface and resolved.

I bet he didn’t treat her badly 100% of the time–that’s the trick.

I don’t know if this helps, but you should be proud and happy that you made the right decision. And relieved that you can’t go back.

I broke up with a girlfriend who’s been on my mind frequently since then. I ask myself the “what ifs” also. There’s no doubt in my mind that we had no future together at all. She was emotionally abusive, and it was quite toxic. And even though it’s been a while, and I’m married with children, and I love my wife, sometimes I ask myself what I would do if I suddenly found myself single. The answer is always the same–no, I wouldn’t go back to her.

So maybe if you let yourself think it through and don’t hide from it, you can come to a resolution and have control over your feelings.

By the way, I broke up with her in early June 1991. :shrug:

Thank you all for your kind words and advice. I really do appreciate it. I feel like I can’t talk to anyone about this so yall are all I have. God bless yall.

I’ve been in a similar situation before, it’s important to recognize it for what it is, a temptation.
Just say a prayer, and do something to distract yourself from the thoughts…

I’d say saying the rosary would be a better bet than paying a shrink thousands of dollars to get you to realize that some dude who abuses you isn’t actually that hot. Ask Mary what kind of husband she had, some loser who abuses women or St Joseph?

Seems like a good advice book for all those nice guys out there who can’t get the time of day from women while some dudes who “emotionally abuse” or physically abuse women have women literally obsessing over them years after the fact, or giving speeches about them in front of thousands of people about how hot he was and how head over heels she was with him.

Unfortunately, there are some “dark arts” that work pretty well on getting somebody to stick with you (push/pull, drama, and other manipulative methods), at least temporarily. (And either sex can use those dark arts.) However the dark arts 1) will likely cause a stronger, more functional partner to leave (note that the OP is no longer with the old boyfriend) and 2) by a process of elimination (see #1), will leave the abuser with a weak, wounded, dysfunctional partner if the abused partner stays.

(One of our our young relatives had a physically abusive boyfriend for a number of years. By the end of their relationship, she had so much brain damage that (although she can walk around and talk and present reasonably normal much of the time), despite being a relatively young woman who once had a very promising future ahead of her, she is now pretty much wrecked for life and won’t be able to hold down even the most minimal of jobs, barring some major medical breakthrough. On the one hand, she stuck with her boyfriend for something like half a decade, but on the other hand, she was presumably getting less and less functional as time went on and the abuse progressed.)

Right, yet for some reason these “dark arts” cause women to literally obsess over you years after the fact, while nice guys can’t even get the time of day from women, much less even get any lasting memories.

(One of our our young relatives had a physically abusive boyfriend for a number of years. By the end of their relationship, she had so much brain damage that (although she can walk around and talk and present reasonably normal much of the time), despite being a relatively young woman who once had a very promising future ahead of her, she is now pretty much wrecked for life and won’t be able to hold down even the most minimal of jobs, barring some major medical breakthrough. On the one hand, she stuck with her boyfriend for something like half a decade, but on the other hand, she was presumably getting less and less functional as time went on and the abuse progressed.)

Yep, meanwhile hordes of non-women beating nice guys pine away and get rejected day after day with nary a second thought from most women. “Oh he’s boring, oh he’s too nice, blah blah blah”. It’s funny how things work, it blows my mind how women could find such men attractive, but women are from venus as they say…

So, have you asked anyone out in the last 90 days?

Also, how about asking women out that you actually have something in common with? (And just both being Catholic isn’t good enough.)

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.