In her former life, Emily “Gynomite” Gordon was a couples and family therapist licensed in 2 1/2 states. In this life, she’s a freelance fighter of your emotional woes with Ask Gynomite. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org- all emails stay confidential. Today, Gynomite takes on breakups and self-esteem.
I recently tweeted a link to one of your Ask Gynomite blog entries, mostly because I hope against hope my very recent ex may see it before he unfollows me. In it you say most relationships are worth salvaging. I believe ours is worth salvaging, not just based upon my own feelings (I’m the squishy type of person who never gives up) but on his own confused feelings for me.
-some parts removed-
We’ve always had a loving and close relationship, until I had a complete breakdown in December. The loving and closeness never went away, but the physical intimacy has diminished slowly over the last few months. This was his reason for leaving me. I feel this decrease was caused mainly by our trouble communicating residual emotions from my breakdown and my low self esteem (feeling unsexy doesn’t help the mood) as well as his belief that a relationship shouldn’t need work.
I plan on giving him the space to think about if this is the right decision (he voiced unprovoked several times that he felt “dumb” and “crazy” for walking away from us), but let’s pretend we live in an alternate universe where he’s decided that he does want to work it out. How can I raise my self esteem so I don’t alienate him again? What are somethings we could do to help both of us communicate our emotions so that we can heal and grow together? I want him to do what makes him happiest, and I will always support him (even if it’s by never seeing him again), but what will make me happiest is not entering a yo-yo relationship that just leaves everyone more bruised than before, which is a possibility given both our pasts. If given the chance I want to be able to act upon it in a positive way.
Yikes, you’ve had a tough six months, huh? Well, my advice to you, for starters, is to recommend that you not raise your self-esteem because it will make him feel better.
I recognize that that statement may not be the fairest thing, because I’m sure you want to raise your self-esteem for you too, but it sounds like you need to do some serious work on yourself. It’s not that the work can’t be done in the context of a relationship, but the work can’t be done for the sake of the relationship, but because you want to get stronger, wiser, and better.
You say you had a breakdown a few months ago- what does that mean? What did that entail? How did you come out of it? Are you doing better now, or just holding it together barely? What would staying in this relationship mean to you, beyond just keeping this guy you love in your life? We always have to think about the meaning we are attaching to any given relationship, or desire, or action. Would getting back together be good because you guys are good together, or would it mean that you’re “okay again”? Because that’s not enough of a reason.
These are questions I’d recommend exploring within yourself before even trying to get back together. And then there’s the legit issue of how to raise self esteem.
The basic things you can do to raise your own self-esteem are to focus on you and on the world around you. You, instead of people you focus on while ignoring you, and the world around you to give you better perspective. Regular exercise is good. Journaling is good. Volunteer work is very good. Taking a dance class is great for helping you remember the things your body does and start to feel sexy again without needing sex. Figuring out the things you excel in, and then doing those things is good. I actually really like this workbook, as silly as workbooks sound.
As far as communications go, it might behoove you to get into couples therapy together. This might make him feel less skittish, and it might make you feel less responsible for the demise of your relationship. Sure, you had a breakdown, but you’re not the only person at fault in a breakup. A failed relationship is always a joint endeavor.
My thoughts, given the limited info I have, are that you should suggest couples therapy to your dude, and if he agrees, go to therapy as two broken up people thinking of getting back together. Don’t interact outside of therapy while you take some time to work on yourself as well.