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Why Your Ex Can’t Let Go: Eight Crucial Warning Signs

The issues that need to be resolved before ending a relationship with someone.

Most relationships do not end in mutual or congenial agreement. If one partner wants out before the other is ready, there is likely to be uneven grieving and predictably difficult issues to resolve.

It is most common for me to see the rejected partner, seeking to overcome their anguishing loss. They often do not know why the relationship ended the way it did. Confused and deeply wounded, they can only ease their distress by continuing to push for a resolution. Until those needs are met, they cannot let go.

I also see the partners of these aching or angry exes, who are enduring the seemingly endless tirade of what they feel is undeserved harassment. They cannot understand why their ex-partner can’t just move on and leave them alone. What did they do to deserve this?

What could they have done differently?

Their answers to the following questions may help them not only take accountability for their part but also help them understand why the person they left is having a hard time moving on.

1. Was your partner overly dependent?

Partners exhibiting extreme dependence on the other are often suppliant, over-agreeable, and non-challenging. Those behaviors may be initially attractive to someone who doesn’t like hassle, but overwhelming as time goes on. The continuous need for reassurance becomes burdensome.

Perhaps you promised something you could not deliver?

2. Was the relationship their only focus?

Relationships cannot thrive without many mirrors that reflect their process. People need people, and relationships exist within a social circle that monitors their progress. If one partner lives only for their primary relationship—to the exclusion of friends, family, hobbies, self-care, or personal transformation—they tend to focus only on their committed relationship. If the other partner maintains outside interests, they will eventually become bored in that primary relationship.

Did you encourage that focus early on and then feel smothered by it?

3. Did your partner have a history of abuse, neglect, or abandonment?

People who have had painful past traumas often search for partners to rescue them and promise a relationship that will keep them safe forever. Though that may be alluring to someone who needs to feel like a knight in shining armor, it is not a set of behaviors that can last without reciprocity. Trauma is easily triggered by slight errors of reassurance that upend the established haven.

Did your partner think you would never hurt him or her by leaving?

4. Was this an agony-ecstasy relationship?

Many people live in extremely chaotic relationships that should be ended much sooner than they typically are because the good times are remarkable. Over time the relationship, despite its phenomenal moments, begins to cost too much for one of the partners. The partner left behind is often confused, humiliated, and rageful, believing the other would never quit.

Did your partner have any clue that you would?

5. Did your partner show signs of pathological jealousy?

People who express an urgent need for territoriality, constant insecurity of being replaced, or anger at anyone they believe might threaten the relationship in any way, seek constant reassurance that they are still number one. It may initially not be a problem or an expression of singular devotion. But there can never be enough reassurance to help an insecure person to feel okay. Eventually, the relationship begins to feel like an entrapment and the failing-to-adequately-reassure partner has enough.

Did your partner believe their behavior was acceptable at the beginning of the relationship?

6. Did your partner’s needs seem insatiable?

Like the old fairy tale of “The Fisherman’s Wife,” some people are never satisfied. Whether it is for material goods, time, sexual needs and demands, new adventures, financial security, or any requirement that is expressed as an entitlement, it is never enough. Initially, if that partner is desirable and the partner that they are with has enough abundance, it can work. But, over time, what may seem fun to satiate becomes an obligation to avoid failure. What can be provided is more important than the provider, and feelings of exploitation replace the pleasure of giving.

Did you fulfill your partner’s needs at the beginning of the relationship and then feel exploited?

7. Were there dramatic private and public scenes?

Some people suffer from personality disorders that make them highly reactive if they feel threatened with loss. They often respond to threats of abandonment or rejection with intense reactivity and cannot seem to control what they say or do at the time. Whatever the reasons, the partner who endures the scenes but still stays in the relationship communicates that it’s okay.

Did you stay too long and then decide unilaterally that you’d had enough?

8. Did your partner become childlike when threatened with loss?

All relationships have a parent-child component to them. Both partners need the other to be the symbolic caring parent when they are overwhelmed and need to allow the child in them to surface. Both know it is a temporary state. But some people regularly regress to a childlike state when they need the other partner to focus only on their needs. They want unconditional protection and cannot abide by anyone else coming before them. An on-demand parental figure cannot substitute for mutual care.

Did you promise that initially and then no longer want to do that?

These behaviors are warning signs that a once-loved and sought-after person can become a burdensome albatross over time. The partner who eventually leaves a relationship is far more likely to be spared an ex-partner’s pain or wrath if they acknowledge and address these warning signs early on. If, on the other hand, they allow their own attachment to that partner to endure behaviors that will eventually be unacceptable, they are bound to leave a broken person behind.

Choose Dr. Randi Gunther a Clinical Psychologist & Marriage Counselor who truly understands the complexities of human connection.

Reach out to Dr. Randi today and take the first step toward a brighter, more fulfilling future together.

Dr. Gunther is available by Zoom or Facetime


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