My girlfriend spends a lot of her time getting angry at her ex. I sympathised at first but after four months it’s just as intense. She fumes whenever anything reminds her of him. How do I help her let go?
One thing is for sure: you’re not helping her by being sympathetic. Right now, your girlfriend is stuck. She’s angry, and you’re bearing the brunt of her anger. While you keep listening to her, she’ll keep venting her feelings. It’s time for a different strategy.
Your girlfriend has not yet dealt with her ex. She needs to grieve what happened between them, accept her loss, and move on. Instead, she’s using her anger like a drug. It’s masking her pain and hurt. Until she gives up her anger, she won’t be able to grieve; until she grieves, she won’t be able to forgive and let go.
Anger can be addictive. When we’re angry, we often feel powerful. Adrenalin courses through our body, our muscles tighten up, and we feel we’re ready to take on the world. Nature designed us this way so we can protect ourselves from imminent danger. But in your partner’s circumstances, the feeling of power is an illusion. Underneath her anger, she feels powerless.
You feel powerless, too. Powerless to help your girlfriend move on. Right now, you’re hooking into her pain. Her anger has become your problem. It’s interfering with your relationship. With all the focus on her ex, you feel you’re missing out.
In fact, your behaviour is similar to hers. You both feel powerless, and you’re both frightened to grieve what you’ve lost.
Perhaps you’ve lost something you never had. Somewhere in your mind, you have an idealised picture of your girlfriend. Perhaps it’s how she appeared when you first met, or perhaps it’s how you imagine she could be. Forget it. You need to accept her as she really is.
Right now, she’s angry, and her anger is damaging your relationship. You need to set some limits, and protect yourself from her anger. To do this, you need to see her realistically, and grieve the difference between who she is and who you imagined her to be.
This may be painful. It’s also necessary. Unless you let go, how can you expect her to do the same?
Once you can see her clearly, assert your rights. The next time she starts to rant and rave about her ex, tell her: “I know he hurt you, but I really don’t want to hear about it any more.” Then change the subject to something that interests you both.
Repeat this strategy until she gets the message. Don’t be surprised if she turns her anger onto you. If she does, tell her: “Your anger is damaging our relationship. Decide what’s more important: your ex or us.”. Then stop engaging on that topic and let her sort her feelings out.
She might choose to stay angry. She might choose to let go. One thing is certain. Once you reclaim your strength, you’ll be ready to move forward, either with your girlfriend or by yourself.