It’s an uncomfortable question; a vulnerable moment of reflection: “Why am I still in love with my ex even though he treated me so badly*?”
Have you found yourself in a relationship in which you know you are – or were – being treated badly? It can be an extremely difficult situation, and may even interfere with your ability to find a new love, rubbing further salt into the wound.
But first, there are some things to know when you find yourself still in love with an ex who treated you badly.
- One: You are not alone. Many individuals have experienced and will experience loving an ex who treated them badly, and it is more common than you think.
- Two: The situation, while difficult, is completely normal and almost anyone has the potential to be in this situation.
- Three: Though difficult to come to terms with, these thoughts and emotions are possible to work through, but rarely resolve quickly.
Understanding Why You Might Feel This Way
To understand why you might be in this situation, you need to understand the human need for connection and validation.
Humans need connection to live a fulfilling life. From the womb onwards we are connected with someone else; it is embedded in our design. This connection with others continues throughout our life, and it is these connections which provide us with love and validation, telling us that we are worth loving and are worthy.
But this connection is not always through words. Sometimes we come across individuals who connect differently. It could be a statement such as ‘you look beautiful’ or simply a touch of the hand, it could even be through making intentional quality time for you or completing tasks to show their love. They could also say something indicating you are helping them become a better person such as ‘You complete me’, or ‘ I am half the man without you’.
Unfortunately sometimes these individuals begin to treat us badly on one hand and ‘love’ us on the other.
The ‘love’ and validation we then receive reinforces our love and desire for them. Sometimes this love and desire results in us making excuses for their behaviour such as, ‘They were just having a bad day’ or, ‘They are not normally like that’. We feel they love us even though they treat us badly.
This contradiction is known as cognitive dissonance, where we believe two contradictory thoughts at the same time. As a result of the contradiction we can become more extreme in our thoughts and behaviours as we wrestle with the disconnect. Here our feelings tell us one thing but our thoughts another.
At some point we decide that we have had enough and leave them, but still find ourselves in love with our ex even though they treated us so badly.
While we might have accepted the situation in our head, we haven’t in our heart (for a lack of better words).
Or it could be we’ve accepted the situation, but found ourselves still connected to what ‘could have been’ if they did not treat us badly. We may still think of that dream we had of being with our ex with three children in a new house, keeping us ‘in love’ with them. Until we find a way to accept what is not to be, we may continue to feel the love.
So what can we do about it?
If the above sounds very familiar, remember it takes time to process these sorts of relationships and to go through what you feel for them.
A key step is becoming aware of this disconnect, and working out what you are still connected to. A close friend or family member might be able to help you deal with the emotions or thoughts/beliefs still connected to that person.
If you believe it is taking too long, it might be worth contacting a counsellor for further support, to journey with you as you work through your feelings.
Hannah Jensen-Fielding is a Brisbane therapist working from a strengths-based integrative approach, as she believes more momentum is gained by looking forward at the future and who we can become. She has a keen interest in providing relationship counselling, for example to women who are still in love with their ex even when he treated them badly.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call Vision Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3088 5422.
*Important Note: The phrase “treated me so badly” covers a variety of behaviours, each with their own consequences, with some more harmful than others. The harmful behaviour can be known as domestic and family violence (DFV). More information about DFV can be found here. I encourage you to reach out to someone who supports you if you suspect this is what you have been through, as you do not need to deal with the consequences alone.