Q: Five years ago, my then-fiancé broke things off five weeks before we were supposed to be married. To make a long story short, it was ugly. We owned our home together, and ended up having to settle things via attorneys, which took over two years; he had been having an inappropriate relationship with another woman, yet the vast majority of our friends ended up siding with him on the basis that they knew him first. To make things worse, I had lost my job just a couple of weeks before the breakup. That plus the wedding debts I ended up saddled with left me homeless, jobless, and seriously screwed. Basically, it sucked. If it weren’t for the kindness of a few truly awesome friends and family members, I don’t know how I would have ever gotten back on my feet.
Fast forward to present day, and we are married to other people. I don’t think about him all that often, but whenever I do, I am completely overcome by the urge to punch him in the face. While I am so thankful that I didn’t marry him—my husband is about a billion times better for me, and all in all, we have a wonderful, fantastic life together—part of me is just still so angry. I am angry that I spent several years of my life when my friends were going on fun vacations and buying cars and houses paying back the debts for the lavish wedding he insisted we have; angry that I lost some wonderful friends to him; angry that he still lives in our dream home that we bought together; angry that, because of the financial situation the breakup caused, my husband and I had a practically non-existent wedding budget. Most of all, I am angry at myself that, even after five years and a marriage, I still go through periods from time to time where I let the anger over the ex get to me.
So, my question is: What does one do with all of this anger after an engagement (or marriage) ends? Do I confront him? Actually punch him in the face? (Just kidding!) Continue to passively be angry for the rest of my life? How do I let this go?
—Still All Dramatic Over Nixed Engagement
A: Dear SAD ONE,
Alright, that story is completely nuts and has me pissed off for your sake. So, forgive yourself for being angry. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be angry about that crap. Five years is not a huge distance from that sort of traumatic experience—especially one that’s impacted so much of your life. The fact that you’re still carrying around a bit of anger just sounds flat normal, to me. Getting over stuff takes time. And I’m sure you will, given that time! But, don’t ask too much of yourself too fast, you know? Besides, being mad at yourself for being mad just creates a whole nasty cycle of emotion that doesn’t altogether make much sense.
While we’re doing all of this self-forgiveness, maybe think about whether or not you need to forgive yourself for getting into that terrible situation with that guy. I’m not trying to point fingers here. Usually when I’m fuming mad at someone, it’s because deep down, I’m pretty pissed with myself for letting them do that awful thing to me. Dig around and see if that’s the case, and you know, let yourself off the hook.
I do get it, though. You wasted enough time on that relationship and recovering from that relationship, it feels like a waste to continue to dwell in those unhappy thoughts. It almost seems that it’s one more thing he’s continuing to ruin for you, right? So, how to handle that anger when it creeps up?
Personally, I can let go of things better when I’m allowed to just take a few minutes to be really stinking pissed-off ANGRY. To vent, to yell, to cry angry tears, to get it all out of my system, and then to be done with it. It also might help to be open with your husband. Sometimes it seems best to not mention exes and past relationships, but if this one is particularly bugging you, it might help to loop him in. “I’m just so pissed at Ex today!” You guys are tied together to help one another with crap, and that includes the burdens of the past, if they’re still causing a problem today.
Another way to handle things is to find a tangible symbol for removing this guy and the whole messy situation from your mind. You could write down what’s pissing you off, and then crumple up that piece of paper and throw it in the garbage (I use the same method for when I’m worrying about something). Or, I had a friend who would write down the offending person’s name, and put it in the freezer.
Another idea is to use all of that angry energy to do something productive. I’m an expert at angry-cleaning (you should SEE my bathroom after a really good fight with my husband) but I’ve heard the same works for running, painting, gardening, and writing music. You could even bake some cookies (and send them over here, if you’re not feeling hungry).
The point is—do whatever you need to get past the brief moments of rage so you can move on and heal in the long run. (Well, “whatever” short of punching him in the nose or setting his house on fire.) None of the stuff above is prescriptive; it’s just a few ideas of what might work. I mean, maybe your thing is buying some thrifted china and smashing it against a wall, who knows. Being angry and then expressing and venting the energy that comes with it is healthy.
Allow yourself the room to experience that natural, healthy emotion in response to this terrible thing that happened. And then find a constructive way to wrap it up without wallowing. But, if it seems that these bouts of anger are happening pretty regularly or are starting to really overwhelm you, it may be a good idea to set an appointment with a counselor. While there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry and hurt about this junk that happened, it could help you manage that anger and hurt. Without punching him in the nose, I mean.
Team Practical, how do you get over built up anger from the past? What do you do to shake resentment at an ex?
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!