She’s finally out of your life. The last of her things have been removed from your home, and she’s gone. You have a tremendous sense of emptiness, and a tremendous sense of relief. And, let’s face it, you feel pretty guilty about feeling the relief.
What do you do next? The house is finally quiet. She’s not there to scream at you. She’s not there to dictate what you eat, what you watch on TV, what music you listen to, what you wear, how long you’re in the bathroom, what brand of soap to use, how long to wash your hands, how to fold the towels, or the sheets, what time you go to bed, or what time you get up, when and how you talk to her, and what time you’re allowed to come home from work. What do you do?!
Your ex may not have been this controlling. Mine was. And when she was finally gone, the silence was deafening.
As I’ve written about before, her controlling nature and gaslighting eventually caused me severe cognitive difficulties. I was simply unable to function. One day, I even made it halfway to work, and noticed I was still wearing my pajamas. I had to stop at Target and buy clothes on my way in. Even now, two years out, I still have memory lapses, difficulty remembering names or other simple things. But that’s something for another post.
What do you do when she’s gone? Break the routines. Stop doing everything her way. Stop. You didn’t do things that way before she came into your life and you managed pretty well, didn’t you? Remember? Every habit of hers you’ve taken on, even if it is something as simple as folding the towels a certain way to appease her, needs to stop.
This will take effort.
One thing my ex insisted on was that we enter and exit the apartment via the back door. The front door was not to be used under any circumstances. To this day, I have no idea why. After she left, I noticed that I was still using the back door. I forced myself to stop. Even if I’d already entered or exited via the back door, I made myself turn around, go back, and use the front door. It took a while, but I got it.
Now is your chance to do all those things you were forbidden to do. Watch gory movies! Turn the music up loud! Leave the dishes until the following day! Cook what you want for dinner. Stay up as late as you want. Rediscover the things you used to enjoy doing.
Did she make you sit through endless hours of Sex and the City or Grey’s Anatomy? Put in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, or The Godfather. Go buy that thing she wouldn’t let you own.
When you’re ready to take the next step, there are a few things I would suggest:
- Get a new bed: Seriously, I cannot even begin to emphasize how much this helps psychologically. There’s too much history wrapped up in the old bed. Get rid of it. Start fresh. I promise, you will sleep better.
- Change the locks: This should be a no-brainer. You don’t know if she’s surreptitiously made copies of keys, or taken hers with her. Take charge of the security of your surroundings. She does NOT need access to the home anymore. You don’t need to come home and find her there or your personal possessions missing.
- Return her mail: Chances are that she probably has not filed a change-of-address form with the post office. You will get mail for her, which she can then blame you for not forwarding. DO NOT FORWARD HER MAIL TO HER. YOU ARE NOT HER POST OFFICE. There are trained professionals who do that. They are called mail carriers. There is something deeply satisfying about marking her mail “no longer lives here, return to sender” and dropping it in the mailbox. Not your fault if she doesn’t get her latest credit card, W-2 or other important document on time. She should have filed with the post office.
- Change your phone number: If you have children, this, unfortunately, probably isn’t good advice. But, if you don’t, there’s no reason she needs to know how to get a hold of you anymore.
- Change your e-mail address: See above. Coupled with the fact that she, in all honesty, has probably hacked into your e-mail, looking for something to use against you. My ex gained access to my e-mail and I felt extremely violated. In fact, I stopped answering (or even checking) my e-mail for months afterward. Eventually, upon settling on a new e-mail address, I’ve gotten better about this. Again, if you have kids (which, really is the only reason to maintain contact that I can think of, this may not be an option).
- Move: Eventually, the memories of being with her in my old apartment became too much. I was in constant fear that I would find her there waiting for me. Additionally, there wasn’t a room in the apartment that didn’t have “psychic residue” of too many fights lingering in the air. I relocated to another town entirely and live in a place that has no shared history with her. I am happier and feel safer than I ever did in the old place. She and I lived together for 7 months, but that was enough to completely obliterate the “good” memories I’d had in the two years in that apartment prior to her being there. Start over. Start fresh.
If you are the one leaving, rather than her, you can still do pretty much all of these things. If there aren’t kids involved, again, I can’t think of any good or logical reason for her to know your whereabouts. Just make sure you fill out the change-of-address card with the post office. You don’t need her reading your mail.
Finally, and this is particularly hard – I KNOW – be prepared to sacrifice mutual friends. I know that some of them are good people. I know that some of them are close friends. But if they weren’t your friends before the relationship, they may not be your friends after the relationship.
Chances are, you’ve been smeared to them for quite some time and they will probably have a warped view of you. Even if that’s not the case, you don’t need to accidentally run into her, via them, or have them inadvertently let her know where you are. Letting go of some of these friends will hurt. But, I promise you, the security and peace of mind you have with her out of your life, and not knowing where you are, will more than make up for it. While I’m at it, there is absolutely NO reason to maintain contact with her family, unless, again, there are kids involved.
Break the routines she instilled in you.
Build new ones, and better ones; ones that are your own.
It’s your life, again. You have it back.
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Dr Tara J. Palmatier provides confidential, fee-for-service, consultation/coaching services to help both men and women work through their relationship issues via telephone and/or Skype chat. Her practice combines practical advice, support, reality testing and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Shrink4Men Services page for professional inquiries.
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