Hi Yana,

I’m a dude in my mid-thirties struggling to recover from a sort of recent break-up (over a year ago). We were together for seven years. The last three of those years were spent in couples therapy and the last year of our relationship was spent trying to be non-monogamous (her idea).

Long, painful story short: she ended up falling in love with the other person she was dating outside of our relationship during our non-monogamous period and we broke up. The break-up involved so much confusion for me about what she wanted that I still don’t know what to make of it.

I think about it a lot in terms of what went wrong and I keep trying to figure it out. Did she ever love me? Did she just actually not want to be with me but couldn’t come out and just tell me that? How could she drag my emotions so much and then just walk away?

During the last year of our relationship she kept telling me that she was confused and didn’t know what she wanted. It just feels like a maddening, unsolved mystery to me. What can I do to move on from this or figure this out?

Detective Heartbreak

Dear Detective,

While I don’t inherently believe that either monogamy or non-monogamy are The Superior Way to be in relationship with people, I do think that practicing non-monogamy at the tail-end of a relationship can be particularly confusing and hurtful. For many people, the overlap between relationships makes it harder to get the clarity needed to move forward. In order to move on, Detective, you’ve got one mission: Get. That. Clarity.

Tying ourselves in these kinds of mental/emotional knots comes from our repeated attempts to figure out the same dilemma by way of using the same ineffective methods, over and over again. You’re trying your best to think your way out of someone else’s personal emotional thought process and you end up just beating your head against the proverbial wall of your former relationship. It’s time to try a different thing. It’s time to Get. That. Clarity.

This involves gathering some new pieces of information to power you through the uncertainty tunnel. If possible, ask your ex some clarifying questions: When did you know that you didn’t want to be in our relationship anymore? Was non-monogamy your way out or were you genuinely wanting to date both of us/move forward with me? Be sure to only ask questions that will provide you necessary clarity in order to put a dent in the unsolvability of your mystery. Avoid unnecessarily painful questions like “HOW COULD YOU??” or “Are they better in bed than me???”.

What would be the most meaningful thing to hear from her? Can you ask her to give that to you? Do you want to hear, for example, “I’m sorry you’ve felt like I dragged you and didn’t look back” or “I’m sorry I didn’t handle the opening of our relationship as tactfully as I could’ve”?

Remember, these are requests for info. Don’t set yourself up in the trap of thinking you’ll get everything you ask for from an ex who likely has their own complicated feelings to manage.

Most importantly, get clarity from yourself. It’s safe to assume that you might not get the answers you want from her. If she stands by her familiar narrative that she was genuinely confused about what she wanted and/or believed she was practicing non-monogamy in the most ethical way she could, it’s best to believe she’s telling the truth about her reality and to begin the process of accepting what she has to offer you.

At this point the work becomes, “What do I need to find out about myself, by myself (and your not-your-ex-support-system) to help me accept the lack of control I have over the end of this relationship and my ex’s experience of it?” At the end of the day, all we can do is ask for clarity. And hopefully we get it. But if we don’t, we’ve got to cultivate that shit on our own. A therapist can be helpful. Whatever you do, Get. That. Clarity. It’s your only way out.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.