Dear Thelma: I feel guilty about breaking up with my ex-girlfriend


Do you need a listening ear? Thelma is here to help. Email lifestyle@thestar.com.my.

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Those contemplating suicide can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935 / 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999 / 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Jakim’s family, social and community care centre (011-1959 8214 on WhatsApp); or Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929 / email sam@befrienders.org.my / befrienders centres in malaysia).

Dear Thelma,

My ex-girlfriend and I had started dating months ago.

She's kind, loving and caring. We started out pretty well.

We didn’t meet up often due to our work schedules, but the time spent with her was always quality time. I was working and studying at the same time. I discussed this with her to seek her understanding so that I would have adequate time and space, and she was OK about it.

Then things started to change. Sometimes she would seek my attention and call me during my work hours or when I was studying. She started to overthink that I got tired of her and didn't want to be with her anymore.

She often felt moody, depressed, and cried for no reason. It was then that she confessed she was diagnosed with clinical depression a long time ago.

I tried to help her, asked her to consult a therapist or do things that make her happy. But when I was not around, she was hesitant to seek treatment.

As time went by, the situation got worse, to the point she would have suicidal thoughts.

My mental health was affected, I experienced loss of concentration, felt drained and scared for what was coming. I had to constantly be careful of my actions so that I wouldn’t trigger her. We really loved each other, but I wasn’t happy at all.

Recently, after much thought, I eventually decided to break up with her. She begged me not to break up with her or else she would lose control. It ended up with her writing suicidal notes and sending them to me. I quickly called the police for help, and rushed over to see her.

The police escorted her to the therapist for assessment, who deemed that her depression was severe and she had to start medications.

When she was stable, we had a long chat. She finally agreed to break up as she didn't want me to be unhappy in this relationship.

I was sad and guilty over my actions. I broke down and cried several times. I realised that actually I really love her and she also loves me. I even thought of getting back together.

She is usually alone and doesn't have many friends.

I was wondering if the decisions I made were really the best for both of us. I offered to give support to her even when we are not together anymore but I'm afraid her depression might relapse and I will not be happy again.

Please advise me.

Lost

I'm so sorry you found yourself in this difficult situation. Thank you for writing because this is quite a common issue but so many of us are frightened to discuss it, because we fear judgement. Here are some thoughts.

There are two issues here, dating and mental health. We look at them separately and then together.

First, dating is not marriage. In a permanent committed relationship, we say for better or for worse.

Dating isn't that. Dating is just about getting to know each other to see if you are a match.

So, when a dating relationship doesn't work out, it is not a moral judgement. Two people can be perfectly lovely as individuals but also not be a match.

Breaking up when you're not a match is perfectly proper.

Second, adults are responsible for managing their health, including mental health issues.

There are certain conditions that come on suddenly where you may need to have an intervention because the person may not have the mental capacity to help themselves.

However, that is not the case as you describe it.

Your girlfriend had a history of clinical depression and the symptoms resurfaced gradually enough to be clear. However, she refused to seek treatment.

You were frightened for her, and you feel guilty, as though you did something wrong. Those feelings are misplaced.

Please turn this around a little and ask yourself, what would you have said to her if she had diabetes?

I bet you would have told her to see a doctor and follow the treatment.

Understand that as a partner, you can advise but you are not responsible for her choices and actions.

So I think you need to rethink this tale, and to cast it like you might any health problem.

From your letter, you acted with care, love and prudence. You asked her to seek help, but she refused. In the circumstances, there's little more you could do.

You were anxious, afraid of the situation, and very unhappy. As love is about sharing a life journey, not abdicating responsibility and dumping it on another, you quite rightly set a boundary. After some time, you broke up.

I don't like that she tried to blackmail you into staying in the relationship by threatening to harm herself.

Hopefully, she panicked and this was an error of judgement. But if this is her regular habit, it has to stop because it's coercive.

You reacted perfectly properly by alerting the authorities, who also acted well and got her the help she needed.

I hope your ex learns from this experience. Clinical depression can be difficult but there are millions of people who learn to deal with it.

Now she has been forced to seek help, she can work with her therapist to make an emergency and a regular support plan. That is standard practice and hopefully, she will be much happier in her life.

And now, let's talk about you.

These few months have been very stressful. You've been helpless and rather frightened. That takes a toll.

I strongly suggest that you take gentle care of yourself. Surround yourself with kind people, rest properly and do nice things for yourself that you enjoy: Hiking maybe, or playing your favourite sport. You need a refresh and reset.

When your emotions settle, I think your misplaced guilt will vanish. You may still value the qualities in your ex that you saw, but from your letter, you two were not a match. You only dated a short time and you very quickly felt pressured.

While you rest, I suggest you consider this: Visualise your life over the next 50 years and ask yourself how you want to share that with a partner. That should help you find a better match.

So, know you did well in a tough situation. Heal, and when you're ready, go and date again. I hope that you find the happiness you deserve.

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