‘I’m struggling to connect with someone else after my girlfriend left me’

Tell Me About It: ‘I have spoken to a therapist, but I don’t seem to be able to move on’

PROBLEM: I am a man in my mid-40s and still struggling to connect with any women I meet after my girlfriend left me over four years ago. I can’t seem to be able to move beyond a certain depth and it is mainly driven by fear, I suspect.

I recently heard that my ex is now engaged and it did shake me, but also confirmed to me definitively that there is no chance of us getting together again. Pathetically, perhaps, I still harboured hope. She lives in the UK and I moved back to Ireland after the break-up.

I have spoken to a therapist, but I don’t seem to be able to move on. Any advice would be great. I am at a loss at what to do and at the same time anxious for the future as I would love to have my own family.

ADVICE: Two things suggest that a way forward is possible for you: the first is that you are open to help and you have a sense of what your blocks are, and the second is that you have been forcibly freed from hanging on to hope of renewing your past relationship and this may be a silver-lining for you.

It seems that you really were committed to your ex and this might explain your huge loss when it ended. Grief usually takes much longer to recover from than we allow ourselves and so your efforts to move on with your life are still being stymied by your hurt and fear of future abandonment – all of which are natural reactions to a major break-up. However, you are now seeking to create a life where you have a family and commitments and so you must push beyond your fears to allow yourself the possibility of this happening. Closing the door on any possibility of re-uniting with your ex may be the starting point for getting beyond the surface level with another partner, and if this is to happen you may have to look at a few things.

The first is fear. Your internal protective measures appear to be stopping you from allowing someone to get close enough to cause you hurt and you may feel that your ability to judge is insufficient to know who is worthy of your trust and who is not. Initially, in any relationship, you have to go on instinct and basic attraction, but your problem seems to be occurring beyond this stage and this is where you can ask your friends for some input.

It takes courage and intelligence to overcome fear and we may face setbacks along the way, but ultimately the outcome is the freedom to be more ourselves through the growing courage to take risks

We are often not the best at knowing who is good for us, and our fears can make us end something prematurely as we try to spare ourselves later suffering, so one of the ways of getting beyond this is to ask our true friends to help us out. They are often much wiser and knowledgeable about whether someone is good for us or not and if we heed their advice, we might allow something to blossom in spite of our fears. At the very least our friends will not encourage us to spend time with someone who is critical or disparaging of us, and so it is worth considering their recommendations.

We overcome fears by facing them and taking small, considered steps towards what we fear. It takes courage and intelligence to overcome fear and we may face setbacks along the way, but ultimately the outcome is the freedom to be more ourselves through the growing courage to take risks. If you are at the point in a relationship where you feel more depth is needed, then you have to speak, to the other person, about what your fear is and what is blocking you. This is an act of intimacy and moves the relationship on. In other words, you cannot have a relationship without taking risks, and they are needed so you can build trust in the other person and they build trust in you.

At the moment, you might feel less secure in your sense of attractiveness and this would be a normal response to grief and loss. However, to find that sense of confidence and attractiveness again, you will need to trust that who you are is enough, that you are worthy of being loved and that you do not have to second-guess yourself. Be yourself and express yourself without too much self-consciousness. This will allow others to know the real you and there is nothing more attractive than someone who is happy to be in their own skin.

Of course, whatever relationship you are pursuing may not work out, but this can be for many reasons including the other person’s background and sense of timing but, if you are not full of humiliation or hurt, your intelligence will allow you to see these things, allowing your capacity for acceptance and freedom to increase.

If you want a relationship to work, overcome your fear by talking about what you are feeling at that time, take your friends’ advice on who is worth pursuing and grow your confidence by taking the risk of being yourself. If you continue to struggle, it may be worth trying a couple of sessions with a psychotherapist again as this time you may be more open to suggestions as your situation has changed.