I feel resentful towards my ex

Agony aunt Mary Fenwick discusses how to manage a relationship with your ex

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I feel resentful towards my ex

Q: ‘Fifteen years ago, my partner left me and destroyed what I thought was going to be my future. Our daughter was two. I’ve raised a happy child, bought a home and tried to have relationships with other men, but without success.

I still feel such bitterness towards my ex, who is still involved in the raising of our child, but leaves all the responsibility to me, other than making a small financial contribution.

How do I stop feeling so resentful and able to imagine a future with a new partner?’

A: I love this question, but that does not mean I have the answer. Let me start by saying that you are perfectly entitled to feel alone, sad and angry at times, alongside your justifiable pride in your achievements. I empathise with these feelings, as will every lone parent.

When I have been internet dating, and met fathers who are apparently perfectly free to arrange their social lives because they are not inextricably entwined with their children, yes, I feel a pang. But it would be a worse pain, one that I can’t imagine, if my children’s daily lives went on without me. You know it is best for your daughter to have her father in her life, and you have put your own feelings aside as much as possible to achieve that. Ultimately though, we can’t deny how we feel.

What is this feeling we call resentment? I think of primitive, overpowering emotions as if they are primary colours. One summary is that most of what we feel is on a colour wheel that represents mad, bad, sad or glad. Mad is angry (giving you the energy to fight); bad would include fear, disgust and repulsion; sadness takes your energy away, so you just want to huddle safely by the campfire; and glad covers all the open positive emotions like love, curiosity, wonder, awe and pride.

With these ideas in mind, I wonder whether resentment might be anger and sadness, with a bit of contempt or disgust. There is anger and sadness that you are not raising your daughter with a loving and supportive partner, and it sounds as if one of the key triggers is fear that you won’t have a happy relationship in the future.

All of that anger, sadness and fear is completely attached to your ex at the moment. Is it at all possible to acknowledge those emotions, but loosen their connection to him?

If his actions mean that he is no longer an admirable person to you, isn’t he doing you a favour by getting out of your way? I know plenty of people stuck in relationships that look tougher, lonelier or less interesting than my single status.

Mary Fenwick is a business coach, journalist, fundraiser, mother, divorcée and widow. Follow Mary on Twitter @MJFenwick. Got a question for Mary? Email mary@psychologies.co.uk, with ‘MARY’ in the subject line.

Photograph: iStock