Dear Wendy: “My Ex Hit Me And Now He Wants Me Back”

I started a long-distance (1,500 miles apart) relationship with a wonderful man in August of last year. Things were going great, but suddenly took a turn for the worse in January when he was diagnosed with cancer. I was able to take two semesters off from school to go be his caregiver. We continued to build our relationship and he constantly expressed his gratitude for my being there. Unfortunately, about a month into his treatment, he started to become verbally abusive, and began to pick fights. Months went by, and threats of hitting me turned into actually hitting me, on two occasions. I reached out to his family and friends for support, but he told them I was a crazy liar. I begged him to see a therapist, or to talk to his doctor about the medications and steroids he was on, but he refused. When he was done his last round of chemo and in remission, I ended the relationship, packed my bags and went home. We have stayed in contact, and he surprised me last weekend by driving out to visit me. He spent a few days at my apartment, and was once again the man I fell in love with. He told me that he’d told his family about the abuse, that he loved me, and that he wants to get back together. My friends think I should cut all contact with him, and that he lost his chance to be with me once he hit me. I think his behavior was caused by the drugs and steroids he was on, so my decision isn’t easy. Is it really as cut-and-dry as my friends think, or can I give him a second chance? — Abused Caregiver

I agree with your friends that your ex-boyfriend lost his chance to be with you once he hit you, but I don’t believe it’s necessarily a cut-and-dry situation. If you’d been married, for example, or living together or even just in a long-term relationship versus one that was only a few months old (and long distance for the most part), my advice may be different. But the fact is that you really hardly knew each other when you became his full-time caregiver. It may have felt like you’d known each other forever, but truly, how much foundation had you really built together in the period between August and January when you were 1,500 miles apart? Probably very little, and that’s really why you should give up any thoughts of reconciling.

There’s too much messiness in your history together and not enough of a strong foundation on which to build. Just the fact that you didn’t know enough about your ex when you were with him to know for sure whether his violent behavior was out of character for him or not is pretty telling. In addition, that he didn’t care enough about you or your relationship to see a therapist or talk to his doctor about the effects of his treatment indicates he isn’t an ideal life-long partner for you. What happens if he gets sick again? Or, what happens if you learn that his abusive streak wasn’t due to his cancer treatment, after all? That that’s just who he is deep down and it comes out during periods of stress or weakness? There’s just too much unknown here. And, sure, one could argue that every relationship holds a lot of unknowns, particularly at the beginning when it’s nothing but unknowns, but the difference with you guys is that there’s a lot of stuff you do know, too, and some of it is really bad.

I’m not saying your ex isn’t a wonderful person or couldn’t be really great for you, but there’s too much of a risk that he isn’t or that you’ll never be able to find out because you’ll be too nervous about a relapse (in behavior, not necessarily the cancer, although that surely is a concern, too) and too resentful of his past behavior to really give him — and your relationship — an honest chance. It’s tragic that he got sick just a few months after you met and you weren’t able to realize the potential of your relationship. But that doesn’t mean you should try to realize it now. It is, after all, a different relationship than what you had a year ago. The potential is no longer the same.

If I were you, I’d end things on the positive note you shared when he spent last weekend with you. Think of it as a parting gift from the universe — a pleasant reminder of the good parts of your relationship so you’re left with positive thoughts and happy memories as you close this particular chapter. You’ll love again. You’ll find a relationship that is brand-new and untarnished and you can take the lessons learned and the strength gained from this last one and be better for it.

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