No one really likes to admit when they’ve been the “bad guy” in a relationship, but none of us are perfect and sometimes that’s just the ugly truth.
You might’ve done something that’s obviously not okay – maybe you cheated, maybe you lied throughout your relationship, maybe you used ultimatums to get your way.
Or maybe your dodgy behaviour was something less easy to put your finger on – like you strung someone along when you weren’t really invested, or shut down difficult conversations when your partner tried to start them.
So what can you actually do when you’re going through a break-up and you realise you’re, probably, possibly, maybe… the bad guy.
DON’T BLAME THEM
It’s not okay to try and spread the idea to your own friends and family that they did something wrong so that you don’t look bad. And it’s especially not okay to try and mess with their reputation amongst people that you both know.
In a lot of relationships that go sour, both people end up behaving in ways that aren’t great. It’s rare for everyone involved to agree on who’s fault it was that everything fell to pieces. Being the “bad guy” doesn’t mean you’re the only person who did anything wrong – and it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the support and empathy of people close to you – but you owe it to yourself and your ex to be honest about how you did them wrong, rather than trying to put the blame back on them to make it seem equal.
You’ve already hurt them, don’t make it worse by talking shit.
This is most relevant to situations where you’ve cheated or done something behind your partner, or ex-partner’s, back that would really hurt them. Don’t lie about it. Be upfront and give them the whole story, so that you’re not leaving them confused or anxious and trying to figure out what you’ve really done.
They deserve to make their decisions about your relationship going forward based on the big picture.
Be careful not to bombard them, though. This might be a case of telling them beforehand that what you have to say won’t be nice to hear, so that you don’t just bowl them over with bad news with no warning.
RESPECT THEIR NEEDS
Whether you’re still on “good terms” is all gonna depend on what went down in the relationship and how badly things came crashing down. Even in situations where you’ve screwed up badly, it doesn’t mean your ex will never speak to you again. But it might. And you have to respect their choice to cut contact with you.
It’s not easy to accept that doing things “on their terms” might mean you lose out on some shared friends, places or hobbies – but it’s also not fair when you’ve hurt someone to be demanding about what you want. Maybe there’s a party coming up and they don’t want you to come: it sucks, but they’re probably really hurting and in need of spaces where they can have fun without being reminded of the break-up.
No one can – or should – be stopping you from seeing your own friends, or pushing you into complete isolation, so we’re not telling you to disregard your own needs. But if you’ve recognised you’re most at fault for things breaking down (i.e you cheated), then you need to respect their choices in the break-up.
As we said above, while giving the person you’ve hurt the space or support they need is important for them, your experience is important too. Seek out your own support systems, keep up kōrero’s with the people who can hold you accountable, and work towards changing the behaviours that have hurt people before. Rather than ignoring or avoiding what you’ve done, forgiveness is about accepting what you’ve done and knowing that you can (and will) do better.
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Rachel Barker is a writer / producer at VICE NZ in Aotearoa.