She’s rubbing salt in the wounds by wearing it in pictures with her new man on social media
I found out my girlfriend was cheating on me with her work colleague.
We were together for three years and she admitted she was with him, on and off, for almost the entire duration of our relationship.
We finished six months ago and now, to rub salt into the wound, they’re in a relationship and posting it all over social media. I looked at a photo she posted recently and I can see she’s still wearing a pair of earrings I bought her. I thought she’d have more self-respect, but obviously she doesn’t.
I bought her a lot of expensive gifts and I’m thinking of asking for them back. I bought her these gifts with the understanding we were in a monogamous relationship. I now know we weren’t so surely I’m entitled to ask for them back?
There are many reasons why people choose to unfollow their ex on social media, but the main one is because they don’t want to see their former partner in a new relationship.
You’ve acknowledged that this is difficult for you to see and yet you seem to be more upset by the fact she continues to wear the jewellery you bought her than you are with the break-up itself.
Seeing these photos no doubt makes it sting all the more, but I wonder how you might feel if she wasn’t in a new relationship and you were? Would you still be as inclined to ask for the jewellery back if you spotted her wearing it in, say, a photograph with her friends?
I shared your dilemma with three experts and they too pointed out the sense of attachment that this jewellery represents.
Relationship mentor Anne Brannick acknowledged it is “very painful to hear of your girlfriend going out with somebody else, to go through a break-up and then witness them online with someone else”.
However, she thinks it’s interesting that you noticed the jewellery and you’re now focussed more on getting these gifts back than you are on healing from the loss of this relationship.
“He can focus on the external, the material gifts, and certainly he can ask for them back,” she says. “She can of course refuse as the definition of a gift is that it is freely given without compensation, which would increase his sense of pain and betrayal.”
You have a choice of where to focus your attention, Brannick adds. “If he keeps his attention on her, the pain of betrayal increases.
"He needs to give himself the gift of relationship, to see his worthiness of love by giving self-care to himself. That may be in asking for the gifts back, but with no attachment to the outcome.
“Once there is attachment to the outcome, there is an expectation, and expectations will breed further resentment.”
This resentment can also reopen old wounds, she says. “When we keep our attention on the other who has betrayed us, it brings up the pain of abandonment in childhood and all the losses we’ve experienced.
“As adults, we can be there for ourselves by acknowledging the pain and keeping our attention on our own unmet needs. What gift does he now need to give himself so that he can grieve his loss and move on with his life?”
Dating coach Frances Kelleher also encourages you to turn your focus inwards and “live in the now”. “When you bought those gifts, you gave them to her from a place of love and giving,” she says.
“This was the right thing to do. Don’t regret that because when we do the right thing, it is never wasted, even if you think it is. And a gift is without conditions.”
Instead of trying to reclaim objects that remind you of the relationship, Kelleher suggests you remove any reminders of your ex from your life.
“Get rid of all the memorabilia you have, as well as photos. This also means you need to stop watching her on social media. Keep your mental, emotional and physical space empty for the right woman. If it is filled up with her, there will be no room for someone else.”
Overcoming potential trust issues in future relationships is equally important, she says.
“A lot of people tell me that when someone cheats on them, they find it hard to trust other people going forward. Don’t let anyone take your trust from you. That is on them, not on you.”
I also shared your dilemma with psychotherapist Amy Plant, who encourages you to first get some clarity on what it is you want to achieve from asking for these gifts back.
Is it the “monetary value” or is it that you “want a little bit of agency having been cheated on, and you want to regain some power?”.
She was also curious about your suggestion that your ex is “rubbing salt into the wound” by sharing her new relationship on social media.
“Social media has become a standard fixture of modern-day break-ups,” she says. “At the same time, it’s almost standard to have a creep on someone’s Instagram to see what they’re doing.”
Still, it’s important to have some limits, otherwise it can veer into what she calls “emotional self-harm”. “It’s like picking on a scab or pressing on a bruise,” she says.
Or, as you put it yourself, rubbing salt into a wound.
If you have a dilemma, email email@example.com.