Breakups are never fun. They are mentally and emotionally taxing. Unfortunately, in some especially volatile breakups, the price of your exit may go beyond the psychological and cost you both materially and financially. This can happen if your ex chooses to not give back your possessions at their residence.
An ex’s refusal to return what is legally yours is emblematic of who they truly are, what type of person they become under extreme emotional pressure, and how they will justify theft to soothe a bruised ego.
It’s Not About the Stuff
Unless there is a genuine dispute of ownership, as might occur with long-term couples that accumulated property together, the material possessions of one of the parties has absolutely nothing to do with the break-up. Therefore, your ex’s use of your property as a bargaining chip is a completely illegitimate tactic.
You may have perfectly legitimate reasons to break-up with your partner or they with you, but that does not mean that suddenly one party is entitled to the other’s property as a consolation prize.
That mentality would imply that you would be entitled to shoplift/rob a bank to compensate for the loss of your property. But you’re not entitled to that, just as your ex is not entitled to your stuff because of real/perceived relationship transgressions.
It Shows How They Want to Remain Engaged
If your ex cannot remain in your life in the romantic way they originally wanted, then keeping your stuff allows them to remain engaged with you. If they haven’t let go yet emotionally, then engaging with you negatively is better than not engaging at all.
Their desire to remain in your life as an antagonistic, combative force is only further proof that they are not over you. Their desire to be your nemesis rather than a person with their own life separate from yours represents a lingering psychological need to keep you around. To relinquish your property to you would allow you to fully cut them off and that is not what your ex wants at this point.
It Shows How Insecure They Are
People who don’t feel in control of themselves internally often try to control the external world to soothe that anxiety. Your ex lost control of you via the break-up, and are thus seeking any possible avenue to maintain any little bit of power over you.
If you left possessions at their house, the idea of holding said possessions hostage will be tempting. The more insecure your ex is, the more likely they will stoop to this type of stealing in the hope of controlling you or simply hurting you.
A self-confident person does not keep, throw away, sell, or destroy another’s possessions, even if they’ve been wronged. In fact, your ex’s willingness to engage in this sort of criminal behavior sends the message to others that their complaints with you are not valid and that they’re just a child throwing a temper tantrum.
A self-assured person tries to tie up all loose ends swiftly and calmly, not because they’re doing their ex any favors, but for the sake of moving on with their own life in the least chaotic manner possible.
So if your ex is inviting conflict by withholding and selling your possessions, that show of “power” is nothing more than a flagrant display of their own insecurities. They have no true power and are merely trying to assuage those feelings of helplessness by hurting you through whatever means available to them, even if those means are against the law.
How Much Should You Fight for Your Stolen Property?
This question does not have a one-size-fits-all answer. Many variables must be taken into consideration, such as the material/sentimental value of your possessions, your ex’s temperament, and your own psychological well-being.
If your ex denies having your possessions and/or is blatantly refusing to return them, know that you are feeding their unhealthy need for revenge by continuing to ask for them. They’re getting a psychological high in denying you what is rightfully yours. So if the list of your possessions in their keeping is limited, then it might be better to cut your loses and move on.
If you cohabited with your ex and thus left a significant chunk of your material life behind that your ex now won’t give back, then you need to contact the appropriate authorities. What they are doing is illegal and you have every right to call upon the police and courts to get your stuff back.
While this tactic may be enough to scare some exes into compliance, some especially disturbed exes may still seek to screw you over even after the authorities have become involved. Even if a court order is issued, they may still try to sneak some things away from the pile that you pick up with the police escort. Unless you can prove that those items are there, the police may not pursue the matter. Even with the authorities, be emotionally prepared to still lose some items.
In the Context of Domestic Abuse
The withholding of possessions can appear in “normal” acrimonious break-ups, but it is also likely to emerge in a situation where domestic abuse has taken place. Those cases require the victim to leave quickly with only the bare essentials.
In that context, keeping your possessions may not only be an extension of the ex’s pathological need for control, but can also be a way to discourage you from pursuing legal action against them, especially if they’re holding your or your children’s legal documents hostage. The possession of such critical information allows them to leverage a convenient and effective form of blackmail.
If you pursue a restraining order against them, then getting your stuff back will become significantly more complicated. If you pursue other forms of legal action, you run the risk of angering them to the point that they destroy or sell your possessions out of spite before you can collect them. Do not sacrifice your safety for material possessions. If legal action is required, take it.
The Moral Implications of Your Ex’s Conduct
In Book II of The Republic, Plato describes the ring of Gyges, a ring that can make oneself invisible. The ring is discussed to debate whether morality is a social construct and whether or not mankind is capable of being morally good if he wears this ring of invisibility and is thus shielded from the negative consequences that society would typically enforce.
For your ex, your property become a sort of Gyges ring, where your ex is placed at a moral crossroads where they can willingly return what they know is not theirs or keep it. If your ex doesn’t return your possessions (or only returns them out of legal coercion), then they are showing you and the world that they don’t have the mental capacity to act morally when there is no punishment.
Hurting you is a higher priority than maintaining any sense of personal integrity or self-respect. Your ex’s behavior post-breakup should only solidify your reasoning why you broke up with them or your gratitude that they broke up with you. Possessions are replaceable; you are not, and having yourself free of someone so vicious is the most precious gift of all.