Pettiness. It’s an attribute typically attributed to women, but ask any divorced woman if a man can share it and she’ll laugh bitterly. It can take many forms; not returning clothes you bought your children when they go to his house, planning birthday parties where they invite all the kids from school and don’t tell or invite the mom.
It can also border on emotional abuse, like the friend of mine whose soon-to-be-ex felt the need to send her a long email detailing how much happier he is with his new girlfriend. And forget taking the high road, sometimes it’s almost impossible to not sink to their level.
About a month after I finally had the house to myself I realized that I only had a few of my son’s shirts and not many pairs of underwear. Before moving out, in an act of pettiness, my stbx had insisted that I divide our son’s clothes into two boxes, making sure they were completely equal. Down to the socks. But now, I was missing halfof my son’s wardrobe.
Burning with righteous anger, I went through all his drawers and made a list. Then I sent a snippy email asking for the following items to be returned. Yeah, I returned pettiness with pettiness. It felt good – in the moment. Not so great two days later.
I don’t judge other women for sinking to the level of an ex because I’ve been there. After years of swallowing your pain and putting up with their behavior, it can feel so good to call them on it. That burst of triumph and energy can sustain you for a couple of days. Until you crash. Just like a sugar high, it comes with a price.
It didn’t feel good to carry a paper bag of clothes out of daycare a few days after I sunk to pettiness. I just felt sad. Sad that we’d reached this point, sad that I was so broke I had to pick fights about underwear. Sad that we couldn’t get along for our son’s sake.
Because pettiness isn’t about the other person, in my opinion. I think that pettiness springs from unhealed pain and from the desire to lash out at the person who hurt us. It can be a form of trying to take back control, particularly if the person being petty was the one who was left. Insisting that I divide up our son’s clothes wasn’t really about the clothing.
I think that pettiness springs from unhealed pain and from the desire to lash out at the person who hurt us.
As long as you cling to pettiness, you’re clinging to your pain. And staying in that place can become weirdly comfortable. If you stay there, you avoid doing the hard work in therapy or on yourself to become whole again. And, by staying stuck in that space, you can avoid stepping into the unknown. It’s scary to release that pain and move into a new life when you don’t know what it will look like.
I’m not saying that, once you’ve healed from your divorce, you won’t have moments. Even if the pain has been healed, we can fall back into old patterns. We might have a moment where we want to respond in kind. But that moment usually passes. It’s not something we cling to or a fire that we stoke.
If you react to another person’s actions, you are giving them your power. To act on that belief takes a certain amount of faith. Faith that you will ultimately be better off if you do not engage.
Look at it this way; who holds on to that much bitterness and anger that they’re still engaging in petty acts four years after you left them? In a way, it’s ridiculous. Why are they still putting so much energy into you? And why give them that much power to still reach and hurt you?
Letting go of pettiness is an act of growth and courage. I promise that you’ll be better off, but you have to accept that in faith in order to put it into practice. The first time you rise above your ex’s pettiness, you’ll realize how much time and energy you’ve been wasting on them.
And when you take a step towards that new life, know that there are a lot of women who’ve already gone through this process waiting for you to join them in living a rich, full life.
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