By Audrey Cade
We get divorced, and a funny thing happens: we say we don’t care about our ex anymore, but there’s a little part of us that can’t help but wonder what he’s up to now, who he’s with, and how his life compares to the way it was when the two of us were together. It can be equal parts of finding petty joy in watching his life deteriorate without our presence, and pangs of resentment when we see him doing things he never would with us.
Why do we care and continue to hang on to the past?
On the deepest level, we may not really care about our ex so far as every little thing he says or does. There may be no part of us who still misses him or wants him back; yet, we spent years with this person, and at one time imagined he would be ours forever! Once that significant of an investment has been made into a relationship and another person, it’s exceedingly difficult to just pull the plug on caring, or at least wondering about them.
A healthy part of post-divorce healing includes learning to wean ourselves away from being a part of an ex’s universe. No longer caring where he lives, where he works, who he associates with, or anything about him anymore because he’s no longer ours to be concerned with. Many of us can’t just flip that switch, or we say we no longer care, yet we find ourselves asking mutual friends about him or snooping his social media for virtual updates.
We wonder if he’s over us and if he can live without us. No one wants to feel forgettable or easy to recover from. We would like to think that our presence in another’s life would leave such a deep impression in their lives that things could never be the same without us there. It’s somehow therapeutic for us to believe an ex, especially one who hurt us, could never be as happy again or never find anyone as amazing as us!
So, then we may discover that we either take a sort of sick pleasure in watching our ex flounder, or we allow ourselves to be consumed with making comparisons, cursing the good that comes into his life, or mourning for what was lost. Surely any bad luck he’s encountered is because of karma or the mere fact that our presence is no longer there to keep life in balance. Anything good is just a painful reminder of what we can no longer have.
I recall feeling used and more like a maid than a soulmate in my former marriage. I couldn’t help but giggle at the thought of my ex actually having to lift a finger to wash his own clothes, cook his own meals, or tidy up his home with me no longer there to wait on him. I guess I felt that maybe he would come to appreciate me and what he had, even if it was too late for our marriage. I will admit that I still sometimes chuckle when I find out the way he lives now. Has he ever come to appreciate me? I have no idea; and, for all I know, he may enjoy roughing it!
Most of us are humbled by divorce and are faced with the choice to become better through it
One thing we can all hope to achieve through divorce is growth and an opportunity to reflect on the past and ways we can improve. I can honestly look back on myself as a wife in my old life and see room for improvement. I could have been more patient. I could have done a better job of focusing on my husband and our relationship instead of letting every bit of my being become absorbed in motherhood. I wasn’t perfect, and I’ve committed myself to work on my flaws so that I can be a better woman, mother, and partner.
Guess what? If all has gone as it should, our ex has been reflecting and making changes, as well. We’ve been able to release a new and improved version of ourselves, and maybe he has too! This is why we really shouldn’t feel resentful, jealous, or angry when we see him acting as the man we always wanted. It may be regrettable that he didn’t figure out what he needed to during the marriage, but he can evolve through adversity, just as we can, and just as we should all hope to through life!
Curiosity killed the cat, and sometimes it can rob us of our peace, ability to heal, and of the future we deserve.
My friend, Erin, lamented to me that her ex has re-married, and suddenly he’s Mr. Wonderful. She wonders what has happened to the grouchy guy who was completely disinterested in doing things together as a couple, and who became sloppy and prone to picking fights as their marriage went on. In her husband’s place is a well-groomed, cheerful catch who vacations, helps around the house, and appears to be everything she ever hoped he would be. Ouch!
Why didn’t he act this way with and for her? Why does his new partner get the benefit of everything Erin tried so hard for all the years they were together?
The answer is a combination of two things: one, they weren’t happy together. When we’re not happy, we become the worst version of ourselves. The second reason is that he experienced the painful loss of a marriage, he knows what’s at stake for his new marriage, and at least he was mature enough to acknowledge his need to improve. Good for him for now living to a higher standard, even if it is too late for his first marriage–let’s just hope he maintains these improvements!
The way others treat us is a reflection of them, not us
The message we shouldn’t take away from such a situation is that his failure to be the husband of our dreams wasn’t because we weren’t good enough or deserving of the best. Sometimes, the people we form relationships with are simply not the best fit to complete us, no matter how hard we try. We may bring out the worst in one another, or many circumstances during the marriage may cause us to decline into regrettable versions of ourselves.
I have had to rein myself in, a time or two, from wondering about the new women in my ex’s life. I primarily worry and wonder about who they are because I care about who and what my children are exposed to. I know my children love me, and we have a close bond; but, it’s natural to fear being eclipsed by someone new and wonderful. As said before, none of us wants to feel forgettable or replaceable!
I know other divorced women who make sport of rating and comparing the new women in their former husband’s lives. They joke about how he’s downgraded, or they wince when they see that she is younger, thinner, or perhaps prettier. The desire to one-up our ex or be the undefeated best they’ve ever had can drive some of us to act a bit insane!
Curiosity killed the cat, and sometimes it can rob us of our peace, ability to heal, and of the future we deserve. A divorce is one of those things we need to file in the “been there, done that, and there’s no going back” file! Of course, it can be wildly entertaining to bear witness to the interesting life choices our ex can make, once we no longer share a life, or it can cause us a lot of pain. We could speculate all day about why he did this or that; but, the bottom line is that he is now part of a new chapter that no longer belongs to us, just as we no longer belong to him.
In short, the more we continue to allow ourselves to expend time and energy to wondering and worrying about people who used to be connected to us, the more power we give those people and situations to continue to dominate and paralyze us. The funny thing is that they may not even be aware they’re doing it or trying to, but we’re still letting them do it! The question, then, is: what’s to be gained from it? Why does it matter? And, why allow it to still be relevant?
If your ex is still your favorite topic of conversation, stalking his online activities is among your pet hobbies, and you continually allow comparisons between the old and new to steal your joy, perhaps it’s time to rearrange your focus onto what can make you whole and happy again. Surely, your ex is no longer the key to wholeness and happiness; so, letting go of all that is holding you back and declaring your freedom is a great first step to leaving the past where it belongs: behind you!
About the Author
Audrey Cade is the author of Divorce Matters: help for hurting hearts and why divorce is sometimes the best decision (on Amazon) and the matriarch of a blended family of eight. She is an experienced “divorce warrior” in the areas of co-parenting, step parenting, parental alienation, and re-marriage, and enjoys sharing these experiences with others who are also committed to raising happy and healthy kids. Audrey’s professional experience is as a case manager social worker with the developmentally disabled, families with young children, and homeless populations. She holds degrees in Early Childhood Education, Human Service & Management, and a Master’s in Psychology. She enjoys family outings, a variety of arts and crafts, cooking, gardening, and writing. She is a featured blogger for Divorced Moms, has work regularly appearing on Divorce Force, and articles appearing in Step Mom Magazine, The Good Men Project, and others.