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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

Normal Isn’t On the Menu

Normal Isn’t On the Menu

It’s a hard time to be a parent right now.

I can feel the trepidation and frustration in their frantic posts. They’re worried for their kids, emotionally and academically. It’s been a rough few months, having to balance work and childcare, trying to be a parent while also playing the heavy when it comes to schoolwork. They desperately want their kids back in school so that they can reconnect with their friends, not fall too far behind academically and have structure again. Yet they’re also scared. Unsure about the safety plans put forth and the ability of children to follow guidelines. They crave the normal fears and excitement that surround a new school year.

It’s a hard time to be a teacher right now.

We’ve struggled teaching into the void with emergency distance learning and we’ve been worried about the well-being of our students. We desperately want to get back into the classroom where we can verify that each child is okay and we can facilitate the energy and excitement and community that form around learning together. Yet we’re also unsure, trying to problem-solve how to build a sense of collaboration when students are distanced and masked while simultaneously working on developing virtual lessons. Underlying that is fear. Fear that we’re going to see our students get sick and our colleagues fall ill. We wish we we’re busy decorating our new rooms instead of trying to make them safer.

It’s a hard time to be a human right now.

Back in the spring, we all had a sense of, “Okay. If we do this for a couple months, we can then get back to normal.” And now we’re here. Months have passed and there is still no end in sight. We know we can’t lock down forever, but we’re struggling to figure out how to live in this new world. We’re all grieving the way things were just a few short months ago. We all want normal.

But normal isn’t on the menu.

I see so many people (myself included) fighting against that fact. Arguing that normal must be available, maybe it’s just hidden in the back stockroom. That if we just ask nicely enough – or scream loudly enough – that normal will be served.

As far as defining moments go, this has been an odd one. Often, these life-changing events are quite sudden, clearly delineating a before and after – the accident that takes a life, the DDay where you learn of an affair, the diagnosis that steals your health. With those, it’s clear that there is no returning back to way things were. They require a recalibration of normal.

But this one snuck up on us, allowing for plenty of denial along the way. If we can believe that this is overblown, we can get back to normal. Or, if we cherrypick our data, we can convince ourselves that normal is just around the corner. We place our faith in an election, a vaccine or a treatment. But those are not quick fixes, flipping the switch back to normal.

Because right now and for the foreseeable future, normal isn’t on the menu.

It’s time to explore what IS on the menu.

We all tend to veer towards what we know. It’s comfortable and we like to be comfortable. Part of what makes this so hard is that we feel like we have no control. We want to choose different, not have it forced down our gullet.

Yet we’re here. Hungry to live again. And until we accept that normal isn’t available, we won’t be able to partake of what still is on the table.

And just maybe, we’ll find that some of the new options are preferable to the old and that we choose to leave some of normal behind.

Wondering if They’ll Cheat? Look For This…

I had the honor of joining Helen Tower last week on her podcast, Sail Infidelity. A listener, an unfaithful spouse, sent in the question, “How can I get my wife to move on from my infidelity?” My first thought was,

“I wonder if he’s asking because he hates seeing his wife suffer and wants her to feel better or if he’s uncomfortable with her strong emotional response and he wants to alleviate his discomfort.”

Nobody likes to be on the receiving end of someone’s anger or disappointment. None of us like to examine our own fears and regrets too closely. We all can use avoidance tactics to put off difficult conversations or decisions or find an illusion of security in denial.

Those who choose to cheat cannot handle emotional discomfort.

Yet for most of us, difficult doesn’t mean we don’t do it. We accept that the emotions – either our own or those of another – are uncomfortable and yet we do not turn away. But the cheater? They run. Or shut down. Or turn it back towards you.

Those who choose to cheat seek to outsource their emotional regulation.

When they are feeling insecure, they look for others to alleviate that feeling through attention and accolades. If they’re anxious, they use sex like a drug to feel better in the moment. Instead of learning to self-soothe, they expect those around them to make them feel better.

Those who choose to cheat struggle to stay present with difficult emotions.

When faced with intense emotion, those who cheat are more likely to flood or flee. They have not learned to name and accept myriad emotional responses as a natural side-effect of being human. Instead, they become fearful when emotions run high. But of course, they can’t accept that fear either. So they dismiss it all entirely or stuff it into their shame sack where they can pretend it doesn’t exist.

Those who choose to cheat fail to recognize the impact of their own traumas.

For so many of us, we continue to play out our childhood traumas in our adult relationships. With awareness, this can become an opportunity for growth and healing. Yet those who have a propensity for infidelity often remain unaware of the impact their own past has on them. Instead, they act out their pain in unhealthy, immature and selfish ways.

Once a cheater, always a cheater?

People can grow. People can change. If the unfaithful spouse is willing and able to give space for your emotional reaction without seeking to control it or stifle it, that’s a sign that they’re learning. Furthermore, look for evidence that they are becoming more comfortable sitting with – and taking responsibility for – their own emotions. And finally, if they’re trying to make amends, pay attention to whose pain they are trying to alleviate – yours or their own.

How Can I Get My Ex Back?

How Can I Get My Ex Back?

When we lose someone important in our lives, it’s common to miss them and to wish they were still in our lives. If we ended it, we may wonder if we made a mistake. If they made the decision to leave, we want to know how to get our ex back.

Every situation is different; I cannot provide you with one-size-fits all directions that will bring your ex back. What I can do is give you a series of questions for you to ask yourself. Not all will apply to you, but the ones that do can help provide clarity and direction.

Are you in contact with your ex?

This is the starting point. Is there an open line of communication between you? Have they reached out to you or responded when you contact them? When you do have contact, what is the nature of it – bittersweet, angry, sexual, longing? In order to try to win them back, you have to first be able to have a calm conversation.

If you don’t have contact, why is that? Did they ask for space? Are they refusing to respond? It’s important to remember that a relationship takes two and that you cannot force them to engage if they do not want to.

Who ended things?

If you ended the relationship, you may have a better chance of rekindling it, especially if they did not agree with the breakup. Whereas, if they left, they left for a reason. Even if it’s one that you you don’t understand or agree with. It still may be possible that they are open to the idea of starting again with you, but they will likely be wary. If you have a chance, you must be willing to listen to them without becoming defensive. You have your version of the end; it’s time to listen to theirs.

Do they know you’re interested in working on the relationship?

They cannot read your mind. They don’t know you’re up every night pining after them and regretting what happened unless you tell them. I know that this can be a scary admission; you’re risking a second rejection. A rejection, that if it comes, you have to accept. If you have a chance at getting your ex back, it begins with you stating that you want them back and why you want them back.

What were the circumstances surrounding the breakup?

In the best situation, there were outside circumstances that contributed to the end of the relationship. Circumstances, that once removed or dealt with, are no longer a threat. Yet that’s rarely the case.

Every relationship has its challenges – what were yours? Were they always there, or did they suddenly appear? Be careful here. It’s easy to fall into the magical thinking trap. Much like we always believe our future selves will be motivated to stay on that diet or stay away from our phones, we can paint our future relationship with that same rose-color. If you want this to work, you have to be willing to explore what made it fall apart in the first place.

Have you had a history of on-again, off-again with them?

Why is this time different? What is driving you two apart and what is pulling you back together?

Do their words indicate they are interested in a relationship with you?

Because you want them back, it’s easy to interpret anything they say as interest. Are there words clearly expressing that they not only miss you, but that they want to try to work it out?

Do their actions match their words?

Words are easy and often offered without much thought. Actions, less so. Are they saying what you want to hear while acting in opposition?

Are you healthier apart than together?

This is a hard one. Sometimes love isn’t enough. We can adore people that bring out the worst in us or pair up with those that allow us to reenact the traumas from our childhoods.

It may be the case that you two are better off apart. And when that happens, the most loving thing you can do is let them go.

ex back

Are you feeling lonely?

If you’re lonely, it’s natural to want your ex back. After all, right now you feel that gaping hole where they once were and so you want to fit them back in place to relieve that ache. But loneliness isn’t a solid foundation to build a relationship upon. Loneliness encourages you to need a partner, yet strong relationships can only happen when you WANT a partner.

Before you try to get your ex back, it’s important to fill your life up again. Spend time with your friends, throw yourself into a hobby, strive to meet some goal or finish line. Work on making yourself complete and whole first. Only then are you ready to try to bring them back.

Are you just wanting the pain to end?

The end of a relationship hurts. You’re grieving so much as you adjust to life without them. We don’t like pain and much like we pop an Advil to relieve a headache, we reach for the fastest way to alleviate our emotional pain too.

Be honest with yourself – are you reaching for them simply so that you don’t have to feel this pain? Is that fair to them? Is it good for you?

What do you miss more – them or the idea of them?

I know you miss them. But do you miss who they actually are, flaws and all. Or, do you miss who you’ve made them to be in your mind? Sometimes, we get so caught up in someone’s potential that we neglect to realize that we’re not seeing them at all.

Have you both had space to figure out your feelings?

The emotions that surround the end of a relationship are messy. It takes time and space to begin to unravel those. If you’ve been in consistent contact with your ex since the breakup, neither or you have had the opportunity to fully dig into your own feelings.

Take some time without contact to muddy the emotional waters. Talk to a therapist. Write in a journal. Have long conversations with yourself as you go on extended walks. You owe it to both of you to start from a full understanding of what you want and need.

What change(s) have both parties made since the breakup?

Have you made some legitimate and lasting changes since the end of the relationship? Have they? Again, this is about actions, not words.

If you have made changes, did you do them only in the hopes of getting your ex back? Or, were these changes that you wanted to make for you, to make you better? The latter is more authentic, meaningful and lasting.

How do you want your relationship to look differently this time?

Sometimes, we think we want to go back to the way it was. But the way it was didn’t work. So something needs to be different. Relationships can become like a well-traversed dirt road with ruts that we easily fall into. What will you do to avoid that?

What have you done towards this goal?

Again, wishes and words won’t get you anywhere. What actions have you taken?

Are they feeling lonely or insecure?

Tread lightly. Just as I cautioned you about wanting your ex back when you’re feeling lonely, it’s not a good idea to start back up again if they’re coming from that place. You want them to WANT to be with you, not for them to use you to make them feel okay with themselves.

Are they looking for something in their contact with you?

Sometimes people will reach out to an ex to gain a confidence boost (this is often the case if the contact is sexual in nature). Other times, they are looking for a quick connection because they’re feeling isolated. And sometimes, they just want to see that you’re hurting too.

When you want your ex back, it’s easy to read too much into their communication. Pay attention to patterns and trends. If they only reach out when they have something to gain, they’re using you, not sad about losing you.

Have they told you that they are not interested in a relationship?

If they have stated this, believe them. It’s not your place to question their decision. You don’t have to understand it and you don’t have to agree with it, but you do have to accept it.

Are they in a new relationship?

It’s common for us to want what we can’t have. Sometimes, we only desire to get an ex back when we see them with somebody new. Yet, that’s not a reason to try to win them back. Just like you expected others to respect your relationship with them, respect the new relationship they have, even if it’s one you don’t approve of. It’s not your place to monitor, judge or try to undermine the new partner of your ex.

Have they moved on?

This is independent of their current relationship status. If they have rebuilt their life and not made a space for you in it, it’s time for you to move on as well. And that starts with learning how to fall out of love.

Are you motivated to get your ex back because you feel like you’re quitting, failing or losing?

We call them “failed” relationships. We talk about people “giving up” on their partners. It’s easy to equate a relationship ending with failure. Yet, that’s not actually the case.

There is a different between quitting and letting go. The first is born from fear or frustration. The latter comes from acceptance that something has reached an end. Letting go is a gift, a way of releasing the hold on the past to allow the space for something new to move it.

What would happen if they agree to get back together for your sake, but it’s not what they really want?

Do you want them to be with you out of a sense of guilt or obligation? Are they trying to make you feel better to alleviate their own discomfort? Much like the father in Pet Sematary, we can go to great lengths to try to get our ex’s back, only to discover that they aren’t really there at all.

Refrain from begging or pleading. Don’t work to create an argument on why they should come back. If they want to be with you, they will be. If they don’t, you don’t have anything to gain by trying to convince them otherwise.

Are you feeling overwhelmed at the thought of starting over?

Starting over is hard. Sometimes, we are drawn to our ex’s because it’s a shortcut. You don’t have to do all of the work that happens as a relationship transitions from something casual to more serious. Yet sometimes a blank slate is exactly what we need.

Are you afraid that you won’t find love again?

You have lost one. But you haven’t lost the only one. Yet, as long as you’re holding onto your ex, you are not allowing the space for new love to find you.

We Want Them to Fight For Us

We Want Them to Fight For Us

 

When it comes down to being cheated on, I think that was the hardest thing-

That he didn’t see the marriage – didn’t see ME – as something worth fighting for. 

 

I remember reading stories from people who had unfaithful partners who confessed and condemned their own actions, throwing themselves into recovery. I heard about spouses who had made mistakes and once they realized the magnitude of what they were about to lose, fought like hell to keep it. I learned about the pain of relapse and the struggle to again trust the one that betrayed you. I devoured stories of ugly screaming matches, emotions running high as both partners grappled with the magnitude of the shockwave to the relationship.

I envied those people. 

Because my husband never fought at all. 

 

We think we want them to fight for us. But what we really want is for them to WANT to fight for us.

At first, I grew desperate. Even though he refused contact, I sent emails and text messages begging for him to respond to me. To talk to me. I pleaded with him over voice mail, “Please just talk to me. Why are you doing this?”

I never got a response.

It’s natural to panic when we fear we are losing our grip. We beg, we plead, we grow irrational. We believe that if we can just hold tightly enough, that we won’t lose them. 

And it almost always backfires. 

For some, it pushes them away, desperation as repellent. For others, seeing us so panicky makes them feel guilty and, by extension, uncomfortable. And so they try to fight, putting on a good face. But they’re not really fighting for us, they’re playacting to keep us from fighting against them. It’s a hollow victory.

 

When they don’t fight for us, it makes us question our value. 

As the desperation morphed into a begrudging acknowledgement, I grew despondent. This man that fought for so much in his life, refused to even pick up a phone for his wife. For me. Did that mean that I was worth less than his job, his hobbies or, of course, the affair partner?

All I could assume was that, according to his calculus, losing me was not a loss. Which set my value at zero. 

It’s natural for us to see ourselves reflected in our partner. But when they become twisted, that reflection is no longer accurate. They benefit from projection, from painting us as being less than we are in order to pretend to be greater than they are. What they lack, they try to steal from us. 

Perhaps their unwillingness to fight, to face the consequences, is more a reflection of their character and cowardice than of our worth. 

 

When we believe that divorce is not an option, their unwillingness to fight for the marriage makes us feel like a failure. 

When I was in the midst of divorce, I had so many people say to me that, in their marriage, divorce was not an option. 

Well, it wasn’t an option to me either. Until it became a necessity. 

It takes two to make a marriage work, and only one to destroy it.

If you’re the only one fighting to save it, there is nothing to save.

But we don’t give up easily, do we? It’s so hard to accept that they’re not doing their part and that no matter how much we try, we cannot do their part for them. That sometimes, accepting it’s over isn’t quitting, it’s taking care of ourselves.

 

We cannot make them fight for us.

But we can fight for ourselves.

To believe in our worth and settle for nothing less.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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