The Why Trap (And How to Get Out)


There are so many traps post-divorce that can grab hold and keep you stuck –

The anger trap that convinces you that you won’t be okay until he or she pays for his or her misdeeds.

The fairness trap that insists that all of life’s situations should be equitable and balanced.

The sadness trap that keeps you locked in a mental theater replaying the movies of your relationship.

And the why trap that charges that you will be able to move on as soon as you understand why it all happened.


The why trap looks for the reasoning behind your ex’s actions. It seeks to discover a greater purpose for the pain. The why trap attempts to mitigate blinding emotion with the application of rational thought and deliberate thinking. It convinces you that understanding will lead to peace and prompts determined, often frantic, searching for “the truth.”

But it’s a trap for a reason.

The why trap is a sneaky snare. It lures you in with promises of information that will lend sense to the nonsensical. It helps to take you out of the state of overwhelming emotion as you focus on facts rather than feelings. The problem is that there is often no defined end and trying to answer why leads through an endless serpentine labyrinth. And holds you prisoner of your past.


I fell into this trap within the first few days. Since he left me with no information, I obsessively gathered all of the evidence I could, uncovering the planned trip to Uganda, the stolen funds and maxed credit and eventually, the bigamy. It did answer some questions. After all, I could see why he was too cowardly to face me. Can you picture it?

Lisa, we need to talk. You know how I said we were on track financially for what we planned? Well, I sort of spent all of that and more on another life. It was an accident. Oh, and you know how just last night I told you how much I loved you and how I was looking forward to the rest of our lives together? Well, I changed my mind. In fact, I just got married to this awesome girl. Would you like the registry information? We really need a mosquito net since we’re going to Uganda in a couple weeks. Why do you look upset?

Yeah, not exactly. So, the early sleuthing uncovered some answers, but it didn’t provide any peace. So I switched gears towards trying to understand why he would do these things. That’s when I devoured books and websites about personality disorders and entertained the labels of sociopath and narcissist.  Here’s my full description of the results of that search.

And it did help some. Even though I decided to ultimately leave him labelless, I gained understanding of the fact that I had been gaslighted and I realized that he had some major issues.

But all that reading and research started to hold me back. I realized I was expending more energy on trying to understand him then on trying to understand and heal myself. And, as I always caution, whatever you nurture, grows.

If I wanted to heal and move forward, that was where I needed to focus.

So I did.

I still don’t know why it all happened. And I doubt I ever will.

But you don’t need to know why to walk away.


If you are having trouble with the why trap, here are some ideas to help you get out without having to gnaw off your leg:

Enter your search with intention. Decide what you want to discover and make a pact that once you find that information, you stop.

Set a limit – a timer, a number of books or a number of website searches.

Journal. Often we hold understanding within us and writing helps to release it.

When you feel the urge to dig deeper, try exercising first. Often, the need for information is really just restless and anxious energy.

Complete the sentence, “Once I know …, I will feel…” You may be surprised at how little knowledge really impacts emotion.

If your ex was particularly bad, do you really want to understand them? Maybe not understanding says something good about you.

Pray or meditate to find acceptance. There is much in this world we do not understand. And it’s okay to not always have all of the answers.

Maybe it didn’t happen for a reason, but it happened. Now you can create the reason. You can decide how you want this to fit within your bigger story. Create your own why.

Thank you for sharing!

19 thoughts on “The Why Trap (And How to Get Out)

  1. Great post. I’ve been falling repeatedly into that why trap and trying to understand when things went wrong and how I could have behaved differently to have made things better. Helps to know that it’s common.

    Writing my blog has definitely helped.

  2. livebysurprise – Liv is the pseudonym reformed divorcee and single mom - now married, coparenting and working mother of three. She's been featured on ScaryMommy, HuffPost Divorce, The Mid and More at
    Liv says:

    This is an amazing post Lisa – you are a brilliant and inspirational woman. Thank you for putting it into words.

  3. threeboysandamom – I'm Rachael. I am a 29 year old single mom of 3 boys; identical twin 3 year olds and a 1 1/2 year old. I have a Master's degree in social work, and though I was a stay at home mom for a while, I now work full time as an Oncology Social Worker. My boys are the absolute joy of my life and they have changed me and saved me in ways I can't even explain; but through this blog, I hope to try. :) I owe everything I am to my amazing family and to Jesus, and I just hope to glorify Him through this crazy, jumbled, beautiful mess that is my life!
    threeboysandamom says:

    This is great and I especially live the idea that not understanding them may mean something good about you. I believe this to be true as I have no understanding of my almost ex husband. He confuses me continuously. Trying to understand the why of him is a dead end road and I need to let that go!

    1. I actually reached that conclusion with my now-husband. I used to get frustrated when he didn’t “get”my ex, thinking that his actions fell on the normal scale. It was a lightbulb moment when I realized that it was good he didn’t understand. It meant he couldn’t even imagine.

      So here’s to not understanding and the good found within!

      And, is it just me, or does anyone else think it would be really funny to set up a reality show where all of these difficult ex’s get thrown together:)

      1. threeboysandamom – I'm Rachael. I am a 29 year old single mom of 3 boys; identical twin 3 year olds and a 1 1/2 year old. I have a Master's degree in social work, and though I was a stay at home mom for a while, I now work full time as an Oncology Social Worker. My boys are the absolute joy of my life and they have changed me and saved me in ways I can't even explain; but through this blog, I hope to try. :) I owe everything I am to my amazing family and to Jesus, and I just hope to glorify Him through this crazy, jumbled, beautiful mess that is my life!
        threeboysandamom says:

        Hahaha! I have totally thought about that before. It’d make for some good tv, and I think they’d all love each other. But the scary, manipulative, deceptive, crap that would likely come out of throwing all that mess into one big pile would likely be too much for the world to handle haha! But, I think they call deserve each other!
        And yes, what a beautiful thing to have a husband who can’t even imagine behaving the way your ex did. That’s a very good sign. So glad you’ve healed and found a good one. It gives me hope 😉

  4. I have been your follower and your posts have helped me a lot. There were times when I did not agree with you and I always said that you have moved on and must forget and forgive your ex. For me, it is just the Christian thing to do.
    I just had my divorce finalized in July of this year and my ex had the marital settlement drafted by his lawyer and asked me to sign it in September of last year. I had no money and moved to AZ from FL because of a job offer. He agreed that I should do it and promised that he would follow me after he sold the house. Three months after I moved and started working at my new job, he sent me the marital settlement to sign and told me he would file for divorce in August of this year. I thought we had a friendly or amicable divorce. I didn’t want to fight as I didn’t have any money to pay for a lawyer and he filed it in FL. I was in AZ and just agreed to whatever he gave me. He told me he was going to pay for my rent money in AZ until February 2015. He said that he would continue to pay for my car payments until it is paid off. He agreed for me to trade in my 2011 CRV for a 2014 Honda Civic because he was going to pay the same amount for the new one and since I opened to get a leased car, I helped him shave off at least 8 months of payment for the 2011 CRV. He also said I would be his life insurance beneficiary for his group life insurance through his work. But he refused to give me documents to show that I would be the irrevocable beneficiary. I did not ask for his 401k or investments, etc. I just wanted to move on and accept the things he was giving me after being married to him for 11 years and 6 months.
    I always thought he was a good man and I trusted him. But 3 months after our divorce was finalized he sent me an email last Wednesday that he will stop paying for my car which ” he does not drive.” He cut off my cellphone today which was still in his family plan due to a contract with the provider, without warning me. I have two kids in college who could not text or call me.
    This is the man I married who I continued to understand and forgive for all his actions in the past that destroyed my trust and faith in him. I always thought it is the Christian thing to do. He cheated on me with my best friend. He wrote a letter to another girlfriend of mine who was going through a divorce and asked her to wait for him and not see other men. He took naked selfies of himself and sent them to a woman who also forwarded it to me much to my horror. I confronted him and he said he was drunk and was sorry and regretted it. These last two years, he managed to hurt me so much but I remained friendly with him because I felt that I needed to understand “why?”
    Tonight, I got my answer. When he cut off my phone, without warning me, just because I asked him to call me back after he refused to answer my email and phone calls so we could talk like human beings about why he wants to stop paying for my car, I finally realized that I was making myself look at all the good things he did and refused to look at the bad things that out numbered the good. I am delusional.
    Now, I need to know how I can raise money to fight him in court. I should have gotten a lawyer before the divorce was finalized. Many people advised me to do so, but I always said that I would be okay and that my soon-to-be ex would do the right thing. Yes, delusional.
    I do not need to know “why” anymore. All I hope for is that he gets the bad karma he deserves.

    1. I am so sorry that he is being so cruel to you. It’s so painful when you realize that the person you loved and trusted is manipulating and lying. I hope you’re able to get the help you need to secure a reasonable settlement.

      One thing I learned the hard way – in many cases, the decree isn’t enforceable without an additional trip to court with the associated legal fees. Know how far you want to go before you begin.

      For right now, it is okay to focus on his bad points; it will help fuel your progress and remind you to not trust his words. Later, you may be able to see the good again. From a safe distance, of course.

      And as for his karma, that will take care of itself. That’s the best thing about karma; it happens all on its own.

      Take care,

  5. Wow. I read this at a great time. The beginning of this post is so spot on, describing the traps I have fallen into. And it is comforting to know that this is how it happens for others, too. What to do about it all is difficult, though. I struggle with how to move on. I guess time is the only answer.

    1. Amen! He first three lines are what got me too. I’ve been on an understanding search. I always come to the conclusion it’s something wrong with him to lie and manipulate all the time. I’ll never understand. You cannot rationalize with irrational

  6. All the traps, I think we all fall into them now and then. The one that didn’t catch me, much or often was ‘Why’. I don’t know why, his actions were inexplicable to me and at the point and in the manner he left, I no longer cared about why. Is that strange?

Leave a ReplyCancel reply