What happens to the ones who leave?
The ones who lie and deceive and then walk out the door into their next chapter without so much as a glance behind.
Do they feel pain? Guilt? Remorse?
Are they happy with their decisions and in their new lives?
Or do they regret the choices that ended their marriages?
For many of us, we will never know. Even if you still have contact with your ex (or keep tabs on his or her whereabouts), the life they put on display for the world may well be a front. And even if they do come back, crying about how upset they are, do you believe the tears? Or are they of the crocodile variety?
It’s common to wonder how your ex is doing. After all, they were once your partner in life, and how they felt directly impacted you. And now that they’re gone, your mind still seeks that information. Perhaps your mind even seeks retribution, wanting to see them face the consequences of their choices.
For a long time (longer than I like to admit), I needed my ex to be in pain. It was almost as though I saw it as some sort of tug-of-war with only a limited amount of happiness to share between us. And so I had to pull his away to ensure that there was enough for me.
But that’s not really how it works, is it? It’s not as though his okay and my okay were mutually exclusive. I could be okay on my own regardless of how he was feeling.
So why do we have such a strong drive to see those that hurt us be hurt in kind? Does it mean that we’re somehow malevolent if we harbor feelings of vengeance and pray for karma to hurry up and do her job?
I don’t believe so. In fact, I see these feelings of revenge as coming from a basic human need.
The need to be understood.
Intimate betrayal and deception is one of the most acute pains that one can be subjected to. It’s a deliberate act, carried out by the one you trust the most, that leaves residual tenderness for a lifetime.
And we desperately want someone, anyone, but especially the one responsible, to understand the depths and quality of that pain. We want them to feel it so that we can be understood and, in turn that they can know what devastation their actions have caused.
In even the most mundane of circumstances, it is beyond frustrating and isolating to not be understood. In fact, I’m feeling this way now after a day of attempting to teach math and interact with my colleagues with absolutely no voice. All day, I wrote commands on the board and tried to pantomime how to find the slope of a line only to be greeted with puzzled expressions. I would spot behavior across the room and be unable to do anything about it until I finished with the current student and navigated through the maze of desks. All I wanted was to be able to get my points across.
To be understood.
But not being able to talk for a day or two in a middle school is nothing compared to not being understood by the spouse that caused those feelings in the first place.
That goes way beyond frustrating and isolating.
In fact, for me it went into rage.
I was angry for a long time. And that anger feeds upon itself. I not only felt an immense need to be understood, I also wanted him to face punishment for his actions (it seemed only fair) and I wanted find some pleasure in knowing that I was doing better than him. Petty? Yeah. None of this was pretty.
I didn’t care where he was or what he was doing. I just wanted him to hurt. To feel guilty. Maybe even a little remorseful.
And it was my now-husband who made it clear to me that I had to learn to let the anger go. That it wasn’t hurting my ex, it was hurting me and, in turn, my new relationship. Releasing that anger was a process. I had to enlist some mental choreography to shape conclusions that let me find peace. It was a process. A slow process.
I have an advantage in this over many of you; I don’t have children. And I can’t even imagine what it feels like to see your ex hurting your child. It’s one thing to let go when you were the one who was hurt. It’s quite another when it’s your child. In fact, I see this with my mother, who can still be brought to tears when talking about my past even when I’m smiling because of my present. For you parents, all I can say is do everything you can to teach your kids to be resilient while taking care of yourself. Practice modeling for them what you want for them. And be willing to learn from them; kids often have wisdom that we overlook.
For the most part, I’m past the anger now. In fact, at this point, I want him to be okay. Partly for him, because regardless of everything else, this was a man I loved deeply for many years. Partly for me, because I feel better knowing that I’m not putting any more bad energy out into the world. But mainly for the others that will cross his path. I want him to be okay so that others will be okay. When I saw him and (I think) the other wife hand-in-hand at a festival a couple years ago, I really did hope they were happy. Goodness knows, I was happy I wasn’t the one holding his hand.
But want I want has nothing to do with reality. If he is a narcissist or sociopath, he is incapable of feeling guilt or remorse and most likely will never change. If he has compartmentalized his actions and his past to the point where he no longer remembers the truth, he will not feel pain but may continue to inflict it upon others. If he has spent so long living in a house of lies that he can no longer find the door, he will remain forever trapped.
Even though I no longer harbor a secret desire to fill his car with fire ants, I don’t really worry about how he’s doing. Because I trust that if he has been able to feel the pain from his choices, he will change how he responds in the world. And if he has not felt the anguish, then the negativity he spreads will come right back to him.
And as for me? I no longer have a need to feel understood by him. I think if he was able to understand how it felt, he wouldn’t have done it in the first place. I no longer care to see him punished; I put my faith in karma. And I no longer need to feel superior that I’m doing better than him because my okay is now completely and totally independent of him.
Besides, I’m just happy to be happy.
And I’ll be even happier when I have my voice back:)