After Divorce: The Compelling Case for Detached Compassion

“My ex was such a big part of my life my so many years, I can’t imagine not being friends with them.”

“After what my ex did to me, there’s no way that I can ever forgive them. I’m just so angry.”

“I just heard that my ex is already dating again! Can you believe that?!?”

“My ex keeps asking for my advice. I want to help, but I always end up feeling rotten after the call. What should I do?”

I’ve heard them all. More than once.

And even though the situations are all different, they all have a common theme.


Only now that you’re divorced, those bonds have become restraints.

“A feeling of aversion or attachment toward something is your clue that there’s work to be done.” Ram Dass

Yes, it would be awesome for you to be able to be friends with your ex. But that tricky navigation will take time and (I’m sorry to say) may never happen depending upon your circumstances. Be open to the possibility, explore the option if you’re interested, but release your attachment to the outcome.

Yes, your ex did you wrong. Way wrong. And you have every right to be angry. But the misdeeds have already been done. That’s over and no amount of anger can change that. The rage that you’re holding is holding you back, causing you even more pain that the initial injury. Releasing it doesn’t release your ex, it releases you.

Yes, your ex jumped quickly into the dating scene. Maybe even before the marriage over. It’s hard to see them with somebody else, hard to not feel as though you’re being replaced. Your interested because you’re used to being interested and perhaps because you’re hoping to uncover some signs of their unhappiness or their new partner’s shortcomings. Accept that your life is no longer tethered to theirs and if you need to feel as though you’re doing better, focus on building you instead of looking for their defects.

“The more attached we are to a vision of the future, the less present we are to what is actually trying to emerge here and now.” Peter Merry

Yes, your ex keeps reaching out to you. Perhaps they’re used to depending on you for advice and guidance. Maybe they’re playing around with the idea of rekindling a romance with you. Or maybe they’re just playing you. Your emotional reaction to the contact is your sign that your boundaries are being tested. It’s too much and/or it’s too soon. Yet, on some level, the contact feels good. Normal. And it feels good to be needed. Yet, by allowing yourself to put in this role, you’re allowing yourself to be stuck in this role.

The solution?

Compassionate detachment.

It works if your ex is a potential friend down the road or a foe of the worst kind.

It’s applicable if you have to maintain a co-parenting relationship or you will never see them again.

It’s effective in every situation because it only depends on you and your reactions, not on your ex.

Compassionate detachment means that you take a step back. It’s the difference between being soaked in the storm and watching the rain through the window.

Compassionate detachment means that you find a place of empathy for a fellow human being. It’s the difference between squishing the ant on the sidewalk and allowing it to go on its way.

Compassionate detachment does not preclude the opportunity of a friendship; closeness can always be found down the road.

Compassionate detachment does not mean no consequences; if your ex behaves poorly, it’s not your job to protect them from feeling the effects.

Compassionate detachment does not immediately extinguish your impulse to know what your ex is doing; the preoccupation will decline as you maintain the distance.

Compassionate detachment does not mean no boundaries; establish guidelines to protect yourself and help them when you choose to.

And finally, compassionate detachment does not mean forgetting or ignoring. It means releasing the emotional attachment to the event and the person.

Strive to lead with compassion and detach from the outcome.

“Overcoming attachment does not mean becoming cold and indifferent. On the contrary, it means learning to have relaxed control over our mind through understanding the real causes of happiness and fulfillment, and this enables us to enjoy life more and suffer less.” Kathleen McDonald


Thank you for sharing!

11 thoughts on “After Divorce: The Compelling Case for Detached Compassion

  1. watchmesurvive – I am a strong woman in my 50s going through the breakup of a long marriage, I never imagined I would be in. My age does not define me, who I become through this time will. I am in a journey of self discovery. When looking in the mirror I want to see the change in myself. The pain of this journey wont be in vain, I will transform into the woman, friend, mother, and lover I aspire to be. I am taking it a day at a time, and as I embrace a wholehearted life I am happy and grateful for this painful process because the rest of my days on this earth will be more fulfilled than I ever expected.
    watchmesurvive says:

    Very accurate, I am so deep into this phase. Life is better than I expected at this point of the process, no lie still very sad moments. H still seeks too much support, the challenge is not falling in his storm but giving the detached compassion he needs. I was always the stronger of the two and it both got me divorced and keeps me close to him now. VERY TOUGH! I am grateful we’ll be the weird kind of EXs some are.

  2. Mary Lou – I'm still here and loving it! Nostalgia isn't my all-time favorite past time. I like to live in the present and look forward. When you reach a certain point in life it's good to look back and review this journey with new eyes ~ in a different place in time. I've arrived at a place in my life where the experiences I've had are coming together to form a collage of beauty and strength. A time where I can put a little more time into my love for water color painting and writing. Creating this website allows me to share some of the expressions of my gratitude and amazement of where this journey has taken me. It's my hope that it will encourage others to share their own story through written word and art.
    Mary Lou says:

    This bit of advice is key in every relationship. I wish I had known all this when I was going through those initial stages of abandonment. Merely stepping back instead of allowing emotions to lead. 🙂

  3. In my experience compassionate detachment takes time, a lot of time, and does not happen all at once. It took two months to determine there was no going back but three years to feel empathy. I suspect the time involved will vary depending on the path of the divorce.

  4. Yes, I love this… My ex and I have gone back and forth with trying to be friends. It’s just not working out. Compassionate detachment is where it’s at.

  5. emje – driftless wisconsin – my shadows are part of who i am. without those dark spots you wouldn’t be able to see my bright colors & beautiful light…. without my dark bits i think life would be much more dull.... i am sad & silly. i am fierce & fantastic. i am passionate & magical. i am a fucking unicorn.
    em4mighty says:

    i am glad he’s gone. i do not want him back. i miss having him as a friend even though he was not a very good one. but i am happier if he just keeps his distance.
    which he won’t.
    he messages me today to tell me things won’t be like they were before.
    and i wonder if he realizes that we have broken up??
    that i’m not coming back?
    i don’t think he does.
    and more than anything. i just don’t want to deal with him. i don’t want him to turn to me when he is sad. he expects me to care and all i feel is anger.

  6. Attachment. Wow. There was a lot of attachment issues for me, but I also know there was/is NO communication possible with a narcissist. Thankfully no kids for us. I had to remove myself from any common friendships and family because he’d made sure I was the cRaZy one in the marriage. It hurt being used and abused by the person you thought you knew so well only to find out it was all a complete act. I’m an intelligent woman, how did I let it happen? THAT’S what’s hardest for me. Knowing I truly loved this man and he treated me far worse than dirt and left me financially ruined. I may be broke, and need new friends and family, but I do have the peace of mind knowing he’s no longer in my life. Ever. And THAT’S in my control.
    Thanks so much for this.

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