Who Is This Person? Coming to Terms With Your Ex’s Sudden Coldness

We stood in front of the security line of the Atlanta airport. I felt so loved, so safe in the familiar space created between his chest and his arms, listening to his heart beat through his shirt. I teared up a little as I turned away, already missing my husband of sixteen years as soon as the physical contact was broken.

It was supposed to be goodbye for a week.

It turned out to be goodbye forever.

By the next time I saw him, eight months later in the courtroom, he had become a stranger. A forbidding stranger.

In an instant, this man had gone from my protector to my persecutor. My ally to my greatest threat. And instead of professing love, he was waging war.

It was as though a switch had been flipped.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around the seemingly abrupt transformation. Had this malicious man been hiding in my marital bed the entire time? Did he somehow wake up one morning a different person? Or was he always this way and I was finally able to see the truth?

The reality is probably a little bit of all of those.

Self-protection is at the root of behavior.

To begin with, it’s important to remember that at its core, all behaviors are self-protecting. To that end, it made sense for him to play the part of a loving husband while he chose to remain in the picture. This act allowed him to avoid my rage, sadness and disappointment over the reality of his actions.

Once he left, the distance and coldness again protected him from feeling my pain. In essence, by acting as though he didn’t care, he could begin to believe it. A barrier of disassociation. In this view, the switch was flipped more in an effort to prevent pain than in an effort to inflict damage.

For my part, believing in his good-husband routine insulated me from the painful truth during our marriage. I didn’t want to see the deception he was capable of, so I chose to believe in the best of him. And then once he left, a switch was flipped in me. I couldn’t understand how someone I loved (and who I thought loved me) could do those things, so I chose to see him as all-bad. This view, and the distance it provided, served to protect me from further damage to an open heart.

Cognitive dissonance is a powerful force.

Cognitive dissonance happens when somebody’s beliefs about themselves and their behaviors are not in alignment. It is a very uncomfortable position, and so we often strive to change either our actions or our beliefs so that they again line up.

One of the ways that my ex minimized his cognitive dissonance between the conflicting belief of seeing himself as a good person and the action of committing bigamy is by justifying his choices. Over time (and without my knowledge), he had demonized me, both in his mind and to others.This belief then allowed him to act in a cruel and hateful manner towards me while still maintaining his internal integrity.

My own cognitive dissonance was amplified towards the end of the marriage as the belief that my husband was an amazing guy was beginning to be challenged by the cracks in his facade. And then upon the receipt of the text that ended it, the wool was brutally ripped away from my eyes.

And for the first time, I saw him as he was, not as he wanted to be seen.

You can’t see the big picture until all of the pieces have been assembled.

I now believe that the man I married was not the same man I divorced many years later. He changed, significantly and detrimentally, most likely from a combination of addiction and unaddressed childhood trauma.

Yet, even though he was not the cold and calculating man when we wed, that potential was within him. I saw some of the signs and yet I chose to discount them, brush them off as inconsequential.

And it was only later, once he removed his mask and I began to assemble all of the clues, that I could see how it all fit together. Even though the change felt abrupt, it was more a matter of the final piece being slid into place.

Hate is not the opposite of love.

And then there’s this – the opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. When we truly don’t care about someone, we don’t expend the energy to make them miserable. When an ex is trying to make your life difficult or attempting to manipulate you, it’s a sign they have not yet let go. And it can also be an indication – albeit an agonizing one – of their own pain.

When you’re facing the brunt of your ex’s coldness and distance, it’s hard to respond with anything but shock, hurt and indignation. Maybe this will help.

 

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12 thoughts on “Who Is This Person? Coming to Terms With Your Ex’s Sudden Coldness

  1. It’s like you are feeling every beat of my heart. I’ve never had someone understand much less put into words exactly what I’m feeling. You have helped me more than you will ever realize.

  2. I will say this was a great help to me today as I awakened with this pain. As i read this article i couldn’t help but feel like this was my story of the past that still seems to affect me till this day. Thank you for sharing this information. It helped me to see that hating him was not the answer , rather i should let go and believe in the indifference scenario.

  3. I don’t know where to start…..other than your text from now ex, was me who caught my now ex cheating, (paper trail of proof), he blatantly denied and cried more than a river of real tears, while standing in front of me professing his love for me and only me for those 16 years. By this time, there were other problems between us, and having put together that he was a manipulative narcissistic demon, (in counseling myself), I STILL wanted to believe him. He’d been my ONLY true love….to this day it makes me ill. REALLY ILL. Moving forward. I confronted him on a late Friday night, telling him he had to get out! We slept apart, (one of the very few times in our marriage), him on the couch. Early Saturday morning even before I woke out of my daze of surely a nightmare I thought, he was up, dressed, and already getting himself together to leave, although he took next to nothing with him, and had virtually nothing to say as I asked where he would be going, where he’d stay, etc. (not answering any of my questions), he was walking out the door as he did a half turn looking back towards me with the nasty smirk I’d come to despise, and his only words to me were “go ahead and file yourself” very calmly, like it was NOTHING! That was it!! 5 simple words!
    Just 8 hours earlier he was crying and begging and I felt like I was dying inside, he looked like himself and was leaving on his motorcycle, with nothing more than a small leather bag to attach to it. (My ex is a hoarder of everything). This would be no in and out move for him. And it wasn’t.
    But those were the last real words I heard from him. And I was surprised but then I wasn’t. He’d become every gruesome figure I’d been putting together piece by piece. At that point I knew so much more about the person I’d watch him become over several years that appeared to be nothing like the man I’d married. And luckily I learned to NOT confront a narcissist with what they are.
    I knew with those words I had become his Public/Private Enemy #1. I felt it in my BONES. And that’s what I believe I still am, after 6 years apart, almost 4 years since our divorce was final, I’m still on his list, because I still pose a threat with him being in contempt of court. He owes me money and that’s a threat to him.
    A court room and courthouse I will never walk into alone without appropriate legal aid at my side. (He financially ruined me with help from the court).
    The man is the devil himself, but he’s made me into that persona just as your ex did you. I’m still waiting for my few loved ones he poisoned against me to see some of who he really is, and I’m hoping to gain them back, because he’d hated them from the beginning of our marriage. It has to come out sometime. Meanwhile there’s never a reaction, never any contact. Never. None. Nada. Thank goodness we had no children. I ache for those of you who have to deal with these people while trying to guide children down the right paths.

  4. Great post. To keep it simple, I liked the view of cognitive dissonance from both the mean and manipulative ex and the target of the ex’s behavior. During the marriage, I saw my ex punish people who crossed her. I also saw sides of her I wished did not exist. I remember thinking, “I never want to be on her bad-side.” I stifled this fear by thinking I was shielded from her by the simple fact she was my wife. Unfortunately, when she walked out on the marriage, both the mask she created for herself and the mask I made for her came off.

    As Nancy alluded to in her comment, the worst part, for me, is dealing with my ex with our children caught in the middle.

    1. The impact on the kids is the hardest part. I feel for anyone in that situation.

      I’m with you on thinking that I was immune to certain responses because I was the spouse. Live and learn:)

  5. I’m amazed to see how many people share the same experience, both through your blog posts, peoples comments, as well as people I know. This can’t just be coincidence? A friend shared with me as she was helping me to secure a mortgage to buy out my house, that someday my ex-wife, whom she knew, would be sitting surrounded by all her stuff and suddenly realize that she let a good man slip away. My attorney shared from her experience that one party in a divorce moves on and does okay while the other continues to struggle. My attorney told me I would be okay when the dust settled. Thankfully I have moved on and I’m happy again (there are still days that I struggle). Based on your many posts and comments from others, it appears that the survivors who do well have gathered here on your blog.

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