Because everything changes…
In the Immediate Aftermath of the Break-Up
In the early months, my blood pressure would rise whenever I thought about my ex. I would feel an irrational fury begin to roil within me whenever I spotted someone when his particular style of facial hair. I couldn’t speak his name without feeling it in my gut and I couldn’t read his words without my body trembling with the overwhelming emotions that flooded me at the slightest trigger.
Depending upon your circumstances, your predominant emotion towards your ex can vary significantly. If your former partner was unfaithful, you are likely experiencing intense anger and perhaps even an all-consuming need for revenge (or at the very least, an apology and an admission of guilt). If you were left abruptly, you may be awash in shock and confusion, wondering you exactly you had been married to. If the end of the marriage was anticipated and mutual, you may be feeling a sense of sadness and regret towards your ex.
You may find that you’re demonizing your ex at this point, painting them as some malignant and one-sided character. If the end of your relationship was complicated and due to a variety of factors, you may be distilling all of those reasons into a single bullet fired by your former partner because it’s easier than trying to come to terms with the complex reality.
Along with these emotions, you may also be struggling to fall out of love. The intense feelings during and after divorce are often not mutually exclusive; it’s possible to hate someone and miss them at the same time. As your heart, mind and body work to release the hold that the relationship had over you, you can expect to have bittersweet dreams involving your former spouse, thoughts of, “We should try again,” and even an overwhelming sense of affection.
No matter the situation and your predominant feelings, you can expect your feelings towards your ex to be intense and variable in the beginning. Your mind may be consumed with thoughts of them and you may have an extreme emotional response to any contact or reminders.
Right now, their imprint on you is still distinct. Over time, the pressed edges will begin to soften and new memories will begin to fill in the depression in your heart. This is a time for patience.
When You’re No Longer Together But Still Bound
Even though I had long since resolved the majority of the emotions directed towards my ex, I retained a certain amount of anger for the five years it took for me to finish paying off the debt he saddled me with. Even with my liberal application of gratitude, I still found myself muttering, “This isn’t fair.” with every payment.
Either because of children or financial obligations, many of us are still bound to exes long after the end of the relationship. Often, the intense early emotions are replaced with a sense of frustration (“Why are they making this so difficult?”) and resentment (“I shouldn’t have to deal with this.”). The ex may take on the guise of a nuisance or a necessary evil.
There may also be a sense of bitterness that your life or your children’s lives are in some way continuing to feel the impact of the split. As in the beginning, you may be placing undo responsibility for your circumstances at the feet of your ex. It’s often easier to blame than to take stock and make decisions.
It is also possible for this period to relatively smooth as the former couple finds that they make satisfactory business partners once the emotion has been dialed down. In these cases, the ex may even begin to be viewed as an ally.
Unlike the extreme emotions of the early response, these are far more subtle. Yet they can still be damaging. This is a time for creative strategies and mental gymnastics in order to separate your feelings for your ex from your dealings with them.
Upon Learning About Them Moving On
“Who is she?” I wondered, when learning about my then-husband’s new wife. “What does she have that I didn’t?” “How can be be happy when he’s left me so devastated?”
I wasn’t alone in these feelings. The most common search string that leads people to my blog is some form of, “My ex is getting married and it hurts.” And boy does it, especially when it follows soon after the demise of the marriage. The news often brings up feelings that you thought you had purged for good. It may spark the anger again or may reignite feelings of attachment.
Here is my response to those just learning about their ex’s new vows. It’s not particularly compassionate towards the ex because people are rarely ready for empathy when they’re still in the midst of shock and pain.
When you first discover that your ex has moved on, you find yourself suddenly and surprisingly jealous (especially if you perceive their life with the new partner as the one you were “supposed” to have). You may be angry all over again that seem to be having an easier time of it than you are. And you may even find yourself attracted to them now that they are no longer available.
As the shock of the announcement fades, so too will the intensity of your reaction. This is a time to remind yourself that your happiness is not dependent upon them.
On Important Milestones and Anniversaries
I had to fight the urge to text my ex with the news of a mutual friend’s upcoming wedding. This was a relationship that we had watched, supported and hoped would develop. It felt strange not to have my ex by my side at the wedding.
When birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones pass, the feelings towards the ex are often bittersweet. There’s a nostalgia for what was, a memory of the pain and also the awareness of what what is missing. There may also be a renewed sense of anger, especially if your former partner is absent during a milestone that involves the children.
Overall, feelings towards your ex may intensify on those special days that can be a stark reminder about the changes in your life. This is a time to try to recall the good times while also creating new rituals and memories in your present life.
After the Pain Has Faded and You’ve Found Acceptance
And then one day, I no longer hated him. I no longer loved him. My fantasies of karma paying her dues were replaced by a desire for him to be…okay. Happy, even.
Hopefully, in time you can find some peace with your feelings for your ex. Time and perspective may have helped you see them as a flawed and complex person instead of a one-dimensional entity. Anger may slowly be replaced with empathy and fond memories may take the place of the pain of loss. The ending and the suffering may be remembered less and the good times remembered more.
As your lives diverge, they will become more of a stranger to you and you to them. As your years extend, the percent of your time spent with them will drop and maybe even its significance. You may find that you can speak of or to them without emotion, look upon them with only a brief flicker of lament and think of them with detached compassion. Your initial desire to see them suffer (at least a little bit) has been exchanged (after much soul-searching) with an honest desire to see them happy (even if you never actually want to see them again).
This is a time for accepting that every person comes into our lives for a reason and extending kindness to all those along our path.