By Jerald Young, Ph.D.
This article answers the question, “Do you see your divorce as an event that happened to you in your past? Or, have memories of your divorce finagled their way into becoming more of a subtle way of life for you?” It’s not always easy to figure out the extent to which your divorce currently influences your daily life. But, let’s give it a try here.
(This is the 18th article in a series of articles describing how contentment and satisfaction with life after divorce depends on being able to dissolve the very human resistance to the changes that divorce imposes on our lives.)
Signs that Your Ex is Still a Presence in Your Life
When asked about their divorce, practically everyone says, “I’ve moved on” – and then they proceed to talk about what a jerk their ex was. Then they may make “harmless” comments about the “questionable character” of the person the ex is dating. Often the “if only’s” give it away: If only my ex had done this, or if only he or she hadn’t done that, my life would be better.
And then there is “The Wedding.” Not your ex’s wedding; not your wedding. Your child’s wedding! And the nightmare-inspiring fear that you will have to miss it. Why? Because your ex will be there!
All these are indications that your divorce is still an integral part of your present life. They mean you may not have “moved on” as much as you would like to believe. In fact, you could be treating your divorce as a part of your ongoing way of life.
Remember: If you are still carrying your ex around in your head, your ex is still a part of your life.
Is Your Pain Past or Present?
What did your ex do to you today? Probably nothing. So why does he or she pop up so often in your thoughts when you are just trying to get on with living your life?
Are you regularly revisiting memories of your ex and/or your divorce? Are you rekindling the emotions caused by your divorce that occurred months or years in the past? When you bring thoughts and feelings triggered by your divorce to the forefront of your mind, you are giving those recalled memories the status “current importance.” This has the effect of making your divorce part of your everyday “way of life.”
If memories of your ex and the divorce continue to pop up over and over, you should ask yourself, “What benefit am I receiving for letting my divorce become a way of life?”
Divorce is a Way of Life – The Upside
The science of human motivation tells us if we continue to do something over and over that we presumably don’t want to do, then we are getting some form of benefit from doing it – or we would just stop. What possible benefit could you be receiving for inviting your ex into your current way of life?
Here are some possible benefits. Treating your divorce as a way of life can:
- Provide a well-defined frame of reference for your life within which you can play out your role as the victim of a tragedy. It is easy to do and being seen as the victim earns you compassion and support from others. It feels good to be told that you were “done wrong” and have no responsibility for the death of your marriage.
- Eliminate the need to ask such messy questions as “Who am I now that my relationship is over?” Or, “How was I responsible for the death of my marriage?” Or, “What can I learn from my divorce?” Or, “Will my new life after divorce be even worse than my life before divorce?”
- Eradicate the need to seek out a new relationship, along with the fear of having to start dating again, because you still have your ex to occupy your thoughts and fantasies.
Divorce is a Way of Life – The Downside
However, there is a downside to treating your divorce as a way of life:
- You forfeit your opportunity to create a new life based on the wisdom you gained from your past relationship and going through the divorce.
- You never get to create and meet “the new you.”
- Friends and family soon tire of your living in the past and incessantly talking about it. The rest of the world is passing by, but you can’t be a part of it. This leads to your feeling sad and depressed.
- No meaningful future is possible, or even desired. Having given yourself permission to wallow in the memories of a time in the past, you have all you need.
- Friends will eventually move on without you, except those who are also living in the past.
Divorce is Only a Life Event – The Upside
On the other hand, treating you divorce as simply a traumatic event that happened in your past can be quite rewarding:
- You get to design and live out the next chapter in your life as you wish.
- You get to live in the present and do not have to keep talking about your divorce with your friends and relatives.
- Your relationships with friends and relatives are not poisoned by your anger, resentment, and constant victimization.
- Your friends will appreciate you for not putting them in the uncomfortable position of having to treat you as the ongoing victim of a terrible life.
Divorce is Only a Life Event – The Downside
There, of course, are some downsides also:
- You have nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. It’s totally up to you, and only you, to decide what your life after divorce is to become.
- You can’t default to the “poor me” script of being a victim.
- You have to take full responsibility for your future, including both your successes and your failures.
So, What’s the Point? Why Does It Matter?
Simple logic tells us: If you are living in the past, you can’t live in the present. Nor can you plan for the future!
You are at a crossroads, a “Y” in the road, so to speak. Which fork will you take?
Taking the fork labeled “Divorce is a Way of Life” dooms you to a life of editing and rewriting the past, hoping that some day, some way you will be able to change what happened to you yesterday.
Taking the fork labeled “Divorce is Only a Life Event” lets you leave the past in the past so you can design what you want the next chapter in life to be, and take full advantage of all the positive potential it offers.
Dissolving resistance to change is the key. By dissolving away your resistance to accepting your new life situation, including the reality that your divorce is a thing in the past, you will be free to be all you can be in the next chapter in your life. Only then can you tap into your new-found wisdom to go forth into your future.