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Divorce Recovery and Ambivalence: Why Do I Have Second Thoughts When I’m Glad I Got Divorced?

Jerald Young, Ph.D.

Do you sometimes wonder if getting divorced was the right thing to do? Do you ever wonder if you should have tried to “make it work” just one more time? Don’t worry, we all do. Discover why this happens, what it means, and how it impacts your efforts to make a recovery from divorce.

Recovery from divorce is bathed in ambivalence. We wish it weren’t so. We assume we will shed the past, much like a snake sheds its skin, and get on with our life after divorce without looking back. However, it just doesn’t work that way. A judge’s signature on a piece of paper does not make our hopes and dreams for what we wanted our marriage to be simply disappear in a sudden “poof” like blowing on a dandelion. Ambivalence is our hopes and dreams telling us that they still want to come true.

EVERYONE HAS UNEASY FEELINGS ABOUT AMBIVALENCE

We all experience ambivalence at one time or another. Sometimes we feel embarrassed or ashamed when we feel ambivalent. Often we are confused when positive thoughts about our marriage creep in even though we know it was in our own best interests to end it. This is normal. It is OK to feel this ambivalence. Everyone has it to one degree or another.

EVERYONE HAS RECONCILIATION FANTASIES

We experience ambivalence in our reconciliation fantasies. Even when we wanted the divorce and are looking forward to getting on with our life without our ex, we still have bouts of ambivalence. We hear the tape recorder in our head say such things as, “Did I do the right thing?” “What if we got back together, would things be different? Would they be better?” “Wouldn’t our kids be better off if we reconciled?”

EVERY MARRIAGE CREATES BOTH GOOD AND BAD MEMORIES

No marriage is 100% bad. No marriage is 100% good. There were good times and there were bad times. There were positive things that initially attracted you to each other. Even though there were the bad times that led to divorce, you also created some good memories. We like to remember the good times. It reassures us we made a good decision to marry in the first place. This is good. These good memories often surface as ambivalence.

EVERY HOPE AND DREAM LIVES ON IN THE PICTURE ALBUM IN OUR HEAD

The day you first felt that “special something” with your ex, you started a picture album in your head in which you began collecting pictures of your hopes and dreams for the relationship. Just because the marriage ended does not mean your hopes and dreams evaporated. They didn’t. They still live on in your head. They revisit you as ambivalence about getting divorced.

We tell ourselves, “I don’t want to lose my hopes and dreams! Maybe I should try to reconcile.” This is normal. This is painful. And here is the best part: This is unnecessary because you only lost a spouse. You did not lose your hopes and dreams. They did not go anywhere. You still have them. You can still work to realize them. This is a good thing. The only difference is the person with whom you assumed you would achieve them will not be there. If you choose, you can find someone else whom you love and who loves you to help make your hopes and dreams come true.

Such is the wonderful promise of a successful recovery from divorce.