Letting Go of Broken Things: A Marriage Comes Apart

Letting Go of Broken Things: A Marriage Comes Apart

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about my divorce. Funny how that is, divorce… It’s no longer the most important feature/event in my life. Yes, it’s still the most transformative event in my life. But I don’t think about my ex-wife and our fallout that much, anymore. I think that’s a healthy thing. We’re parents first. Other than that, I don’t really have much to gain from a relationship with her.

I wanted it to be different.

I had dreams when we were first arranging the divorce, that we would be friends. Friendly even. For reasons I don’t comprehend, that has not been the way my ex-wife wanted things. Something in her past got triggered, and she got angry at me. And it’s hard to imagine it, but eight years later, she’s still mad at me. And not in an abstract or indirect way. My ex-wife, bless her heart, is still lashing out at me in random acts of madness. I don’t know what she’s mad about this week. The good news is, I don’t have to know. And, in fact, her anger no longer concerns me.

I am sad that my ex-wife has so much unresolved anger. I’m sure it’s not a great environment for my kids. But there’s not much I can do about either of those things, except be a good father. I can’t really be a good ex-husband to her, because any contact with her is fraught with barbs and jabs that come out of left field. There is no sense to her anger. And yes, I’ll admit, it still gets to me, but it’s really no longer my concern, nor my business, why my ex-wife walks through life with a chip on her shoulder.

Unfortunately, I’m afraid my kids have a less positive perspective on life as well. The word cynical was important to my ex-wife. She did not think things were going to work out between us. Even as we were going to couples therapy, she used the word “cynical” to describe her perspective one day as we were driving to our session. My word was “hopeful.” Wow, we were living in different relationships. And I believe, the relationship we have with another person is a deep reflection of the relationship we have with ourselves.

Somewhere along the road to becoming an adult, my ex-wife was hurt badly. Her anger today is more likely related to her past hurts than it is to me or my actions. I mean, we don’t talk or interact at all. So, I’m fairly certain that she is not being triggered by my actions. But she is upset. I’m sorry about that. But I don’t think it’s my doing, and I know it’s not my responsibility.

When you are married to someone who is angry a lot, you tend to adjust your behavior accordingly.

  • I learned to not ask for what I wanted
  • I learned that her problems were more important
  • I learned that a crisis meant we both had to focus 100% of our energy on that issue
  • I learned that love/sex/closeness could be conditional in a relationship (not a healthy one, however)
  • I learned that even by being the “best boy I could be” I was not going to make her happy

I don’t like to focus on my ex-wife much. And thus I haven’t been writing about the divorce either, it’s just not a big feature of my life these days.

My kids are the big feature, the top priority in my life. How can I support my kids? What actions can I take that would support them? Can I do things to get closer to them?

When we focus on our ex-partner and the co-parent of our children we may begin to have those codependent feelings again. We may imagine that we have responsibilities that we no longer have. And we must learn to let them go completely.

There is nothing I can gain from my ex-wife

  • I don’t need her approval, her attaboy, or praise
  • I don’t owe her anything but respect and consideration (even if I’m not getting the same from her)
  • Her anger doesn’t involve me (I didn’t cause it, can’t control it, can’t cure it)
  • If I can focus solely on the happiness of my children, I can let go of any attachments I have/had to my ex-wife.

This letting go is a healthy part of the process of divorce. Yes, we’re all hurt and resentful when a marriage comes apart. But as we separate and get clear about our own issues, and our own responsibilities, we learn, we come to understand, that we are not responsible for another person’s happiness. And thus, we are also not responsible for their anger.

I owe my ex-wife a debt of gratitude. But I no longer have to stand in and whether her stormy moods. As I learned during some of my divorce recovery work, you can treat your ex as you would a convenience store clerk. You go in, you ask for what you need, you complete the transaction, and you leave.

At this moment, exactly 8 years to the month when my then-wife let me know she had been to see a lawyer about her options, I am able to fully embrace her as a co-parent and reject her anger as an ex-wife. I’m done with that label, I’m done with her influence and power over me in my reaction to her mini-rages, I’m done with her as an angry partner. I am no longer a partner with my ex-wife. Unfortunately, that means I am also no longer a communicative/loving partner with my co-parent either. That’s not the way I saw this whole co-parenting thing going down, but it is not all up to me.

Co-parenting is a cooperative relationship. When one of the partners decides to be uncooperative it changes the dynamics. However, as a positive parent, you can be the bigger partner. Choosing the positive is about every aspect of your life, and your kids are the most important relationship you can manage. You cannot manage the relationship with the ex-partner. And, in fact, you must let go of your dreams of being in a loving co-parenting relationship. It’s okay if that’s not going to happen. I’m a bit sad about the loss of this partnership. But, it’s not in my best interest to continue trying to navigate her choppy waters. I’ll sail around my kids and navigate within their spheres.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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