Many individuals who get divorced perceive the event as the end of a troublesome stage in their lives. They believe their problems, sadness, pain and disappointments will disappear with the partner they are discarding.
If you are one of those individuals, please open your eyes to the fact that the problem wasn’t your partner. He/she certainly contributed to the angst, stress and difficulties you experienced during your marriage, but you were the problem. How you handled your spouse, interacted and dealt with him/her, why you stayed with or picked him in the first place and how long it took you to determine that it wasn’t going to work are all indices of where you came from. So, if you want to benefit from your divorce, you need to accept two truths. One, your partner and excuse is gone. Two, to alter your future, you need to change you. You can choose to blame your ex, hold on to anger toward him and depreciate him to your friends and family, but after a while, they’ll grow tired of listening to you. Moreover, somewhere in the recesses of their minds, they’ll think, “when are you going to get over it and start a new life?” They won’t necessarily verbalize it because they care for you and don’t want to hurt or upset you any more than you already have been. But, what they won’t realize is that you’re holding onto your past because you’re frightened to face or participate in your future. A future that doesn’t involve your ex partner and will depend on how much you’ve learned from your past.
Too often, I’ve had individuals come to therapy months after a divorce, saying, “You won’t believe it, but I’ve met someone who stirs me emotionally and makes me feel life is worth living again. He/she is 180º different from my ex.” But who he/she is isn’t the crucial factor that will determine how good your relationship with that individual will be in the future. The reason is, it’s you who have to change. Unfortunately, few individuals learn from their past. Instead, they believe that changing their partner, rather than looking at themselves, will solve their problems.
Time and again, these same people enter new relationships with high hopes and grand expectations, only to later be emotionally defeated, deflated and rejected. To avoid this happening to you, resolve to introspectively consider your behaviors and reactions in your previous relationship. You cannot succumb to the notion that you were only the victim. Don’t believe you were the wonderful partner who gave, served and loved, but whose actions were never reciprocated or appreciated. Think about whether or not you gave too much or did too little. Possibly, you didn’t ask for what you felt you deserved, except in quarrelsome, nagging, critical, or hostile fashions that indicated how weak and dependent you were, rather than presenting yourself as a person of worth, who deserved and expected to be treated in a loving manner.
Ask yourself, “was I an angry, volatile, dictatorial partner who subjugated my spouse?” If so, don’t blame your spouse for leaving you. What was probably lacking was that you were unable to express how needy you felt, how much you valued them, or the degree to which you feared they might not care. Thus, you compensated by acting the controlling partner whose behavior never accurately reflected what you needed or desired.
The best example I can provide is the progress that my patient, Chuck, made in therapy after his second divorce. It wasn’t a decision he relished. Quite the contrary. He faced his future with more dread than joy, as opposed to his feelings after his first divorce, which he described as “a reaction to a situation I felt incapable of changing” and saw as the primary problem in his life. In contrast, he now realizes that the divorce he is presently seeking isn’t going to solve his problems. It is only going to provide a new playing field, on which he has resolved not to reproduce the mistakes he made in his previous marriages .
To better understand Chuck, you need to know that his first wife, “Wasn’t very smart. She was pretty, passive and dependent.” It was, in a paradoxical sense, easy to be married to her. She posed no challenge, but contributed nothing to the loving, exciting relationship he desired.
His second wife, could in no way be described that way. She was quick to criticize, depreciate and aggravate. Although far more intelligent than his first wife, her accomplishments were few and far between. There was, however, an arrogance about her that served as compensatory behavior to hide the fact that she felt as insufficient as wife #1.
Chuck now realizes he reproduced the same marriage with two women who were 180º different on the surface but exactly the same, in terms of their emotional dynamics. It’s no surprise, because he was the common denominator in both relationships. He also grew up in a home which strongly contributed to him feeling as inadequate as his two wives. The difference between him and his wives was that he compensated through work, financial success and portraying himself as “Mr. Good Guy”. Few people ever knew the real Chuck. His periodic emotional outbursts were reserved for his wife’s ears, alone, resulting as a consequence of him hiding his real feelings and trying to accommodate in order to gain approval and love from everyone close to him.
This time, his eyes are wide open. He is better able to see his own reality than ever before. Consequently, his focus is directed primarily toward how he can change, what he needs to do to honestly handle and cope with situations and people in a healthier manner. He has learned what Scott Peck tried to teach in “The Road Less Traveled”, that mental health is best determined by the extent to which you deal with your own reality and the degree to which you don’t distort, deny, run from or hide from your own truths. Because, if you start with falsehoods, your behaviors, decisions, reactions and relationships will be faulty. The rule is that only an honest beginning can ensure a healthy ending.