DOES YOUR FORMER SPOUSE HAVE TO FEEL BAD FOR YOU TO FEEL GOOD?

January 28, 2022

One of the most often repeated phrases people said to me as I was going through my divorce from my kids' mom was, "Some day she'll be sorry." Another one that I often got was, "The best revenge is living a happy life after your divorce." Is that really so?

I have often heard people lament, "I wasn't the one who broke my covenants, so why is my former spouse having all kinds of fun in a new relationship, while I am stuck struggling in every area of life." To this, well-meaning people will also answer, "He (or she) might look happy now, but eventually he will be sorry for what he gave up." I have even seen people rush in to new marriages within a few months after a former multi-decade marriage ended, where there is a real sense that part of the reason is giving an "I'll show you!" to a former spouse.

The foregoing expressions all presuppose that, for me to be happy and feel better, my former spouse has to suffer. It is talionic justice writ large.

I suppose in the anger stage of grief, it might be helpful for a person to think this way. "Someday he (or she) will be sorry" is a little bit validating. It's like telling yourself, "I was a great catch and someday he (or she) will realize that it was the biggest mistake of his life to give me up!" But is it true? Do people ever really regret it?

About a third of divorced people surveyed report that they regret getting divorced. That's a sizable number and suggests that many in our culture do regret getting divorced. (It may also suggest that our no fault divorce culture does not take the decision to end a marriage seriously enough.)

The foregoing statistics notwithstanding, I strongly object to basing my happiness on another person's misery. It just feels wrong. It also places the reference point for my happiness outside of myself. I have no control over what my former wife does or thinks or regrets. I have no way of really knowing what she thinks about. So why base my happiness on anything in her life? If I think that way, and she seems to be flourishing (whether she is or not), I am going to be resentful and frustrated about it. We are all human and capable of jealousy and pride. But we are best served by finding happiness within ourselves, regardless of another person's success or failure.

It is also important to move on from a former relationship and embrace the future. It is difficult to do that if you are constantly watching and waiting for your former spouse to fall flat on his or her face. You can't create a healthy new relationship when you are still fighting the battles of an old one--even if you are only fighting them in your mind. (Your mind is where your connections to others exist.)

The parable of the wheat and the tares teaches us that the books aren't balanced daily, and justice is God's to mete out, and not ours. (Matthew 13:24-30.) You can waste your life watching and waiting for someone else to get his or her comeuppance.

Last Saturday, Cathy attended a baby shower for our daughter-in-law, which was given by my former wife. My wife and my former wife sat together at the lunch and talked and had a pleasant time. When I arrived to pick Cathy up, my former wife came out to greet me as well and brought some fruit from the lunch. I haven't seen her for a couple of years because she lives on the east coast now. So we spent a few minutes getting caught up. I was glad she was pleasant. But even if she had not been, it wouldn't have affected me very much.

Cathy told me my former wife sees our divorce story pretty much the same as  I see it. Do you understand how rare that is? Usually, if you hear both people talk about a divorce, it is a panoply of examples of how the other person was wrong. That is where the cliche "there are two sides to every story" comes from. The only way you ever get beyond the distortions and self-justifying explanations is if both people have done a fair amount of self-confronting and reflection. That's a more mature way of dealing with a broken heart than staying stuck in resentment and blame.

I don't need my former wife to do poorly for me to be happy in the life I have now. I wouldn't even wish for that. I wish her well. I am happy in my life. I have a wonderful wife, an amazing family, a great career, and a chance to spread light in the world through LILY. My former wife does not really factor into any of that.

The best way to find happiness after divorce is to look inside yourself and do the work necessary to feel better. It is about finding your shalom. It is to start over and create a new life and a new relationship, using everything you've learned and all of your prior experiences to do it better the next time. Enjoy your lives my friends. Don't waste them wishing for someone else's misery.

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