By Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC
Posted on May 2, 2021
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Q: I got divorced 3 years ago. My ex-wife had cheated on me more than once. I kept trying to make the marriage work but it wasn’t salvageable. The divorce has impacted on me greatly. The double whammy of child support and alimony has caused my lifestyle to be downgraded from a house to an apartment while my ex-wife continues living in the house until the kids are 18 years old. We share custody of our two kids, but they get quickly bored in my apartment, located a few miles away from their friends with no grassy backyard on which they can play. Making this even worse, my ex now has a boyfriend who is enjoying the house I once called my own.
She’s living the life, and I’m suffering a slow burn. It seems she keeps winning and I keep losing. – Anthony
A: Dear Anthony,
We all know that divorce is an option when a marriage cannot be repaired. What we don’t always realise is how stressful divorce is, or how to move forward. Your struggle conveys an inside glance into how the pain can continue for a long period of time after the divorce is finalised.
According to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, divorce ranks second in stressful life events, falling second only to the death of a loved one. You’ve experienced a lot of stress as a result of significant losses. Your divorce has brought an end to your hopes, dreams and plans about being able parent the way you want or enjoy living with an intact family. You’ve had to leave your house. Your standard of living has been downgraded.
The anger you currently feel towards your former wife is understandable, however it can be a motivator to help you move forward in a positive way with your life. But on the flip side, if you get stuck in these prolonged feelings of anger it can become destructive to your emotional and physical well-being.
You may be stuck in the uncoupling process. You’ve been stewing in your anger for at least three years. Your resentments about your marriage may be compounding the bad experiences and your anger is punishing you, not your ex. She seems to be moving forward and is developing new romantic interests. But what about you? Instead of viewing this as an opportunity to rebuild your life, you’re hanging on to the one person you’ve made a conscious decision to leave.
If you continue to spend your time and energy ruminating about how you wish your ex-wife felt the pain you feel then you might find yourself on a path to emotional bankruptcy.
What I mean by this is your negativity will affect your ability to enjoy the limited time you share with your children. You won’t be able to look forward and create new romantic interests when your energy is directed to looking backwards at a marriage that has ended. Holding onto anger consumes a lot of one’s time and energy, meaning you’ll have less time and energy to apply to your personal growth.
It is time to stop spending so much energy blaming your ex for your unhappiness. By looking inward, you may be able to peel back the safe feelings of anger, worn like a protective shield, and explore your other hidden yet painful emotions. It may be that you never properly grieved the end of your marriage and subsequently are stuck in anger. It may also be that some losses related to the divorce are triggering previous hurts.
Relationships that didn’t go well for you, even those stemming as far back as from childhood, could be influencing why you’re locking your heart away behind the single emotion of anger. It may be that deep down inside are other very real feelings of sadness, loneliness and even guilt accumulated over past events that are packed away so deep that you’re unaware of how they are impacting you today. If they exist, they’re causing you to hold back from being able to move past your divorce and create a more satisfying way of living.
You may be able to shift some of the anger you now feel towards your ex-wife to find some pity for the poor choices she made in the marriage, moral actions she has to live with, not you.
You can decide to let go of your intense anger because you no longer want to be negatively connected to her. Doing so enables you to take back your power.
Your anger towards her can decrease from being all encompassing to discovering that you have more energy for living in a way that feels best for you. At such a time you’ll be able to rebuild your life, enjoy quality time with your children regardless of the setting, and be emotionally available to discover someone who better matches your hopes, dreams and plans for a shared life together.
If you use this point in your life as an opportunity to learn more about yourself you’ll be able to have more clarity in your values and priorities in life and will be able to establish a better road map on how to move forward as a single man, and as a single dad.
Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC is author of Overcoming Adversity: Conquering Life’s Challenges, by Australian Academic Press. Eileen is a life and business coach and public speaker residing in the United States. She has spent her professional career working in medical and psychiatric hospitals and in her private practice, counselling people experiencing emotionally traumatic events.
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