Divorce is hard. No healthy person enters into a marriage for the sole purpose of getting a divorce. Marriage is designed to be a long term loving commitment between two people. But each person brings baggage into the marriage which can cause one or both spouses to act out inappropriately. Prolonged, unrepentant damage often leads to divorce.
Once the papers are signed, some people still refuse to move on in a healthy manner. Rather, they cling to their ex-spouse in several harmful ways. This eventually becomes problematic for the ex and can escalate matters well after the divorce. But isn’t this what is truly desired? Think of it like a two-year-old temper tantrum. Any attention is better than none. So why does this happen?
- Denial is better. Divorce feels like failure and it is. It is the termination of a commitment neither party wanted in the beginning of the relationship. But more than likely, it was a necessary departure and did not occur without considerable thought and expenditure of emotion. Refusing to accept a divorce means a person does not have to deal with their own failures in the marriage.
- Unwilling to take responsibility. It is far easier to point out the mistakes of an ex than it is to take responsibility for one’s faults. Divorce forces a person to take inventory of every error, abusive behavior, deception, corruption, and manipulation. This is an ugly process which most people would rather not experience. So instead, the flaws of the ex are exaggerated to spare self-accountability.
- Refusing to forgive. Forgiveness is often misunderstood. It does not mean a person is freed from the consequences of their behavior. Rather, it means that the forgiver is no longer allowing the events to control their emotions, specifically anger. The benefit is not for the receiver, it is for the giver. Once it is given, there is no reason to cling any further to an ex.
- Obsessive love. At the opposite extreme is the ex-spouse who claims they will never let their ex go regardless of the signed divorce papers. “I will always love you,” “You are mine,” and “I want you back,” are frequently stated. This is not a freeing love. Rather, it is an obsessive love and is characteristic of a previously abusive person. The abuse is continuing in a different manipulative form. True love respects a person’s right to choose and make decisions. It does not pressure, insist on its’ own way, trap, control, blame, or deceive. And most important, it is not self-seeking or self-gratifying.
- Possession not the person. Too often, a spouse is seen more as a prized possession rather than a person. This is most evident after the divorce process when the ex-spouse realizes they have lost proprietorship and control. The identity and value of the person is overlooked and replaced with the idea of having a wife/husband. It is not the person that is missed; it is the role the person played that is missed.
- Past preferred over future. Looking backwards to gain insight to move forward is healthy. However, some people get stuck in hindsight. For them, it is far easier to keep reliving the past than it is to move on. The mentality is “better what you know than what you don’t know.” New experiences can be frightening, making the past look more attractive than the future.
- Displaced fear. At the heart of the previous point is fear, a most powerful emotion. Instead of confronting fears of failure, rejection, abandonment, or humiliation, a person displaces the fear onto their ex, a much easier target. Anger is a common way of masking fear. So the ex-spouse may yell at the ex over small things when they are really angry/fearful of new issues.
- Dating stinks. Some of the new issues might just be the prospect of dating again. For someone who has been out of the market for a period of time, this can be very daunting. The dating rules have changed with internet match-making. It can also be frightening and intimidating to have to start all over again with a new person.
- Fantasy vs. reality. As a result, some people idealize their previous marriage to escape from the reality of divorce. They discount and minimize the issues that led to the separation. Delusional thinking can be a powerful tool to flee from the new challenges that are now present. The fantasy world that is created far better than the reality of life.
- In the end, each of these points can be summed up in extreme selfishness. It is not about the other person, it is about the ex-spouse. It is about how they feel, what they want, and what they think they need. The ex is just a means for self-fulfillment. This is unhealthy on many levels and is ultimately destructive.
Side note: For those people who cling to the hope that their marriage will eventually be restored, this can happen. But remember, it took two to get married, two to destroy a marriage, two to get a divorce, and it will take two to reunite. This is not a one person job. Doing any of the above mentioned points is not a path to restoration. It is a path to further damage for everyone. Spending time and energy becoming healthy is paramount to any reconciliation. It is then followed by seeking help from a professional counselor to see how and if a reunion is possible.