When my ex and I finally divorced, I was incredibly relieved. I had been trying to rebuild a life with an emotionally immature husband who was too afraid to look at himself truthfully enough to make any progress in therapy. He never fully understood the devastation his betrayals caused me, and as much as I waited for the “I’m so sorry, I never meant to hurt you,” it never came. Instead I had the humiliating task of watching him lick his own wounds. They weren’t wounds I caused. They were things like watching him mourn the loss of the “love” he had found with the woman he had an affair with. And watching him feel sad and grovel to his mother who treated him like a mistake his entire life. He was pitiable, for sure, but I wasn’t his mother. I was supposed to be his wife. I was patient; he was maddening. He made a lot of noise about the changes he was making. But those changes were superficial and temporary. It was an exhausting way to live, waiting to see whether he really truly meant it “this time” (newsflash: he never did). And eventually I decided that my life was worth more than incessantly trying to reconcile with a wimpy liar, even if I had promised “til death do us part.” Those years felt like a walking death, so I guess that finally gave me the justification I needed for letting go of the Catholic guilt over divorce.
However much I was (and still am) relieved to be rid of my husband, though, I’m still resentful toward him. The bitterness just kind of sticks around.
I know I’m not “supposed” to be still resentful to my ex; everyone tells me it’s bad for me. I’ve found gratitude for my situation in being free from him, but he’s still the same asshole who puts himself first every time and can’t even begin to understand how it feels from my standpoint, or our girls’ standpoint either.
On most days, I don’t think about him unless I have to interact with him. But when I do, there the resentment is, front and center. I’d rather just pretend he no longer exists. I’ve tried to release the anger, but it just keeps coming round like herpes. I don’t foster it in my heart; I wish it to be gone. But there’s not a switch that I’ve found that I can just flip.
It’s still there when I look at my bank account and realize I don’t have the money to do something for my daughters that I think would be incredibly meaningful for them. It’s still there when I hear that he’s trying to bribe my youngest to move away to go live with him. The resentment is still there when he comes to see his children (about once every two months) and makes small talk to me about his job, his life, his successes- as if I want to hear him brag. Everytime I hear this stuff, I yell in my head, “Of course you’ve done all that stuff! I’ve been raising our kids and you’ve had 24/7 to devote to yourself!”
Today he came down to see the girls and went out to get them lunch. Sounds nice, right? But for him that meant picking up Chick-Fil-A, then helping himself to sitting at our kitchen table with the girls and having his visit time here. I resented the hell out of him just assuming he could sit in my house (not one we ever lived in together). I’ve asked him in the past to not do so, but he just pretends those conversations have never happened. And he tells me that he needs to do it, because he no longer lives in town and doesn’t know what else to do with them to visit them.
Now, I know, I am completely aware that I have it much better than others. He pays the state-mandated child support, and he does come to see his kids. It’s not often and when he does he mostly talks about himself, but he does come. He does call and text them. He’s not a deadbeat dad, but I have fear over what kind of emotional pattern he is setting my kids up with. It’s painful to sit and listen to and watch him brag to his own children while talking in the third person. Today I heard, “Hey, did you know your dad is talking with people who are producing his podcast? Yeah, it’s pretty cool.” Cringe and gag. How was I ever married to this man? Today I couldn’t handle it and just went and sat by myself in my bedroom. I was afraid someone would catch me eye-rolling.
Even if someone doesn’t intend to burn your house down while playing with matches, if it burns to the ground, you still have no house. When I married my ex, I mistakenly thought I could be the Samaritan who would give him all the love he could ever need (and that his mother never did). In reality, it didn’t matter if I poured my entire soul and life into his- he still had a huge, gaping hole that’s impossible to fill. But now I’m stuck paying over and over for having made a well-intentioned mistake. And I’m the one with the house that burned down and he doesn’t even know enough to say “oops.”
I resent that he moved across country shortly after his second marriage. Made my dating life disappear because I couldn’t afford babysitters and I went to having the kids 100% of the time. No more every-other-weekend-off to administer self-care. And I was never looking for someone else to co-parent with, so I wasn’t going to start bringing dates round the house. The ex got to have his new marriage and move out of town for his career, and he felt that his parenting responsibilites ended with paying child support. To him, child support=child care, and sacrificing something else was just beyond his realm of imagination.
He did offer to pay my moving costs if I was also willing to uproot myself and the kids to move across country so the kids could still be near him. Convenient to have a wife to sleep with and another woman to take care of the kids. They are pesky buggers who can take up a lot of time. Perfect example of his narcissism. I’m open-minded and all, but what the hell, did he think I’d be a sister wife or something? He still doesn’t see me as anything more than a former extension of his own self, conveniently available to raise his kids.
I’ve done tons of reflection on this. Tons of therapy. I’ve done energy work and meditation. I notice the thoughts. I feel the emotions. I detach. And here I am ten years later, still triggered.
What my reflection and meditation and noticing has made me realize: underneath the resentment is fear, 99% of which is financial. And my ex-husband devastated me financially with his choices post-divorce as well as during the marriage. And he has the gall to continue to brag to me about his financial successes. It makes me feel physically ill. I live in fear of being the Wal-Mart greeter when I’m forced into retirement. And he wants me to congratulate him on his new Lexus?
With the cards my ex has kept dealing me, I have been forced to make choices that have been the right ones for my children, but ones that were less favorable for me financially. I could have stayed with a lucrative sales job, but the hours required would have meant long hours for my kids in childcare and with babysitters. I didn’t have my children to have someone else raise them, and they wanted their mom. I took a teaching position which paid $28,000 a year, because my kids could have free child care before and after school and my schedule would match theirs for vacation. Eventually I have gotten to be on the same campus as my children, and I give tons of credit to this to making my kids feel secure and supported. This in my gut was the right decision because I wanted to do the least disruptive thing for the kids, particularly given that their father was leaving town. I sacrificed and we managed on mac & cheese and my becoming the master of happy hour menus where kids eat free. I ended up trying to sell our house I could no longer afford, but eventually it foreclosed. I drive the same car I did ten years ago. And God, as I write this, I see myself going down that rabbit hole, writing out five hundred things that I had to do to make things work for my kids but which screwed me financially.
So what next? I’ve pinpointed the resentment, I’ve dug deeper and found the fear. I notice it. I request it to leave. I surround myself with gratitude for what I do have. My ex hasn’t done jack, but I’ve spent long hours doing work on myself. I want to be a better person, I care about bringing the positive into my life. And when I look at my bank account, I just hope that at some point all my work manifests itself there. That’s when I think I eventually will be able to give up the anger.