Unraveling From Your Ex-Spouse by Karen Basmagy
You’ve gone to court, the divorce is final. Perhaps it was a long messy ordeal or maybe it was simple, amicable and uncomplicated. You think, whew…I’m glad that is finally over, now I can move forward with my life! You can finally put your former relationship with your ex behind you…or can you? Whether you have the divorce decree in hand or not, emotionally disentangling from you ex is not quite as cut and dry as signing the settlement agreement.
Divorce recovery happens in stages. Although you may be legally divorced the emotional divorce may take much longer to happen. Particularly if you were in a long-term marriage or have children still living at home, the break in the emotional ties don’t necessarily occur when you sign on the dotted line. In the book “Crazy Time; Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life” by Abigail Trafford states that there are two parts to the divorce, the legal divorce and the emotional divorce. “Getting an emotional divorce means you have to separate psychologically from your spouse. It’s a long and complex process. Your ambivalence reflects the attachment you still feel for your spouse as well as the inner turmoil over making major changes in your life.”
The circumstances surrounding the divorce also come into play when it comes to theemotional divorce. Who leaves and who is “left” may have a huge impact on the length of time it takes to emotionally divorce your ex-spouse. Were you the one initiating the divorce? Oftentimes, the initiator, or “leaver” had already begun detaching from the relationship before the actual separation, making him or her further along the road to disentanglement. Or on the flipside, perhaps the leaver has some guilt about ending the relationship due to co-dependency issues or an infidelity while still married. Guilt may keep a leaver somewhat connected to the “leavee”, who continues to maintain an emotional connection as a way to assuage their own feelings of guilt and their partners assumed pain at having been left behind.
What about the “leavee”, where are they in the process of the “emotional divorce”? Chances are they may have felt somewhat blindsided from the request for a divorce and at times were in denial about the state of the marital relationship up to the point of separation. Perhaps they were not willing to give up the relationship as easily as the one who requested to end the marriage. Being able to accept that there is no chance for reconciliation can be difficult. It will probably be a longer journey to emotionally detachment for the partner who did not initiate the divorce.
Emotional divorce for those who see themselves as the “victim” may likewise take much longer; there may be feelings of anger, resentment and bitterness to work through. Emotions may be still running quite high for those carrying victim energy even though the legal divorce is final. Harboring these life-draining emotions and not working through them will keep the angry, embittered ex from moving on and finding the peace and joy that is available to them.
All of us have to accept a certain amount of ambivalence to creep in periodically when we’re going through divorce recovery. Unless you were in a physically abusive relationship, there may have been some very positive experiences that you shared with your ex over the course of the marriage. After all, you made a decision to marry in the first place and for the majority of us the decision was made out of love (or at least you thought so at the time). If it is an amicable divorce, sometimes it can be challenging to establish new and appropriate boundaries surrounding privacy. If it has been a split filled with resentment and anger between one or both parties, your boundary issues might revolve around one of you continuing to get satisfaction (consciously or unconsciously) in pushing the others’ buttons. Or perhaps you may be taking the bait when a button is pushed and thus engaging in old ways with your ex. For those on the receiving end of this type of behavior, you must find ways to detach and resist the temptation to “engage” in your ex’s attempt to pull you back in emotionally, or they will steal and drain your joy. If you have children together, the connection you both have through them remains, and the way in which you and your ex communicate while co-parenting may also affect your ability to disengage emotionally. Finding a way to co-parent in a more matter-of-fact and business-like manner can be difficult, but is imperative for the sake of your children’s’ psychological health. You must renegotiate a new relationship with your ex and move on, or you may find yourself playing out the same dynamic you had in the marital relationship.
What are the areas in your life right now that indicate you have divorced your exemotionally as well as legally?
Take this short Self-Assessment- How true are these 10 statements? Be honest with yourself, they are only here as a means of self-reflection:
- I have released any guilt over the break-up of the relationship.
- I can interact with my ex without any strong emotions or anxiety coming up for me. I am aware of my trigger points and don’t take the bait.
- I can co-parent in a way that does not have my child(ren) choosing between my spouse and me.
- I do not expect my child(ren) to deliver messages to my spouse about adult/parenting matters.
- I have no negative energy/emotion around the idea of my spouse moving on to a new relationship.
- I have appropriate boundaries regarding what information about my personal life I share with my ex.
- My ex does not have access to my home uninvited.
- I have little/no anger or resentment towards my ex.
- I no longer seek my ex’s approval but I would like to maintain/develop a healthy friendship if possible (this is more important if you have children together).
- When I think back on the marital relationship I can reflect on the good times with nostalgia and gratitude, and without regret.
The road to your new incredible life takes time, be kind to yourself and acknowledge the progress you have made so far. If you are feeling stuck while reflecting on any of the areas within the self-assessment, congratulate yourself for being honest and able to look at yourself with clarity. These are the areas you can focus on working through to free yourself from your past.