How do I cope with bitterness and vengefulness toward my ex?
July 3, 2009 11:28 AM   Subscribe

My husband of 17 years had an affair and left me for someone else. Three years later, I’m still feeling bitter and vengeful. Please help me cope.

Three years ago, my husband (now ex-) had an affair and left me for someone else. We had been married for 17 years, were both in our mid-forties, and had no kids by choice.

The woman he left me for was married, has four kids, and was cheating on her husband with my ex. They met in an online game. Within a few months of starting the online affair, he started sending her money behind my back, he suddenly realized he wanted kids, and they decided they were meant to be together. He quit his job, divorced me, emptied our joint bank account, and moved across the country to take a new job and be with her, all within the space of about six months. I’ve had no contact with him ever since. None of his family or friends speak to me anymore, so I have no idea where he is or what happened to him after he left.

It astounded me that the man I’d known, loved, and lived with for 17 years was capable of doing something like this. Seventeen years! No one who knew him (or thought they did, anyway) ever would have predicted it. I’m not even sure he himself knew why he did it. His family and friends were as shocked and blindsided as I was. Some tried to talk him out of it, and one even tried to warn him that his new love interest might have been taking him for a ride, but he wouldn’t hear a word of it.

Losing him was devastating, especially under conditions like this. I loved him with all my heart. Even when there was emotional distance there was still sexual chemistry between us, up to and including the day he left, which confused me even more.

For more than a year, I was completely wrecked. I could barely even function. Sometimes I look at photos of myself from right before the divorce, and compare them to photos taken two years later, and it’s as if I aged ten years in that time.

Throughout the divorce process, he insisted that he still loved me and never set out to hurt me, but just couldn’t be with me anymore because he had to go ‘find himself’ and date other people. He even had the nerve to try to maintain a ‘friendship’ with me after this betrayal. I refused. It hurt to cut him out of my life entirely, but I had to do it, because it hurt even more to try to downgrade things to ‘friendship.’ Every contact I had with him was like the emotional version of re-opening a sucking chest wound.

Although I’ve moved on in some ways, I feel like I’ve been scarred for life by this loss, and healing is a very slow process. On the surface, I’m doing all right. I have good relationships with my two sisters. I have friends and a job, though I make very little money and I’m in debt. Except for a short fling, I haven’t dated since he left, and I’m lonely. I’ve tried online dating, and I attend night classes and various events, but haven’t met anyone I click with. (Dating in your forties is a whole different ball game than dating in your twenties, I’ve found. It’s kind of depressing).

The thing that still torments me the most, though, is that even after all this time, I’m still struggling with feelings of bitterness and vengefulness. I have not forgiven him for what he did, and to be honest I don’t even know if I’m capable of it. I can’t help but think that forgiveness is somewhat overrated.

I’ve tried therapy and all kinds of other things to work through all this, including mindfulness meditation, exercise, getting perspective by reading about people who have it worse than me, reading self-help books (the no-bullshit kind, not the fluffy saccharine kind), and writing him icy and rage-filled letters (none of which were actually sent, because I promised myself that no matter how bad it got, I would always maintain my dignity, and not behave like a crazy ex). All these things have helped to a certain extent, yet I still wonder how I could have been blindsided like this. I once prided myself on being a fairly good judge of character.

I’ve made some progress, at least. I can tell the burden is lighter than it was a year ago. Yet underneath it all, I still feel tattered and torn. I used to be confident, but now my self-image feels damaged. Although I know I’m better off without him, I miss the tenderness and love I once felt toward him. Things still feel unsettled. I know I’ll never see him again, and I won’t ever get an apology. I’m doing my best to move on with my life anyway.

But there is also a part of me, a part I’m not so proud of, that wants to see him reap what he has sown. My friends tell me that people who do things like this eventually get their comeuppance. I don’t know if I actually believe in karma, but I’m clinging to the idea anyway because it comforts me, especially when I’m struggling financially while he (as far as I know) is doing just fine. Is it really true that karma's a bitch? And if it were, would it even make any difference?

I still don’t understand what could have driven him to do something like this. Maybe I never will. But I’m tired of this dragging on and on. I want to find some kind of peace, if not resolution. How do I do this?

Personal experiences welcome. Throwaway email: blindsided.ex at gmail dot com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (38 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
When you are happy with your own life, you will no longer care about his so much. That doesn't mean you'll ever think that what happened was OK, but that you'll become fairly indifferent to what's happening in his life because it will no longer be relevant to yours. Strangely enough, once you've reached that point of indifference, you might find yourself able to feel a distant kind of affection for him.

Take back control of your own life. No-one but you is responsible for how your life is now or in the future. There's a point at which wallowing in our own misery is a choice - we get used to the sympathy and support which comes with being the wronged party and we don't want to lose it. But "victim" isn't a very fulfilling lifestyle and friends and family will be less supportive as time passes if we choose to live in the past.

For now, try to live every moment in the present. Discover who you are and what you want in your life now.
posted by Lolie at 11:46 AM on July 3, 2009 [20 favorites]

You should forgive him. You will have your life back and your freedom. Right now you are bogged down in anger and even pity. To forgive him will remove that from your heart and you will move ahead with your own life.
posted by JayRwv at 12:02 PM on July 3, 2009

I am not sure that people get their comeuppance either.
There may be no such thing as a karma collection agency.

Those angry letters that you've written.
If sending them will make you feel better, send them.
I know you don't know where he's living now, but you
might, with a bit of work, be able to find out.

Look, I understand the need for revenge.
The terrible thing about revenge is that at the end
of the day you are eating your own bitter heart.
If you were truly to go out there and ruin his current life,
you would be mortified by the person you had become,
who had done such a thing.

But I'm not saying don't do it either.
You may want to contact his new girlfriend.
Plant seeds of doubt in her mind. "If he'll cheat on me he'll
do it to you too." If that will make you feel better,
then do it. But I suspect that the satisfaction may
be only temporary.

The only thing that will let you move on really,
is to forget about him and concentrate on filling your
own life with so many wondrous things that he
really won't figure into it. Set up dates for every weekend.
Go on 52 dates a year. Write a blog about it all.

One thing I do when I am bitter about someone -
and I know it's totally wrong - is that I get down on my knees
and CURSE them. I curse them with comeuppance.
I basically gather all the hate in my heart and imagine it
forming this ball in front of my chest and I CURSE them
with awfulness, with disease, with unhappiness.

I heard once that there was a law passed AGAINST
cursing. This is back in Victorian England or something,
when everyone believed in God, and eveyone believed
that cursing had tangible results. This is in the time of like,
Dickens, when industry basically had a hold of everything,
and the lower class were worked to death and had
no protections. People, powerless, resorted to Cursing.
And the factory and business owners were so terrified of
this that they passed a law banning it.

But cursing works sometimes, to make you feel better.
I have, for instance, cursed someone who wronged me once
with testicular cancer. I don't know if he ever got it.
But I certainly felt better after.
posted by Sully at 12:09 PM on July 3, 2009 [10 favorites]

You seem to be afraid you're scarred for life than, in reality, being so. He loves you and it seems he had a difficult time loving his life, which is in him and his problem. Just say, "God bless" and realize the person you thought you were with never existed. His life might have bright spots in it now, but I think he hurts inside knowing how much he hurt you.

You have to stop being angry with him and angry with life, because it's ruining your mental health. These things happen. Just go have fun now and maybe you'll meet someone new in the process.
posted by anniecat at 12:10 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

What happened to you is really awful and I'm very sorry. But to answer the question of how to get over need to stop the pity party, because that's the overwhelming tone of this post.

How do you stop feeling sorry for yourself? You tell yourself that he's an asshole, but that he's the one who walked away from a great life and great person. So too bad for him - you continue to live your life actively and like you're worth it. Eventually you'll feel that way.
posted by meerkatty at 12:12 PM on July 3, 2009

You know the saying "Living well is the best revenge"? There's a lot of truth in that.

I went through a breakup that was nowhere near as difficult as yours, but was still very difficult, and it was really hard for me to get over my ex for a while. I tried Internet dating. There were spells when I got fed up with it, but I still dated pretty widely and eventually did find someone. Finding someone that I clicked with is what got me over my ex.

The past is the past. There's nothing you can do about it. Don't live in it.
posted by adamrice at 12:12 PM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Three years later, I’m still feeling bitter and vengeful.

I’ve made some progress, at least. I can tell the burden is lighter than it was a year ago.

You need to remind yourself of two things: 1) all meaningful change is incremental and takes time, and 2) you are making progress.

You're getting better. You're not where you want to be...yet. However, it seems like you're doing everything you can to move on, including severing ties with you ex, and maintaining your dignity.

You may consider "renovating" your self image by doing something new that will fundamentally change you. Why not take up ballroom dancing? You'll develop a new skill, get in shape, develop a better self image, and you might meet someone new to share your life with.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:21 PM on July 3, 2009 [9 favorites]

Your conscience is cleaner than his.
posted by kldickson at 12:24 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, it seems to me that the reason you're struggling financially is that he took money from you. Is there no way you can sue to get a reasonable amount of that back?
posted by kldickson at 12:24 PM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

I see why this is hitting you hard today. Would it have been your 20th anniversary?

I'll say that it's okay to let yourself go - to wallow and cry and let yourself feel shitty and vengeful - every once in a while. It's part of the process.

Give yourself some credit. You have progressed, a lot, in the past 3 years. This sudden reversion to self-pity does is not a permanent regression; it's a necessary lapse.

adamrice: "Living well is the best revenge"? There's a lot of truth in that.

This. The best revenge is to be (or become) the person that your husband wished he never left, and then to know that you wouldn't even consider taking him back in a million years.
posted by jabberjaw at 12:27 PM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

I agree with both of kldickson's comments.

I think it was somewhere in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall where the Deeply Wronged Woman says, and I paraphrase, "my one consolation is a clean conscience."

And really, three years isn't that long to recover from something like this. You're not on anyone else's timeline. Don't feel bad that you're not 100% yet.
posted by Neofelis at 12:31 PM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you're still living in the same house, I suggest moving... or at least rearranging the furniture and/or the purpose of the rooms. If you're spending all of your time in the same environment, it's easy to feel stuck.
posted by carmicha at 12:34 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

The folk wisdom I'd always heard was that it took six months to recover for every year you were in the relationship. While it's probably as accurate as any other folk wisdom, you were together for 17 years. Your marriage would be graduating high school. It's OK to feel bitter and vengeful, especially since he seems like he was a tremendous asshole. In fact, toward him, it's totally cool to feel bitter and vengeful forever. But remember—it's just him. He's the asshole. Everyone else? Well, take them on their merits, and your bitterness and vengeful feeling won't matter.
posted by klangklangston at 12:34 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm wondering if it would be helpful to build a more honest memory of your marriage, not just the break-up. Make a time-line. For each year write down significant memories about your relationship - good and bad. Also look at the way the relationship made you a better person - what did you learn from him while you were married? are there any parts of yourself that being with him made better? (I don't mean becoming stronger because he left - I mean things that he gave you or that you acquired because of your relationship and marriage.)

Sometimes part of the bitterness can be the feeling that whole marriage was a sham because it ended badly. The reality is richer and more complex.
posted by metahawk at 12:46 PM on July 3, 2009 [7 favorites]

I agree that these things take time.

Honestly, you sound like you're doing as well as you can, given the circumstances. Stop giving yourself a hard time for feeling justified emotions. Eventually you'll get bored with being angry and just not give a crap one way or another about your ex. Trust me, the day will come.

Meanwhile, keep living the best life you can and focus on the good things. A person who has dealt with some awful thing such this in their life and is still able to convey a positive overall outlook is a very attractive prospect because to do so shows such great resiliency and mental stability.

Also, maybe you can take solace in the fact that both your ex and his new wife are probably slowly being eaten away by the fact they are married to someone who has demonstrated the capacity to completely betray a loved one and may very well do it again at some point.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:53 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been in a similar situation, although I wasn't with my ex for nearly as long (only 6 years co-habiting) and the lack of a legal marriage made that side of the split a lot quicker and cleaner.

First, I want to say that with regard to your ex's insistance on friendship, he does not get to unilaterally decide how the relationship between you and him proceeds (if it does at all). Do not feel guilty for cutting him out of your life if that's what helps you (and it sounds like it does help). You have to take care of yourself first. Whether he "means" to hurt you or not is immaterial: all that matters is that he does and you don't want that hurt in your life.

Second, you probably aren't ever going to understand what made me turn on you. He did a very douche-y thing and that's by it's very nature hard to understand. In my case, I'm not going to try to understand, but it underlines the fact that the person I moved in with years ago was not the same person who left last year.

Third, I would second carmicha's suggestion of making a change in your living environment, in particular throwing out things that were his where you can. Or alternatively, making them your own by painting them/putting on new covers/rearranging them/whatever. I found redecorating my bedroom, for example, to give me a good sense of controlling my environment and taking care of myself.
posted by Kurichina at 12:57 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Three years is nothing. But nonetheless, try getting some therapy. IT will help to talk through the marriage as well as other issues from your childhood, because that will help you understand who you were and why you were that, which is a fundamental first step to changing your life. Take dance lessons, or go to the gym. This isn't like a scrape where leaving it alon will let it heal on its own.

You have to work on this. You have to actively reorder your life, choose to put things in it and take other things out, otherwise your life after marriage is just work, time-killing, and thoughts of your dirtbag ex-husband. So naturally you are going to feel bitter. Once you start to structure your life with a view to the future instead of the past, you'll find that the feelings of hostility and bitterness will fade much more quickly.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:05 PM on July 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you have any legal leg to stand on, sue him for every he has and everything he took from you. This is a heartbreaking story. It certainly seems possible that you could get alimony from him, since my parents were married for 16 years, have been split for almost 10, and my mom still gets a substantial legally-mandated spousal allowance from my dad.

Three years isn't long enough to get over this, and you have every right to hate him for the rest of your life. It's very, very difficult to deal with that feeling of self-doubt though, worrying that you were blindsided like that once, and it could easily happen again. The only thing I can think that might help is to realize that your ex was basically pathological to be able to be so two-faced without you or anyone else having any idea. Hopefully there aren't many people like that in the world, for everyone's sake.
posted by booknerd at 1:20 PM on July 3, 2009 [6 favorites]

You've gotten some good advice already, and some silly scolding, too, which I hope you'll ignore. What you have described so far sounds like genuine and expected emotional devastation, plus some admirable and sensible attempts to cope with it, and for anyone to call it a "pity party" means that they are completely missing the point. And dear God, don't apprach the new woman. No.

I think you have done a lot of smart and kind things for yourself so far, and I congratulate you for it. I especially think your refusal to either play friend or harpy to your ex- is brilliant.

I've been in the betrayed and dumped camp of 40-something women, too, and I know how crippling it is. What hit me the hardest was the thought that I had wasted twenty years on someone who would sneak around on me, lie about it, make me feel guilty for suspecting him, then leave. You may be feeling a lot of the same regrets, wishing you had your twenties or even your thirties back to start fresh.

But on top of the emotional damage he inflicted, he stole from you. Everyone deals with financial stresses in divorce, but you have additional stress. A similar thing happened to a member of my family, and the poor guy who was left with the kids and an empty bank account took a long time to get over it in every way.

You're normal. The lingering feelings of bitterness and vengeance are completely normal reactions. However, let's look more closely at some of the things you've done, and how you could improve that list.

1. I’ve tried therapy and all kinds of other things to work through all this, including mindfulness meditation, exercise, getting perspective by reading about people who have it worse than me, reading self-help books (the no-bullshit kind, not the fluffy saccharine kind),

Excellent and necessary start. Some self-examination is needed so that you can sort out the narrative of your life, recognize where you or he failed (he more than you, but even we the wronged have to look back at some choices we've made and make a mental note to do better next time), and get yourself started on a new and happier life.

But after a certain point, self-analysis leads you down your own navel and traps you in the lint. You mention that you've taken some classes and gone to some events, but unless you've skipped some details, it sounds like you're dabbling with no sense of direction.

I know that time and money is tight now, but can you set yourself some real goals that you can achieve in both the short term and the long term? Can you commit to volunteering for a year in an area that interests you? It's one thing to read about people who have it worse, cry a little, then get back to worrying about your life. It's another thing to lose yourself, even for a while, making things better for someone else. You'll like yourself more, and be happier in the long run, if you can take a break from yourself.

Can you try something you always wanted to do but never got around to, like learning a musical instrument, or pushing yourself further in math than you ever did before, or learning a language? Even given your limited budget, can you put aside even a little money, in addition to debt reduction, as a goal that you will go to country X in 5 years and you will be able to hold some simple conversations in that language?

2. and writing him icy and rage-filled letters (none of which were actually sent, because I promised myself that no matter how bad it got, I would always maintain my dignity, and not behave like a crazy ex).

No more letters, sent or unsent. Stop that. Catharsis as a longterm strategy for coping with emotional pain is an outmoded psychological concept. The letters may have been a relief valve in the early days, but after three years, they are counterproductive. The more time you spend thinking about how angry you are with him, the more this will become a comfort zone for you. It's not just a matter of not behaving like a crazy ex in front of him. When you write those letters, you are behaving like a crazy ex in front of you. You don't need any more letters because you don't want to reinforce the exact feelings you want to lose.

3. All these things have helped to a certain extent, yet I still wonder how I could have been blindsided like this. I once prided myself on being a fairly good judge of character.

Heh. Join the club. You made some mistakes in judgement, but so does everyone. Not everyone gets the full ruination treatment as a consequence, either, just as not every jaywalking pedestrian gets hit by a cab. Please don't obsess over past mistakes, because you have probably got enough inherent common sense to have a decent batting average with people from now on.

You're going to get better, I promise. I can't predict how long it will take, although I think the rule of thumb of "six months for every year in a relationship" doesn't apply smoothly to very longterm relationships. But to give yourself the best chance of making this sooner rather than later, you should continue to not treat your ex as a friend until you genuinely want to. This may be years or never. While there's a lot to be said for absolute forgiveness, and I agree that it does lessen the load immensely on the forgiving person, you can't force yourself or fake it. Don't even think about forgiving and refriending until some aribitrary amount of time passes, like another 3-5 years. At the end of that time, ask yourself if you've gone long periods of time without thinking of him and that you can easily think of good times and his good qualities. You may be at the point of forgiveness and can step forward. If you also feel that you're ready for some limited social contact with him, you can take another step and make him your friend again, if you both still want that.

You may move past him but never fully forgive him. That's OK. You may be able to forgive him, but have very limited contact with him thereafter. That's OK, too. You are not a bad person if you can't get into a warm relationship with him again. I think that for any warmth to exist between you again, he has to face his own failures, truly apologize to you, and let you take the lead.

Good luck!
posted by rosebuddy at 1:23 PM on July 3, 2009 [35 favorites]

anonymous: Although I’ve moved on in some ways, I feel like I’ve been scarred for life by this loss, and healing is a very slow process…The thing that still torments me the most, though, is that even after all this time, I’m still struggling with feelings of bitterness and vengefulness. I have not forgiven him for what he did, and to be honest I don’t even know if I’m capable of it. I can’t help but think that forgiveness is somewhat overrated…there is also a part of me, a part I’m not so proud of, that wants to see him reap what he has sown. My friends tell me that people who do things like this eventually get their comeuppance. I don’t know if I actually believe in karma, but I’m clinging to the idea anyway because it comforts me, especially when I’m struggling financially while he (as far as I know) is doing just fine. Is it really true that karma's a bitch? And if it were, would it even make any difference? I still don’t understand what could have driven him to do something like this. Maybe I never will. But I’m tired of this dragging on and on. I want to find some kind of peace, if not resolution. How do I do this?

I'm so sorry—I have some idea of what you're going through. Seven years ago, my now father-in-law left my wife's mother for another woman; after he'd left, he ‘accidentally’ left behind letters and documents that showed that he'd been cheating virtually the entire time they'd been married. My mother-in-law is still dealing with this, although she's made great progress; she once told me that it'd be all right if she could only get him out of her dreams.

I want to discuss some things concerning ‘comeuppance’ and ‘karma,’ which would be freeing to you but of which you despair. I agree with other commenters that there are some acts which it is very difficult for us to forgive; however, you should start thinking about what your current outlook has to do with your general view of the world and what impact it's going to have on you emotionally.

You say you, in short, that you don't think he'll have to pay for the wrong he's done to you. You say you ‘cling to the idea of karma’ because it's comforting, but clinging to an idea you don't believe isn't even denial; it's a sad wish that you're certain will never be fulfilled. Honestly, examine for a moment what that means if it holds generally in all moral cases: if people don't pay for their crimes against others, there is no justice in the world; the violent and evil commit cruel acts against the helpless with no punishment or retribution; the poor and defenseless are simply losers, with no hope of happiness and no final repayment for any kindness or good deeds that they do. Since you seem to have convinced yourself by way of this experience that there is really no justice in the world, it's no wonder that it depresses you; such a world is indeed miserable.

While I can't say that bad things never happen to good people, and while this remains a difficult and complicated subject, I can say that I don't think you have to believe in a judgement day, heaven and hell, karma—or any other mystical religious prediction that there will be some final rendering of justice—in order to believe that there is a kind of natural justice in the world.

Plato, an ancient Greek philosopher who lived about two and a half millenia ago, often used to like to say (through the main character of his stories, Socrates) that it is better to suffer injustice than to do injustice. Now, Plato liked religious stories, but deep down he was as agnostic and pessimistic as they come; I don't think he believed in any real afterlife, in ‘the gods’ as the other Greeks saw them, or in most of the other things that his countrymen ascribed to religiously. However, he argued that doing injustice is worse than suffering it because doing injustice harms us; I think what he meant is that the deepest, most fulfilling thing in our human lives is our connection to other people, and when we damage that connection and endanger it by doing wrong to others, we hurt ourselves in the most real sense.

I know of this first-hand, because I know my father-in-law. I've come to care a lot about him over the years (after initially hating him, since I met and knew my mother-in-law first and heard what she had to say) but I know very well that he's a person in pain, although he could never admit this fact even to himself. He's a narcissist, which causes hurt to the people he knows and the people he associates with but, as is always the case, causes most hurt to him himself; narcissism brings with it self-loathing, an unending drive to impress others, an impulse to lie about achievements and vices, and a habit of admiring those who act most hatefully. He's currently engaged to a women with whom he has a severely dysfunctional relationship; their connection consists mostly in a constant game of mutual put-downs and one-upsmanship, and they argue with each other and with other people in many circumstances. The things she says to him, and in front of his daughter, are often shockingly blunt. (“Honey, I don't know why you're talking right now. You have no idea what you're saying.”) But through it all, he's attracted to her, principally, I think, because narcissists think anybody who would like someone like them must be an idiot, and therefore the only worthy mate is somebody who constantly puts them down.

These are just the troubles in one instance; but they're driven by the root principle. Human beings may be able to put the things they've done out of their conscious mind, but in the back of our brains we always remember our past deeds and vices. He cried bitterly, and in public, when he was forced (at a restaurant) to admit to his daughter that he'd had affairs. An old teacher of mine used to say that all of us carry around a ‘catalog of concupiscence’ in our minds, always reminding ourselves subconsciously of the wrong things we've done and feeling shame and desperation because of them; a large part of life is getting rid of that shame and dealing with those perceived wrongs so that we can be more fulfilled.

This is not your struggle, I know; your concern is that an injustice has been done that will never be rectified. But I am confident when I tell you that people who do what he has done to you cannot help but feel the effects of their actions for the rest of their lives; no matter how it may appear on the outside, his actions have a deep, subtle psychological hold on his mind, and he will spend the rest of his life either (a) coming to terms with what he's done and repenting and forgiving himself or (b) trying desperately and vainly to forget what he's done, ultimately finding that he's only making himself more miserable by doing so. There is no way for him to silence the small voice in his head that keeps repeating that ‘I am a cheater! I am a cruel and selfish bastard!’ without facing his deeds and coming to terms with what they mean.

If you can learn to understand and accept that by doing what he's done he's done himself more harm than he could ever do to you—if you can confront the fact that your current suffering doesn't begin to compare with the necessary suffering that he's brought on himself—then you can start to forgive him. And you will know that you've forgiven him when you find yourself feeling real pity for him, and wishing that he hadn't done what he did not because he hurt you but because he's eternally scarred himself. Don't fool yourself on this point: you will have forgiven him only when you can think of him and genuinely feel sorry for his mistake which cost him immeasureable happiness and contentment and bought him only sorrow and unhappiness, when you find yourself wishing he didn't have to go through what he's certainly having to go through instead of happy at the pain he's feeling.
posted by koeselitz at 2:14 PM on July 3, 2009 [28 favorites]

booknerd: If you have any legal leg to stand on, sue him for every he has and everything he took from you.

I'm going through a divorce right now myself (only 2 years of marriage, and not acrimonious, so it's not even comparable to what the poster is going through) and one of the things my psychiatrist said really resonated with me:

It's counter-intuitive, but the only way to get through a breakup and come out the other side a whole and happy person is to learn to love our partners and ourselves more. Bad relationships continue because we don't love ourselves or our partners enough to end a comfortable situation that's actually harming both of us. In order to end a relationship in a healthy way, we have to say: ‘I care about you, and because I care about you, I can't stay with you, because I know that this relationship is damaging for you and for me.’ We have to avoid the worst aspects of our past together specifically because the whole point of ending a bad relationship is to put those aspects behind us; it may seem purgative and soothing to lash out and say and do the awful things we've been thinking of but holding back on for so many years, but ultimately lashing out like that only sets us back and makes the healing process take much, much longer.

No offense, and I understand that sympathy inspires a certain disgust at the poster's ex-husband's actions, but the only way to heal is to learn to embrace that ex-husband for what he is—a human being who has done some silly things, but principally a human being who is not her husband any more.
posted by koeselitz at 2:22 PM on July 3, 2009 [16 favorites]

My ex-boyfriend's mom has a similar story, except they had children. She moved out from the midwest to LA with him and the three kids. He was a pastor. I'm not exactly sure how long they were married, but it was around 15-20 years when he flipped his lid. Yes, a pastor.

He would come home and lock up all the food and tell his wife and their children that they couldn't eat it because he had earned the money, not them. She had been a housewife, high school diploma only, so when he walked out on them, she had to start from scratch. When I dated her son, she still lived in the tiny two bedroom pastor's house on the church lot. He had moved on, remarried, and changed careers (psychiatrist, if you can believe it) and moved 10 minutes away from his ex-wife and kids. After some family function where he and the new wife were also present, my boyfriend's mom told me that after his flip out, he went back to being the same guy he always was, and that the new wife basically had the same guy my boyfriend's mom married decades earlier.

I don't know if she dated, but she had a good career and ended up moving to a nicer condo by herself after all the kids were out of the house.

What both of these men was selfish, cowardly and reprehensible. Be glad you didn't have children with this poor excuse for a man. For a human being, really.

I have three recommendations: The iChing, "I'm Looking Through You" by the Beatles, and patience. You are not a machine, you can't expect 17 years and a horrendous ex-husband to just wash away overnight. I sincerely wish you the best, and hope that the best moments in your life are yet to come.
posted by anniek at 2:26 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

What a terrible thing you've gone through. I don't know any magic cures for betrayal, but I can pass on a thing that helped me during my (albeit perhaps less dramatic) devastating breakup.

Do you have pets? Have you ever considered having one?

I found that my best friends during my breakup were my animals. They don't care what you look like on those bad days and they bring a certain regularity to life that can sometimes get lost when life doesn't feel so great. To them, everything you do is GREAT. When I go home, I'm a ROCK STAR. It helps on the days when the two-leggeds are beastly.

I've found that shelter and rescue pets are especially supportive.
posted by answergrape at 3:04 PM on July 3, 2009

Forgiveness is overrated. We have those feelings so that we won't get fooled again. You have zero obligation to forgive him, ever. You don't owe him shit, and it's probably impossible to completely forgive someone who did something so life-alteringly bad to you. But you should try to let it out of your own life, for your own sake only. The others here have great tips on how to do that, I just wanted to encourage you not to feel some guilt or obligation about still feeling angry with him.
posted by ishotjr at 3:10 PM on July 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'm so sorry for all you've been through. I've experienced similar, and getting over this kind of betrayal is a long process.

You need to understand that this bitterness you're clinging to is poison to your well being. You don't have to forget any of what happened or even forgive him. It would be helpful for you to focus on the positive things that you know, like the fact that you have supportive friends and family, and that you're better off now without him.

We are all wrong about people at one time or another. We are all blindsided by things that we had no way of seeing. You trusted him. This isn't a failing of yours. It's a failing of his that he was incapable of living up to that trust.

I believe your solution lies in refusing to allow your peace of mind to hinge on what becomes of him. Even if he gets his comeuppance you may never know, which makes it virtually a no-win situation for you. I realize you're asking how to move on, but I think it's different for everyone. For me, remaining friends was part of the process, but that's clearly not in your formula. Maybe for you it's putting away the pictures, the letters and thoughts of revenge, and any thoughts of him at all. A good therapist is a tremendous help in finding a balanced perspective when we lose our way. You should give your self a lot of credit for the progress you've made.

I wish you the best.
posted by contrariwise at 3:38 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry for your suffering. Two powerful tools you can use:

1. Where do your thoughts and emotions come from? Do you forge each one, or do they just occur to you? I think you'll agree that they simply occur to you (they keep coming in an endless stream - when is there ever time to "create" one?). If that's the case, why do you take responsibility for them? They are no more your burden than the words of a character in a movie that you happen to be watching.

You can heed them, ignore them, play with them. But their travails are not your travails; they are features of the environment like the weather.

Reflect on this carefully. If you do, it is an unbelievably powerful freedom from internal suffering.

2. You say you have tried mindfulness meditation, but true mindfulness is not a sometime thing. In all cases when you are in pain, you have the freedom to watch.

So why try to change, to be different, to "heal"?

Just watch, and if healing happens, good, and if it doesn't, fine.

Simply make your first priority watching. Watch the suffering. If it doesn't go away, keep watching. Forever, if necessary.

This is not a cure for your pain but simply a wholly different (and possibly more satisfying) way of relating to it.
posted by shivohum at 6:40 PM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Being angry at him makes sense. You certainly don't have to "forgive him" because he did shitty, awful things to you.

That said, how useful is your anger to you at this point? Does he even deserve that much of your attention? You've got your own life to live, and you're better off without him.

Living well, best revenge, it's a cliche because it's true. Best of luck to you and ignore anyone who tells you to "forgive" your stupid ex-husband. He's out of your life for a reason.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:23 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't forget the saying: Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for someone else to die.
posted by argybarg at 8:03 PM on July 3, 2009 [15 favorites]

I know this might sound petty but I read one time about someone who when they were pissed at someone for doing something awful just thought of them as mentally ill. I've tried it and it's surprisingly helpful. It lets me separate the person I knew and cared about from the person who whacked out and did such shitty things. Now I can feel a vague hope that that person finds a way to get through all his fucked upness but it isn't my problem anymore. If I start to think about why I should be mad still, I tell myself I need to focus making my own life better and not waste time thinking about stuff that just makes me angry.
It sounds like you're stuck on focusing on being angry. Can you try finding things to do that are fun to distract yourself? Ask your sisters or friends to go out, maybe dancing or to see a band. You'll care a lot less about his life if you're having fun doing something else. Don't put pressure on yourself to find someone to date when you're out. Flirt if you want but don't be serious about it. Just focus on having a good time. If you can do things that make you feel happier, you'll find yourself wanting to not waste time and anger on thinking about your ex.
posted by stray thoughts at 8:44 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think forgiveness is overrated sometimes. Besides, if he did ask for forgiveness it might come across as trite or vastly insufficient for what he has done. That being said, you can definitely focus your energy on other things than trying to figure out his motivations.

You worry about being scarred for life, and yet life is scarring every day that we live it. I don't wish to sound fatalistic, but it does help the healing process if you accept the fact that bad things happen to good people. I think three years is pretty soon for you to feel like you're past what's happened.

My best advice is to wait and find someone who has had a similar event happen to them. This will give you both peace and understanding as well as meaning to what has happened. I imagine that there are even internet groups for these kinds of people.

Apart from that, reading poetry is always a source of profound help.
posted by fantasticninety at 9:21 PM on July 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sounds corny and trite, but time heals all wounds. That's a voice of experience.

And some say time wounds all heels.
posted by telstar at 10:12 PM on July 3, 2009

I recommend the following 3 books on forgiveness...They
helped me a lot in controlling and understanding anger...

1)Anger by Thich nhat Hanh
2) The art of forgiveness, lovingkindness and Peace - Jack Kornfield
3)Warrior of the light by Paulo Coelho

I think you are a brave woman to face this much suffering with dignity.
posted by tom123 at 10:14 PM on July 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

Love heals all wounds. If a wound is poisoned, time has a very different effect.
posted by Solomon at 10:50 PM on July 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

The best revenge is living well.
posted by lalochezia at 1:12 AM on July 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Three years is not all that much - took me five to really clear my post divorce anger. A shrink buddy told me that divorce is the hardest grieving process to get over, because compared with grieving over death, in divorce you don't have the Big Absolute Solution (death) staring you in the face, and it can go on for a long time. You blame yourself or keep asking yourself "what did I do that caused this?" and there ain't no answer forthcoming.

After a while you crawl out of your shell. I started getting social and found that people found me incredibly bitter and cynical even when I thought I was being all happiness and light. I then learned to relate to people in a new way that left my nasty feelings out of the social equation. In my case, smoing pot helped a lot - I had given up most social drinking after my son as born, and during the divorce I went teetotal, and later on when I was in complete Despairland pot was a way to temper my anger against myself. A few years later I met a wonderful person, and gave up pot.

Now I can deal. Took years.
posted by zaelic at 1:28 AM on July 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

You were severely wronged. He behaved extremely badly. She behaved badly. Part of you may hurt for a long time.

Find a therapist who practices CBT. You need help training your mind to think about new things. Learning some self-hypnosis may also help, but finding a reliable, competent practitioner can be difficult.

Activity helps your mind stop circling back to him and the hurt. Join a gym and get in good shape. Exercise is very good at reducing depression. Take courses at Adult Ed. Do some volunteer work that gets you moving. Think of yourself as having been hit by a truck, and stick to a course of rehabilitation.

Recognize that you were the innocent party, and then recognize that, these days, no one makes a distinction about it. Give yourself the gift of a new life.
posted by theora55 at 11:14 AM on July 4, 2009 [3 favorites]

I really think finding a good therapist and a new hobby would help you immensely. I agree that you need to find a new place in life, find new dreams and goals that is how you move forward. Hanging on to the bitterness only prolongs your suffering, not his. Even if you can't forgive him right now stay busy, join a support group, take a class, volunteer, paint, read,whatever you can to let your mind stray to something besides the anger and hurt.

Trust me, he will get his, they always do. But trust me if you don't let this go you are wasting the best time of your life. I've hurt and been hurt. I was pretty sure I was going to die from the pain a couple of times, but I didn't.

Find a goal and or a dream and focus on that with all your might. Good Luck!
posted by gypseefire at 4:02 AM on September 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

A bit late to the party, but I would suggest something totally different.

Do something to change your life COMPLETELY.

Move to another country. Go to medical school. Become a hypnotist. Play bass in a punk band. Sell your possessions and drive from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego in a VW van. Become a different person than the one this happened to. Something major has happened. You will need something major to get over it. This will be your karma.

You are still in the same place, at the same job, with the same debts... only without him. Trying to date, trying to go to work. It's pathetic. Meanwhile, he is across the country, with another woman and another life.

Fuck him.

I think you need to find another life as well. Find something absolutely crazy to do, and do it. For inspiration, I'd read the book "Emergency Sex" ( One of the women who wrote it got a divorce and then (with only secretarial skills, nothing fancy) went to work for the UN in a war zone. She met lots of crazy people and had adventures. It changed her life. She was then glamorous, exciting. Her ex was a distant memory.

Go for it.
posted by metametababe at 12:39 AM on October 5, 2009 [3 favorites]

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