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August 11, 2010 12:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm bitter and angry at my ex-husband. Also, shallow. Please help me change.

So I was divorced 5 years ago after a 20-year long abusive (verified by more than one therapist) marriage. I was a wreck for a really long time and now am in a much better place except for the fact that I periodically become full of internal rage against my ex-husband because my life since my divorce has been so hard and his seems so much happier and nicer.

Additionally, he has started doing so many of the things I wished he would do when we were married. For example, when before he would just let me basically raise our kids alone and go alone to all their functions, he takes them on awesome vacations that I wish we had gone on when we were a family. And just recently I found out he is treasurer of his homeowner's association! I know that's a strange thing to become angry about, but you have no idea how many times I sat alone in stupid neighborhood things while he stayed home not caring.

So basically it seems in so many ways to me like he's living the life I always wanted to have with him and I keep wondering why I wasn't good enough for him to have that life with me. Add that to the fact that for 20 years, he literally did tell me that he would do more "if only I would..." and that I spent 20 years trying to do whatever he asked so he would love me and -- even though I know it's stupid -- I feel like I failed and that there really was something I could have done to have the family I wanted. In my mind, I know that's not true, that he's doing these things because I'm not there anymore to do them for him and that probably because once he had to take on the responsibility of maintaining a relationship with the kids, etc., he realized there was pleasure in it, but in my heart, I feel like I failed and like all it took for him to be happy was for me to be out of his life, even though I'm the one who left him because he was so verbally abusive and even though every time I left him, he always begged me to come back.

In the meantime, also, I'm barely scraping by, particularly since my kids are becoming over 18 and I’m losing child support and gaining college expenses and he’s gaining back the child support and earning at least twice what I make. So I’m having to watch every penny and I’m tired and irritable around my children while he’s happy and buying them cars and clothes and taking them to Lollapalooza and paying for ice skating lessons. I’m glad they are getting to do these things – I just wish I could be part of it.

So, in short (although I haven’t been – sorry), I feel like it turns out that the man who demeaned me and belittled me for years really did steal my life and that makes me angry and very, very sad.

I don’t feel like this all the time, just sometimes when it’s just too much in my face. I never mention this to my kids; I never mention it to anyone. I’ve been in a ton of therapy and I’ve actually gotten a lot better. I haven’t met anyone I really want to date since my divorce and I’m sure that would make me feel better. I personally think I’m still fairly pretty, but when I look at pictures of myself, even when I’m smiling, I think I look sad and I’m sure that vibe comes across.

How can I get rid of this? Rational thinking and explanations don’t necessarily help or at least the ones I tell myself don’t. I’ve tried several different approaches in therapy – from talking a lot about various incidents in my marriage to not talking about them and instead focusing on the present. I’m sick of seeing myself as a victim but sometimes I just want to cry and key his fucking Prius.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (30 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
He hasn't changed because you weren't good enough. He's changed because his past behavior didn't work: it cost him his wife and time with his children. This is not about your failures; it is about his.
posted by karminai at 12:30 PM on August 11, 2010 [24 favorites]

Jeez, you are completely entitled to feel angry! Many, many abuse victims experience overwhelming anger. Some of this, I suspect, is still stored up from the marriage when it wasn't safe to express your anger, and you were taking abuse you didn't deserve.

I also suspect your husband did a number on your self esteem, and that, too, is a normal issue after being subjected to lots of verbal abuse.

The problem with anger, as you know, is that it makes it so tough to move on with your life. I see this with court cases, where people who despise each other end up thinking of each other constantly, due to the ongoing case.

I'd suggest you work on a) ignoring your ex completely, including news of him; b) relishing all you can do now that you are free, like make your own plans and do your own thing; c) zeroing in on fun things you can do, with and without the kids, which are free or close to it -- parks, picnics, library events, parades, festivals, hikes, etc.; and d) pursuing things you like to do, that absorb you and bring you peace.

As you know, this man is simply not worth your attention. You and your children deserve all of it, he should get none.
posted by bearwife at 12:33 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

You want to be less bitter and angry? The first step is to try, systematically, to be less so. When you find yourself thinking about your ex, and getting angry, try to stop. People talk about people 'bottling up' their emotions or suppressing them but that's not really how it works. Think of your anger like a fire, not like fluid. The more you stoke the fire, the brighter it burns. But when you withhold oxygen, it begins to die.

Concentrate on distracting yourself when it comes up. Try to think about something else or just watch TV, surf the web, or play video games. Something engaging that takes your mind of whatever you were thinking about.
posted by delmoi at 12:48 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm bitter and angry at my ex-husband. Also, shallow...

I'm not much on psychology, but look at what you just did there. You're turning the verbal abuse your ex husband used to fling at you, right back around and using it on yourself.

Stop that. Really, stop it. You are worth so much more than this asshole's opinion of you.

Look, until you really, truly, once and for all realise that you are a worthwhile individual in your own regard, not the sum of all those bad names your ex called you, you're never going to be able to just move on from it.

Stop comparing your life to his. It's not a competition, and your kids' ability to have "cool things" doesn't rack up points towards some kind of prize awarded to the Best. Parent. Ever. I know you know this.

I mean that in all kindness - you will only heal and become strong when you are able to put this stuff behind you, concentrate on your future path, and leave him and all his abuse in the past, where it belongs.

It sounds as though he may be simply attempting to deliberately manipulate your kids good opinion of him by buying them off. This doesn't speak of any sort of growth on his behalf, he's just moved on to a different form of abuse. And, as a child of divorce myself, I can reassure you that if your kids have any sense at all, they're likely wise to this species of bullshit, especially if you show them love, are clear with them about what they really want, and are careful not to stick them in the middle against your ex, or denigrate him in any way in front of them. Kids are a lot smarter than you give them credit for.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:57 PM on August 11, 2010 [7 favorites]

I think you need to stop looking at what he's doing now as being related to you or your past together AT ALL.

Which be easier if you stop looking at what he's doing now in general. Eyes on the road ahead of you, kiddo.
posted by hermitosis at 12:59 PM on August 11, 2010 [4 favorites]

Wow, this could have been me....with the twist that I'm the ex-husband.

It's your now get to do with it what you want. Don't worry about your ex. Drop the anger and resentment, as hard as that can be. You will not move forward if you carry this around with you. Make the decision to concentrate on YOU, not him. By not taking care of yourself, you are allowing him to steal more of your life. Why?
posted by rtodd at 1:14 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not to be trite, but keep in mind that you're only seeing his life from the outside -- the image he's projecting, probably consciously at least in part, as opposed to the complete picture of what's going on. I don't doubt there are certain things that are easier for him right now, particularly financially, and I won't insult you by trying to convince you otherwise. But he lost his wife and irrevocably changed his relationship with his children. His behavior sounds like classic post-divorce dad: trying to buy their regard and assuage his own guilt with presents and trips. Although I doubt he'd ever admit as much, particularly to you, I'll bet deep down he feels like just as much of a mess as you do, if not more.

And I'm not just saying that to soothe your hurt feelings, I'm completely serious, based on my own experiences as the child of divorced parents with some similar circumstances. It's easy to take the lives of others at face value, but there's almost certainly more going on with him that you're simply not privy to.

That aside -- of course you're angry. But try to remember -- this man isn't worth the energy of your anger. He isn't worth that time in your thoughts. And being angry at him can't change anything that happened. Try to concentrate on the good things that came out of your time with him -- like your children -- and resist the urge to regret.

The best way to spite him is to put him out of your mind as best you can.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:14 PM on August 11, 2010

Wow, you need a lot of hugs and other kinds of physical affection lavished upon you. I can't offer much beyond recommending online dating, which has actually worked out ok for me. I admit, a girl needs to have good creep-radar to weed out the total losers. It can be fun though, if only to have a reason to get dressed up, go out and feel pretty again.

Why are you going to pay for the kids' college on your own, why can't he pay for it? To be honest, it might be wonderful when parents can pay for their kids' college, but that's a rare thing. I know far more people who moved out of home, got loans, and went of their own accord. Give your kids some support like paying for textbooks or a monthly allowance, but I don't know about footing the whole bill if you can't afford it. If that bit of extra money back in your pocket will make you far less stressed, then make the tough decision and don't give them tuition money. You won't be the first or the last.

I dunno about keying his Prius, that's expensive vandalism. I prefer letting the air out of (all) his tires - an inconvenience to get them re-inflated if he has access to an air compressor, but nothing damaged. A friend of mine also let me know that you can take the valves right out of the valve stems on his tires - the little piece inside actually unscrews I'm told, but you need a special tool which I won't elaborate on here. Anyway, it's a few dollars' worth of stuff to replace, so instead of expensive vandalism you are guilty of petty theft. I haven't sunk to that yet. The knowledge I can do it is something I savor though, and cheers me up to no end. I only tell you this to make you laugh, don't resort to petty revenge like this. Aspire to live well and make your life something he envies, that's the best revenge they say.
posted by lizbunny at 1:16 PM on August 11, 2010

This is not uncommon. I know a woman whose ex-husband did exactly the same thing: turned around after the split and started acting much more like she wished he'd been when they were together, except now he was doing it with his new wife, and treating her kids the way she wished he'd treated theirs. It sucks, but there's nothing you can do about it, so let go your anger as best you can and make your life without him as good as it can be. And yeah, don't call yourself "shallow"; "human" would be a better description. I wish you the best of luck. Divorce sucks no matter what the circumstances.
posted by languagehat at 1:20 PM on August 11, 2010

Your marriage of 20 years failed not because you weren't doing "all the right things" but because he wasn't receptive to your effort.

So basically it seems in so many ways to me like he's living the life I always wanted to have with him and I keep wondering why I wasn't good enough for him to have that life with me.
Perhaps you could ask him about this..It may be a lost cause but for your relief and sanity it could really benefit you to get an explanation from him. It sounds like a big part of your anger is because you have no closure why it didn't work.

Realize that the sooner you can accept the circumstances of your disappointments and resentment with him then you allow space for yourself to move on as well. That includes moving on from that 1 man that crushed you to the potential thousands of others that can help mend you.
posted by xbeautychicx at 1:24 PM on August 11, 2010

Your anger and resentment is eating you up. He doesn't feel it. The best way to help yourself is to stop dwelling in the anger. Let it go. It doesn't matter if it's unjust, it's killing you and preventing you from having the life you want. If you want a life apart from him and your history. Some people don't want to let it go and will rework the rage whenever they suffer a disappointment. Let it go. Stop caring. Refuse to even think about it. Letting go will relieve the suffering. It's a zen thing.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 1:28 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think your anger and resentment are eating you up because you're not allowing yourself to HAVE IT. I'm not saying sit around and stew forever, but what's the worst that can happen if you let yourself BE ANGRY for five minutes?

I would NOT go to the ex for an explanation about anything. I could not imagine anything worse in your situation for him to spew a whole load of bullshit about what you allegedly did or didn't do. Don't go there. He won't tell you the truth. It will hurt you more, IMHO.

BE ANGRY. You're allowed to be angry! Women try to stuff it down, hide it in a cupboard, instead of just FEELING THE EMOTION and then letting it go. I spent years trying to forgive an abusive ex until my therapist asked me what, exactly, was wrong with being angry. Felt the anger, processed it, let it go. Even with a more recent ex, who was doing what you describe - being everything to the woman he is now dating that he would never do with me - i pretended I didn't care until the day came that I just GOT ANGRY and wrote about 20 pages of crap about how bad I felt and suddenly it was gone and I didn't care.

Feel it, own it, it's yours, you're entitled to it. Then let it go. If it comes back, which it will - you don't get rid of that much anger overnight - do the same thing. The anger is just an emotion and you are entitled to your emotions. You're entitled to feel what you feel. But if you let yourself feel it, journal it, go for a drive and listen to loud music while you shout at no one - it can't own you any more.
posted by micawber at 1:34 PM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]

I would NOT go to the ex for an explanation about anything.

Nor would I! Do not do this! There is no reason to give an abusive person another chance to abuse you.

Also, though I don't disagree with micawber that there is nothing wrong with feeling angry, I will tell you a small personal story. I have a step parent who really did some awful, hurtful things to me and others I love, including destroying a lot of irreplaceable films and photos from my parent's marriage, as well as every personal item in my childhood bedroom. The destruction made me, as you might imagine, very angry. But I don't want to stay focused on it, because what good does it do me? My solution is that I don't see that step parent any more, I don't keep track of that person's doings, and instead of thinking about what was obliterated, I focus on what I have and my current life. It's healing to let go of it, once you've experienced your anger.
posted by bearwife at 1:48 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Allowing yourself to be pissed off for 5 minutes a day is only going to hurt in long run. It's not as if you can say "well I'm going to be angry for 5 minutes then I'll feel better". Doesn't really work like that. You can be pissed if you want, but you've had 5 years of being pissed off and you're still not over him or the relationship.
You probably need some closure so you can nod your head and move on. How does it benefit you to focus on how happy and jubilant he seems, and how miserable and lonely you are? Not at all. Wrap you head around how you should not feel envious of his happiness and start building towards your own.
posted by xbeautychicx at 1:49 PM on August 11, 2010

It sounds like a big reason you've needed to pay attention to what he was doing was that it impacted your children, but your kids are reaching an age where, while it may still be important for them to be involved with him, there is no reason you need to be involved.

I agree with the others here who've suggested that you put this guy out of mind and get on with making your own life more awesome. His successes and failures shouldn't have any impact on you anymore, so don't let them.

Carve yourself a piece of happiness that has nothing to do with him at all. Before too long, you'll realize that you haven't thought about him in days, then weeks, then months...
posted by quin at 1:59 PM on August 11, 2010

Being an ex-husband probably doesn't lend much credence to what i'm going to say. But, if he's doing stuff now he wouldn't do before, it's probably because when he was married he didn't feel like he could do it. Just about every marriage that fails, fails because of both parties. I would suspect that once you accept any responsibility for the failure of the marriage you will also begin to accept responsibility for your own happines.
posted by swmobill at 2:09 PM on August 11, 2010

Whatever you do, do NOT get stuck on thinking about his life. Forget about his life altogether, forget about it now, forget about how it used to be with you...

It is far too common for the wife after a divorce to be hit harder, and left with less. And I personally know cases where this leads to a divorced woman still resenting her ex years later, still asking the kids what he's up to, or shaking her head at how easy he's got it. Even when it's completely true, it's more heartbreaking to see someone missing opportunities because their focus is in the wrong direction.

You have to think of this as your freedom, your new life, your chance to meet someone, get promoted, start a new leg of your career, write that book or start that business, whatever. It's all about you and what you're going to do with (the rest of) your life.

Just let it go.
posted by mdn at 2:13 PM on August 11, 2010

My ex started doing all the stuff I needed/wanted him to within two years of my leaving him.

I was pissed off about it for a loooooooooong time, but I've come to realize that he does those things now because he has to. He didn't have to do anything when I was there, because I did it.

It's okay to be angry, and it will pass. You need to focus on YOU and ignore the asshole. Srsly.
posted by goblinbox at 3:05 PM on August 11, 2010

If you want to see an immediate change in your attitude/repetitive thought process, download and fill out the "Judge Your Neighbor" worksheet from the link in the bottom right corner of this page

Then, after you fill it up (make sure you don't hold back, let it rip!), call a volunteer facilitator here and have them walk you through the process.

To find a volunteer facilitator, go to the bottom of this page and click on the button to see a list of available volunteers.

The process takes about one hour.

Good luck.
posted by andreinla at 3:10 PM on August 11, 2010 [6 favorites]

I had an odd (and kooky, I admit) thought - how about you burn an effigy of him and have a little ceremony to extirpate and sublimate or otherwise let go of the anger? No so that you aren't "allowed" to be angry after that point or anything like that, but as a psychologically symbolic turning point in your post-divorce life, maybe something calming so that you can close your eyes and think back on it whenever you feel yourself starting to get angry or sad.
posted by XMLicious at 3:26 PM on August 11, 2010

I am sorry you are going through this.

"The best revenge is to live well."

Repeat this to yourself as many times as needed. Live well, as best as you can with how things are, with what you have and with how you are feeling. This means giving yourself permission to feel however you feel and taking care of your needs and happiness, even when you have other family responsibilities. Heck, schedule time to feel bitter if you like!

This will do two things-
1. You will eventually enjoy the activities you start incorporating in your life. (It could be a hobby you didn't get to do earlier or just preparing a nice meal or tending plants- whatever brings you joy)
2. You will eventually get distracted and before you know it, this will be behind you.

Remember, you will get over this.
posted by xm at 3:59 PM on August 11, 2010

Wow that sucks. What an asshole. Let yourself be mad - it's completely warranted. The silver lining is that he might finally become a good role model to your kids, and it's never too late for that. Also, you get to take credit for it. He's only able to get his shit together now because you set the example and taught him. You made him a better person, and ultimately I truly believe you'll be rewarded for that.
posted by infinityjinx at 4:52 PM on August 11, 2010

Your feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment are completely justified. You must know this. When those emotions come calling like so many door-to-door missionaries, it would be unreasonable to slam the door on them. Engage them carefully and politely. Know that they will offer you easy -- and false -- comfort. Be aware that whatever you say, they will be stopping by again. Don't, however, invite them in for coffee. They're lousy guests, and never know when to leave.

When anger crystallizes into resentment, you become your own abuser. Another truism, also true: resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets sick. As Bodhidharma said somewhere: fuck that noise.

How to work through the anger? Tai chi, meditation, banging the UPS guy? Pick something and get busy in a way that you find satisfying. Find delight, and let the anger pass like an endless humid summer. Let your kids see you working it out for yourself -- ok, maybe except the UPS guy thing -- and let them learn from that.

Ultimately, even with all the worries and cares of family and money and self-regard, you are free. Love that.
posted by Kinbote at 7:14 PM on August 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't fight that battle continuously. Let him go completely. Focus on taking care of yourself.
posted by kuatto at 8:11 PM on August 11, 2010

You are not alone: husbands often do better financially after divorce, and wives sink: it's a phenomenon. Unfair, but there it is.

Your experience of living with and bringing up children far outweighs his gift-giving, both in terms of satisfaction to you and in terms of the feelings your children will have towards the both of you: don't sweat it, just accept graciously the contribution he makes and maybe try to get a little more, e.g. college tuition.

If your children are leaving home, you are going to need to build yourself an alternative social life anyway, so I'd start that immediately.

The failure of your marriage: you now have to get over that, including the feelings of guilt and inadequacy, and the constant attention to the doings of your ex. Without wishing to seem rude or crude, one of the best ways to put distance between yourself and someone is to have sex with a third person; relationship not needed.

"key his fucking Prius" is such a great phrase, but not such a great idea.
posted by londongeezer at 5:31 AM on August 12, 2010

Maybe you should re-frame the situation and look at it from the kids perspective. When they get their own kids their perspective will also change. For instance someone who looks after their child for the evening will be more appreciated than someone who comes up with the latest expensive toy. Memories from their own upbringing will be more useful than gifts. Material things do tend to get boring after a while and why does he feel he needs to bribe his kids? You can't buy love with cars, ice skating lessons and holidays. Even worse it can end up in your face as kids turn to you with their debts because they thought you are a cash machine with unlimited printing powers.
posted by Mrs Mutant at 8:24 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Aw, I totally hear where you are coming from, and I'm sure knowing how common this financial outcome is for women probably is cold comfort (but true, sadly).

One thing that helped me a lot after breaking up with a (probably less) verbally abusive person was to see the breakup as evidence of my own strength and growth. It was part of my new identity, to be Someone Who Doesn't Put Up With That, and Someone Who Freed Herself and Escaped From A Bad Situation.

You're seeing his life from the outside, but inside, he may be the same person. He may have grown, who knows. But you're only seeing the tip of the iceberg, and actually, image-management and protecting one's status are usually skills that someone who abuses others has.

I don't know what to say exactly, because it sounds like you "know" all the things I'd say. I am 100 percent sure his doing those things now are no reflection on you. After so many years, maybe you are so used to having the goal of making him do XYZ. Him doing it on his own just rubs in that he won't listen to your wishes, maybe? Well, that disregard is part of why you left.

It feels to me like what he's doing still hurts to you, and that's totally natural. One thing that helps me sometimes is to remind myself about a person "you never have to talk to them again." After repeating it about fourteen times, I start to feel protected, less angry, and better able to take advantage of my current surroundings. Hope any of this helps, however slightly. Good for you for separating from this relationship.
posted by salvia at 9:06 AM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hey! This might be "outside the box" to suggest... but what the heck...

I've lived with "righteous anger" issues thanks to my not so superlative upbringing. It was so draining to live in my own skin sometimes.

I had always wanted to try Hypnotherapy, and finally did last year.

Hypnotherapy was awesome for me. I learned great tools for processing the past and refocusing myself in a positive manner in the moment, especially whenever I feel myself going "negative."

It doesn't work, however, if you waste heap$ on a quack. I saw someone for about 10 sessions over 2 months, cost per session was actually cheaper than some traditional therapists I had seen in the past.

It took a while for me to identify the right hypnotherapist.

Memail if you want some idea how you might go about finding someone who could be a good fit for you, if feel this route might help.

I can't say enough good things about how this helped me beyond all the work I did in traditional therapy, FWIW:)
posted by jbenben at 2:24 PM on August 12, 2010

Your marriage of 20 years failed not because you weren't doing "all the right things" but because he wasn't receptive to your effort.

This is 100% incorrect. Your marriage failed because your husband abused you and was therefore an unsuitable spouse. Period. End of story. You owed him no effort to "fix" the relationship. You owed him no responsibility to make that relationship work. You owe him NOTHING.

but in my heart, I feel like I failed and like all it took for him to be happy was for me to be out of his life, even though I'm the one who left him because he was so verbally abusive and even though every time I left him, he always begged me to come back.

This makes me want to give you an enormous hug and cry along with you. You sound like a strong, amazing person who made a correct decision that took a great deal of courage and strength to make.

You didn't reject him, he rejected you every time he hurled abuse at you. It hurts to have someone reject you. It hurts to have someone make you feel worthless. You are entitled to not only celebrate being free from an abusive relationship, but to mourn and grieve the loss of love you gave that went reciprocated in kind. Don't deny yourself the opportunity to work through all of the phases of grief, particularly anger, because you need to confront those emotions head on to be able to come out positively on the other side. You've taken a major step by cutting an abusive asshole out of your life; those scars will take a long time to heal, but they WILL HEAL. There is no time frame or deadline for healing. The best thing you can to is recognize it, acknowledge it, thank it for being there because it demonstrates that you are a caring and vulnerable human being, and don't judge your pain or attack it. Let it be, and it will vanish when the time is right, and not a minute sooner or later.

For now, focus on what YOU need. Focus on the relationship that YOU can offer your children that your abusive husband cannot, because I'll wager that that the love you can offer them is way more valuable to them in the long run than anything your former abuser can offer.
posted by Dr. Zira at 2:41 PM on August 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was raised mostly by my mom. My dad has been much less involved in my life than I would prefer. (Ack, I love him, he is wonderful). He also has been more wealthy than my mom and likes to give me money and expensive gifts. When I was a child, I deeply resented these gifts. I would think to myself, "you can't buy being my dad, this cash is bullshit."

Your kids are smart, and they know the difference between a lifetime of involvement and a few neat toys. As they get older, their appreciation of you will grow and grow.
posted by prefpara at 8:32 PM on August 12, 2010

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