How do I ensure recovery and healing while continuing to work with STBX?
September 30, 2016 1:17 AM   Subscribe

I continue to work with my soon-to-be-ex husband and I'm having trouble coping with several aspects of this situation. One of the major issues (for me) comes from the fact that I was attempting reconciliation for the longest (while he's always felt otherwise). Would really appreciate suggestions in this regard (particularly from those who've been in similar situations). Details [long read!] inside.

I met my STBX husband about 7 years ago. We had joined the same lab as researchers. I was in my early 20's and he in his 30's (we have an age difference of about 10 years) at that time.

Within a year of knowing each other we had become really good friends. I thought he was funny, rational, kind and exceptionally brilliant. I harbored a minor crush on him for the longest. He asked me out at some point and I was overjoyed! Within a couple of months of dating, I realized that it was turning into a one sided equation. I believe it was the small things like him never initiating any plans or not being excited to spend time together. When I asked him about it, he said that while he liked me as a friend and as a person, physically I wasn't the type he was naturally attracted to. He also compared his feelings for me with a benchmark (a girl he liked in school!) and often stated he didn't feel the same rush of feelings for me as he did for her.

We broke up after this but I initiated patch up after a month or so (I think that move came from me being young, perhaps from needing a sense of validation from him and because I was smitten (and in love?) with him). I proposed we take it slow and see if something deeper develops, since we seemed compatible in so many other ways. He agreed (albeit reluctantly). All this within the first 6 months of dating.

I come from a place where it's very common for parents to choose a potential spouse for you (arranged marriages). His parents, at that time, were pushing him to get married (mid-30's is considered fairly late). He happened to mention to them that he was seeing me. His mother suggested we get married within the next 8 months (before he turned 35). Following which, some of the most poorly thought out decisions were made. Instead of waiting and getting to know each other better, we somehow agreed to it (I was foolishly in love, his mother thought it was the right age and he is the kind that will never say no to his mother's judgement). So there we were - 9 months into dating and married.

And thus started the journey that would be one of the most emotionally draining for us both. The equation of our relationship didn't change much. I was all out into him and he was at best indifferent. He wasn't rude or abusive or had any obvious deal breakers (drugs, drinking, etc) but he was at some level always emotionally distant. Another major issue was his parents who were excessively involved in our lives and were staying with us constantly. He felt that his parents had all the right to do that and they could come and visit and stay as and when they liked and for however long. I was never involved in any decision making. I essentially felt like an outsider in the family. At this point I also developed a chronic skin condition (and in retrospect what I would identify as mild depression). There was no support from him or his family during this period. I started to turn into this angry and bitter person and we were constantly fighting.

About 3.5 years of this, I suggested we take a break and separate to try and work on our issues. He was more than willing for us separating and perhaps for the first time seemed overtly eager to help (me shift). A month into that he told me that we should divorce because he didn't love me (and hadn't for a while). He also said we had very different personalities and expectations from a marriage and we were simply incompatible. I attempted reconciliation and proposed therapy and marriage counseling for close to 8 months after that! He stood his ground and wanted the marriage dissolved.

There were a few things I had trouble coping with -
1. How easy it was for him to give up and not work at saving our marriage
2. How quickly he moved on (seemingly).
3. How none of his family come forward to help or try to mediate things (considering how involved they've been in the past) even though they stay some 20 minutes away from where I am now!
4. I was angry at myself for wanting to be with in, even after all that he'd said and done!

Nevertheless, I accepted the situation for what it was - I tried what I could but I can't do anything if he doesn't love me and wants out.

I entered into No Contact about 6 months ago but it's been a challenge since we work together in the same lab (we need to work together for at least another year, that's when my contract ends and I can seek another job). Some of the things that continue to hamper my progress are-

1. I see him so happy and relieved and doing things he never did with me and it pains me to know that (even now after 1.5 years into separation!) It bothers me that it's been such a crappy time for me while it doesn't seem to affect him at all!
2. I've also lost a friend - someone I would have lunch with, share inside office jokes with. We were a team. None of that happens now . He has made no attempt to talk or even reconnect as friends (perhaps for the best) but it still hurts. It feels so weird to transition from a state where we were friends and married to this place of no communication, indifference and formal acquaintance! It feels strange to know that other people know him more intimately now that I do.
3. I can see him make his classic moves on another colleague. I can sense from his body language and mannerisms that he's interested and wouldn't be surprised if he started dating her soon. He is free to do that since a divorce is inevitable but it sometimes gets me into that wretched line of thought - why her and not me?

I wish I could be some place else where I don't have to see him or know about him and start afresh. But I can't for another year. This situation has started to affect my work and I've become even more withdrawn (I'm naturally a slightly introverted person). I avoid going the lab when I can. I avoid making eye contact with him. I feel so awkward all the time. I so don't want to be affected by his presence but I am. I don't want to be bitter that he's getting what he wants but I am. I can rationalize that he's not the one for me and I wouldn't want to be part of a family that's so self-centered and uncaring but this realization doesn't seem to overpower anything else!!

I realize I have several of my own issues to work on and I have been these past 6 months. I've started to focus on my health. I meditate. I've reconnected with long lost hobbies. I'm working on my anger issues in the marriage. I'm accepting the mistakes I made and I'm learning from them. I'm attempting to learn the fine art of letting go :)

It's still such a struggle though.

I would really appreciate inputs from you all on how I could address some of the challenges I'm facing here.

Thank you!!
posted by satipatthana to Human Relations (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What happens if you break the contract? Is it worse than putting yourself through this? Have you asked the company if they will release you given the situation?

Is there another department or location the company might be willing to transfer you to?

Is there any chance he would be willing to leave?

Assuming that none of those things are options, I suggest finding a mantra that speaks to you that you can repeat to yourself whenever you see him or think about him. Word it in a memorable way, but some themes you could go with are that his behavior doesn't say anything about your worth, that you're awesome and will have a great life without him, that you're professional and can get through this time, etc. This can serve the dual purpose of affirming yourself and distracting you from less productive rumination.
posted by metasarah at 4:00 AM on September 30, 2016 [8 favorites]

The thing that helped me heal the most was focusing on my hurt at being rejected. The end of my marriage was awful and my ex did a lot of things that were vindictive, but once I dealt with my anger towards him, I realized I was left with a lot of anger towards myself. I started practicing loving kindness meditation, and I also took a long hard look at my own role in accepting crumbs from someone who didn't really love me.

It's a hard journey, but if you make it through, you can build a better life for yourself. You won't feel the pain and anger after a time.
posted by A hidden well at 5:01 AM on September 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Contracts are made to be broken and your thinking it can't be is going to destroy you.

Break the contract.

Do you have a lawyer? A therapist? What are the divorce laws like in the jurisdiction you are in? You need to escape and surely you can get money and support to do this? So much is left out of your description. You must know what options you have? Or maybe you can seek out support to help you figure out your options and help you with a plan?

Regarding your feelings, I'm so very sorry. This experience contains many harsh, difficult, yet vital life lessons. I'm gently pointing out to you that if you persist in avoiding these lessons, the pain and depression will continue or get worse. These lessons will come up again and again in your life until you learn them. Therapy, blogs, podcasts, and books in the self-help category abound, many dealing with divorce or the end of relationships - avail yourself of these resources, embrace them like they are your new religion or something. Work on yourself, you can get past all of this!

And go for daily walks or the gym daily while listening to podcasts or audiobooks. Nothing strenuous, just adopt this new habit. I know it sounds simple, but sticking to this will be key for you. Please do this if you do nothing else I suggest here. Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 5:50 AM on September 30, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm going to infer from what you've written that there was a level of magical thinking going here: "If I just love him enough, he'll love me back. If we just get married, he'll love me because I am his wife."

People can't control their feelings. They can control their actions, but there was no point at which your ex could make himself feel for you something he did not. You can be angry and blame him for his actions, but blaming him for not loving you is blaming him for something neither he nor you could control.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:05 AM on September 30, 2016 [14 favorites]

Please be gentle with yourself about your decision to marry this man. It was a mistake to try and force a relationship with someone who does not love you, as you clearly know, but it's an incredibly common mistake that many, or most, people have also made at one point or another. Finger-wagging lectures from outsiders or berating yourself internally serve no purpose at this point, when it's clear you realize the error of your ways* and are looking for suggestions for how to move on to healthier and more mutually fulfilling relationships.

You are doing great, you are doing all the right things: meditation and hobbies will be very helpful to you as you move forward. The most important thing for you to do right now is to find a new job. If I were in your situation, I would put every tiny bit of effort into this task so I could get out of that environment and never see him ever again. Is there someone in your workplace who will advocate for you? It seems like an empathetic person who knows the situation will completely understand why you need to leave your position earlier than expected and such a person will hopefully act as a reference for you when you need one.

*Your STBX bears as much responsibility for how this all played out as you do, so don't mentally let him off the hook by thinking you're the only one who screwed up here. He presumably knew all along that you were in love him and that he was NOT in love with you and yet he chose to go ahead and marry you anyway because it was a convenient thing for him to do that the time. That's a really shitty thing to do to someone and there is no need to pretend otherwise.
posted by scantee at 7:06 AM on September 30, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this.

This may seem counterintuitive, but can you take steps to finalize the divorce? As painful as it is, I'm afraid you stand to feel rejection yet again if you don't make the decision to move forward in a formal way.

In terms of learning "the fine art of letting go" (good for you!) officially ending the marriage could be a way of demonstrating to yourself that you are capable and strong, even in the face of your grief.

And yes, do try to move to another department or another job, because your emotional wellbeing is worth it. Does some part of you feel that you "should" be able to get comfortable working alongside him? On the contrary, establishing distance would be a sign of strength on your part.
posted by whoiam at 7:26 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that the same line of thinking in which you both believed you "had" to get married is what is keeping you both working in the same lab? You will be so much happier if you don't have to see or be around him. I wish I could help you tease out a solution to getting out of your job. Unless you love your job, in which case maybe HE could leave? Would he consider that?
posted by pazazygeek at 8:32 AM on September 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Well. I broke up with a partner after 7 years, while running a business together that paid our bills, so I (we) had to deal.

First, I decided that my partner not wanting to stay in our relationship was the ultimate dealbreaker and it was OVER OVER OVER FOREVER. There was no trying to get back together, I was not dragging it out, we were done.

Then it was really hard for a couple years, and I tried to set boundaries, and failed sometimes, and sometimes broke down screaming and crying.

Now 5 or 6 years on, having been in some other relationships myself, and just letting time pass, we're legitimately friends again and I couldn't imagine life without them and basically consider them my sibling. People ask me how we did it and think it's pretty amazing and I honestly wouldn't recommend it for anyone, it was just what happened. I think we got lucky and also just lived through the awful parts and grew into people that are still there for each other.

You're worth being with someone who WANTS you. He's not that. If you have the option of another job, try to change jobs. There's no reason to go through this if you don't have to.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 10:14 AM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

I felt like this once about a guy. We tried dating but ultimately it didn't work out. We were practically best friends, and we'd often talk about anything and everything for hours-- and it was always like this when we were together. Easy. Natural. When I pointed out this doesn't happen with just anyone, he shrugged and said that his sparkling personality is what did it (really) and he had that level of camaraderie with everyone, it wasn't anything special with me. I don't think this entirely true, but the fact is it doesn't really matter-- for whatever reason I wasn't his type (I suspect a lot of it was attraction) and thus all the things we had in common and all the potential we had would never, ever be enough. Deep down I knew this, but I clung to this idea anyway; and it was an idea more than reality.

The reason I remained stuck, and I suspect part of the reason you do too-- was incredibly poor self esteem. I kept elevating him, not just consciously, but also subconsciously and it oozed from me in every interaction and action. I also remained stuck because he knew it, and he also encouraged it somewhat (probably not intentionally), because me chasing him was a huge ego stroke for him. When he met someone he decided he actually 'clicked' with instead, it was funny to me, because everything he purported to annoy him in someone, he'd forgive in her, and all the things he lauded in me suddenly meant nothing to him. I also thought, 'why not me?' but again, its not really a rational thing; you can't really logic someone into being right for you and vice versa, in fact, needing to do so is kinda proof of the exact opposite.

But it was tough to let go, because in chasing him I'd become comfortable with the thought he was this huge catch and I was not and that no one compared and no one would fill the gap. I can tell you now that this was so wrong.

So what helped me was two things-- firstly working on my self esteem and trying to find validation in myself, not in him. And secondly, was actually forcing myself to go out and date again, to meet new people-- to force myself to actually look at another man as a romantic prospect, even if every part of me didn't want to move on and felt kinda weird about it. The thought of online dating made me wanna puke, and yet I went on a date anyway. It doesn't mean entering a relationship necessarily-- I made it known I wasn't looking for anything serious and this helped. But even hanging out with friends helped me immensely-- even being in social, flirty situations that don't really progress made things easier for me. One night, soon after the guy began dating someone else, I met a waiter at one of my local restaurants. We'd met before, and kind of interacted before, but I hadn't really noticed him or encouraged his attention until that night. He invited me for drinks after his shift-- and we sat watching the ocean and had this long conversation into the wee hours. I'll never forget being stared at kind of adoringly by this guy I'd only just met, and I was shocked. I couldn't recall one instance where the guy I'd liked had ever talked or looked at me with that much enthusiasm and wanting. It felt so wonderful, and I literally remember thinking, 'oh this is how someone who really likes you is supposed to treat you.' It sounds cliche, but it was true for me. It was a huge wake up call for me, a reminder that there were other romantic prospects out there, that I'd have the same camaraderie with, but that really wanted me, and wouldn't treat me like a dish they are being forced to eat. And yes, it was a little boost for my self esteem too. And once I started to feel better, my confidence grew, I took better care of myself, got more attention etc, it basically snowballed from there.

I'm sorry for rambling but essentially what I'm saying is that if you absolutely cannot quit your position and are forced to endure watching the guy you like interact with the woman he likes (I was exactly in this position) the only thing that helped me endure was getting out there, getting busy, getting interested in other, more suited people, and reminding myself how great I am, and how he wasn't anything special. It still stung and was difficult, but I wasn't going to let people around him or him know this. I put my best foot forward and grinned and bore it until suddenly it didn't hurt so bad. In a way it helped, because in seeing them interact, I also witnessed the ways they were ill-suited, and the ways he was making the same mistakes he'd made with me. This was kinda comforting to me. I also kept reminding myself it was only temporary-- I only had to endure for a while, and then I never had to see him or her ever again.

I hope this helps somewhat. Good luck. And be kind to yourself.
posted by Dimes at 11:06 AM on September 30, 2016 [6 favorites]

I realize I have several of my own issues to work on and I have been these past 6 months. I've started to focus on my health. I meditate. I've reconnected with long lost hobbies. I'm working on my anger issues in the marriage. I'm accepting the mistakes I made and I'm learning from them. I'm attempting to learn the fine art of letting go :)

By the end of that process you've just begun, in which you will get to understand yourself a whole lot better, you'll know exactly why her and not you. I promise you, in a couple of years at the most you will understand this pretty well. You might even be glad you had to go through this.

I think different ways of coping work differently for people with different personality types. The key is shifting the center of your attention towards something or somebody (=you) else. Away from your ex. Basically, what you need is:
1) New life experiences. The proverbial window that opens when other doors close.
2) Better self-care. If you focus on what is good for you, as opposed to what is necessary to stay in that relationship, your health will improve because you will start putting it first.
posted by ipsative at 2:12 PM on September 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is really hard. I'm sorry you're going through this! It's so difficult.

When I ended my years-long live-in relationship, my ex started dating a mutual acquaintance a few weeks later. So, while I'd expected to be able to process the end of the relationship and get over my shock and start healing with some distance from him, I was instead all of sudden exposed to his every move with his new girlfriend, who was beyond thrilled to be dating him. I felt instantly replaced and pushed out of a circle of mutual friends. It was a very hard time. Speaking from the other side, the thing that will help most is time, but I know it's not fun getting there. A couple things that helped me in the meantime:

- Even on the hardest days, I drew some comfort from "seeming" okay. This doesn't mean you have to BE okay; but acting strong even when I didn't feel that way helped me visualize a time when I might feel better.
- Do you have friends who are just your friends, or at least more your friends than his? Spending time with people like this can help to really shore up your sense of yourself as an individual rather than half of a partnership, and they are often better support than someone whose loyalties are split.

I agree with everyone who says the best bet would be to get out of your working environment, but I know it may not be as easy as that. It sounds like you're maybe a student or a postdoc in a specific lab he also works in? That's a tough spot to be in, and I know it's not easy to move. Is the nature of your work or your institution such that you could start spending some time in a different lab, either for access to certain tools or potential collaborators or something like that? I totally understand why you wouldn't want to throw away your progress just to get away from this guy, but if you can engineer the trajectory of your work such that you're in a different space some of the time, I think it would help you start to carve out some post-marriage space.
posted by superfluousm at 9:55 AM on October 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

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