Dear Carolyn: I’ve recently (two months ago) finalized a divorce with my partner of 14-plus years. It was mostly amicable, with the intent to remain friends, since we share custody of two sons and continue to work in the same company.
Despite the fact that the divorce was amicable and mutual, every day I still feel anguish and grief about what has been lost. I am seeing a counselor trying to work through those feelings. My ex however, seems happy enjoying the freedom of being single, dating rather prodigiously and jumping into physical relationships.
I do genuinely want her to be happy, but I am finding the speed at which she has moved on is hurtful and honestly makes me resentful. I feel at this point it is too painful for me to be friends with her, as we had agreed before, but is that bad of me? If I am honest with myself, I think we could be friends if she were feeling at least some of the misery I have been going through every day.
Managing Life After Divorce
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She’s on her journey, and you’re on yours.
You don’t know what hers involves any more than she knows of yours — as you chose, mutually, with the divorce. You don’t know which of her choices are and aren’t about you. You know only what you see, not what she feels, and “seems happy” is not grounds to reverse your course.
I realize how bloodless this sounds; I don’t mean it to. Divorce is many kinds of agony. Amicable ones come with the surprising challenge of having no villain to blame.
That sense you’ve been left behind is a terrible, hollow feeling.
It’s just so important not to act on it. Re-casting your ex as the bad guy — or just silently backing out of your plans to be friends — will be so tempting. It would bring welcome clarity to your pain, I’m sure, and a boost of righteousness, since you can see yourself as the one honoring what you and she once had. But it will ultimately cost you to take these steps, because seeing your ex as anything but a fellow human doing her best will replace the compassion of your choices with adversity. Please, please, don’t.
Again — you don’t know where her heart and mind are, so don’t dwell on it long enough to guess.
Yours, of course, may no longer be with her in even a friendly way, and I can understand that — and if still liking her were the only reason you agreed to remain friends (that, and possibly overestimating your resilience), then it might seem as if the friendship idea is moot. But even if the original reason has crumbled, you can replace it with a new reason — a gift you’re giving your kids, for example — and stick to the original plan.
When you do hit that “too painful” threshold, sure, take a discreet step back — but also remember you have emotional tools your boys haven’t yet developed, even if it’s just, “Drive self to therapy.” Use that. Choose to be stronger than you thought you could be.
Remember, too, how easy it is to regard your pain now as How Things Shall Eternally Be. You will heal — presumably, as will she.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.