One of the most emotionally draining and exhausting issues divorced women bring to me is:
"How can I stop hating my ex-husband?"
"Why am I still angry at my ex years later?"
Sometimes it helps to look at the reasons why it's difficult to let go of hate and anger before figuring out how to get free of those emotions.
Let's look at a few of the most common reasons that it feels so difficult to stop wasting your precious energy and emotions on hating your ex:
It's Easier to Focus on Him. Hating your ex keeps you from focusing on yourself, and focusing on yourself can be scary. But continuing to feed the flames of hate, just keeps you in limbo (and in pain). It doesn't hurt him. In fact it gives him an excuse to completely discount your feelings and belittle you, if you are still in contact. You invite the "crazy woman" rep.
It's Not Fair. You just feel so hurt. And the things he did were (and are) so unfair. Letting him off the hook by forgetting him is an affront to your sense of justice and all that is holy and right. But, are you hurting him, really? Are you getting through to him, really? If he didn't care enough during your marriage, he certainly doesn't care now. And, by staying in this place, you cast yourself as the victim, putting on the back burner the day when you'll be the victor over this. If you've been waiting years for the sincere apology that never comes, this one's for you.
Self-Protection. By continuing to be angry at him, you're hoping to protect yourself from being hurt or made a fool of ever again. Deep down, you're reinforcing, within yourself, that you will not be fooled again -- by your ex or by anyone else. You're drawing a line in the sand and telling yourself, and the world, that you're done with being disrespected. But, can hating him really protect you from anything? And, do you need hate and anger in order to protect yourself? There must be a better way.
Keeping the Connection Alive. You're staying connected to him (through pain, hurt, and anger) until another man comes to take his place. If you choose to let go of these strong and powerful negative feelings, you're admitting to yourself that your marriage is over and that you're now on your own. In many cases, it's not that you still want to be attached to him (in fact, most women would vehemently deny this). It's that being all on your own is simply so terrifying -- even years later -- so you keep dancing the tango with these deeply hurtful emotions that, nevertheless, keep you connected to him. But here's the rub: The hate and anger toward your ex make it impossible to get closer to a loving partnership with someone new.
So, let's figure out a few ways to stop the madness.
Please note that none of the following strategies are about forgiving him. We're just talking about getting to neutral on the anger and hate continuum. We're talking about getting to a place where whatever he did or is doing just doesn't matter to you that much -- because you're busy with your own life and more in love with what you're doing than you are with hating him.
What to do when you're angry because . . .
1. You can't stop rethinking the story: Decide what it is that you think happened in your marriage, stick with that story, and keep reminding yourself that you are now letting it go.
If, deep down, you know that your marriage was dead in the water for years, hold onto that knowledge and let it give you the strength to move forward, not backward.
Do you feel that if you just keep rehashing it, over and over, an important new revelation will come to light? These types of things reveal themselves, naturally, in their own time over the years. The best way to have these epiphanies happen is to forget about it, let it go, and allow the answers to come to you on their own. The longer you live, the smarter you get.
2. You realize it was all a horrible mistake: Sometimes, a marriage is just an awful mistake. Sometimes, there is no deep, dark reason that he did what he did. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with you. Sometimes, it's really impossible to have anticipated that he was a pathological liar, a cheat, or whatever.
Sometimes, a guy is able to hide any red flags so well that you just can't see them. Now you feel like a naive, silly fool. You were manipulated by a professional player, master manipulater, or narcissist. How could you have let this happen?
Decide to let yourself off the hook and stick to it. Don't go back there. Commit to releasing the emotions of "I should have known better," every time they come up. It's a decision you make. It's a line you draw in the sand. And it's a decision you may have to remind yourself of dozens of times a day: "This is not worth my time, and I'm cutting my losses."
Figure out what you learned and how you can make a better choice going forward, and silently thank the jerk for being the vehicle that made you a stronger, wiser, more powerful woman. Get out your girl-power playlist and listen to Fighter.
3. You knew, even when you married him, that he wasn't the best choice: Let's say you married him out of desperation. Let's say that there were so many red flags that you could have used them to decorate a big box store for a going-out-of-business sale.
You knew it. And you shouldn't have done it.
No amount of anger toward him will erase what happened. Now is the time to focus on you, filling in the empty places in your heart and soul that allowed you to marry him, even though you knew he was trouble.
Now you know that when a man begs you to help him change, or tells you he can't live without you, these are code words for "Run!"
4. You were the jerk and you're overcome by remorse: You begged him to forgive you, but he decided he'd had enough. Are you alternating between being disgusted with yourself, and being full of rage at him? After all, he promised "until death us do part."
It's time to step back and see yourself from the outside looking in. Do you now have a pretty good idea of what you need to do to become a more loyal, more strong, more loving, and better human? Well, that's already a big-enough job, and you need to feel strong enough to do that.
You don't have the energy to make those important changes while obsessing over the missed opportunity with your ex, or being unhinged because he wouldn't give you another chance. Change for yourself (not to manipulate him to come back), and change for your friends, family, and all of the relationships in your future.
5. You're afraid you'll never be loved again, and your ex wasted a big chunk of your life: You feel you're all out of chances to find real love because you wasted 10, 20, or 30 years on him. You were comfortable enough, and now, what are you supposed to do? Get on Tinder? Are there men out there who are really capable of caring and being partners rather than hound dogs?
First, please believe me that you have more time and chances ahead of you than you think you do. You've just learned, the hard way, that people keep changing throughout their lives, and can want different things than they wanted yesterday. We can't stop this from happening. It's part of the human experience.
Because of his choices, you now have an opportunity (even though it's unwanted) to have a different, bigger, more vibrant life -- just as he's doing.
When you start obsessing about how wrong this situation is, gently shift your thoughts to yourself. What kinds of things can you imagine or do that would make your life a little more comfortable now?
What do you need most? Friends? Activities to keep your mind off him? New dreams for the future to replace the dream you lost? Don't just muse about these things; have a notebook handy (or note app open) and write them down. Use these thoughts to deliberately shift away from anger toward your ex and transform the anger into the desire to explore what's next for you. (Putting it in written form makes it more real and less scary.)
Remember, we're not talking about forgiving him, we're talking about getting freedom from hating your ex.
Once you've cooled down your emotions, and feel that you have some control over the situation -- and some peace in your life -- there's plenty of time to think about the epic job of forgiving him. Or not. That job entails not just a one-time event, but committing to mentally and emotionally forgiving him over and over and over, at a much deeper level than simply re-channeling hate into energy you can use elsewhere in your life.
For some tips from author Valorie Burton about forgiveness (should you choose to explore that), check out this blog post where I include her on video.
But, my suggestion? First work on dialing back the negative emotion before even considering trying to forgive.
Want to share about challenges you're facing around strong negative emotions toward your ex? Please comment below.