Why isn't your Ex moving on?
Updated: Dec 3, 2021
Having to deal with a difficult ex for years can be exhausting and extremely frustrating, but understanding why this may be happening might help you accept the fact that you may never have an amicable relationship with your former spouse and still be at peace and able to fully enjoy your life.
Author William Bridges became famous for his research around coping with change. He defines transitions as the psychological process of adapting to change that can be divided in three zones: ending, neutral and new beginning.
The above graph shows a curve that fluctuates over two variables: productivity and time. Each zone is accompanied by a group of emotions that tend to rule each stage. The transition process for someone going through a divorce can last approximately 3 years. The first year puts us in the ending zone, where we usually go through the grieving process. Whether you made the decision to end the marriage or were told to pack your bags, most people still experience denial, sadness, anger and fear during this phase. Once you accept the fact that the divorce is imminent, you move into the neutral zone and begin to experience another set of emotions: skepticism, apathy, confusion, frustration… Many people will find themselves here during the second year after separation, but eventually we rise from the ashes and hope and excitement lead us into our new beginning.
It is important to note that the above paragraph uses words like: ‘approximately’, ‘most’ and ‘many’. The reason behind my choice of words is because every case is different and every person goes through the transition process at their own pace. If you were the one who took the first step towards separation you might have moved into the neutral zone a little bit quicker than your ex (you may have had many nights planning your exodus) but some people get stuck in the ending zone for a long time. Others can linger in the neutral zone for years, unable to envision a life after marriage. If you feel that your former spouse is still angry and you have been apart for more than three years, mental illness might be the reason and until they seek professional help, you might have to learn to deal with it using your own tools.
Compassion will set you free. Mental illness is still widely understated in our society, but if your former spouse was fighting cancer or dealing with a chronic disease, you would probably (hopefully) feel bad for them and would bit a little more understanding if they were to have an outburst of anger or sadness because you would know they are in pain. The thing is that mental illness is not much different, if your ex can’t seem to find happiness and is making you their nemesis, they are still feeling hurt and pain can make us act irrationally.
All you can do is set boundaries to protect yourself and keep your peace. You cannot control what they do, but you can control how you react. Limiting communication is a good way to gain control over the situation. If you share children, you will not be able to cut them out completely, but choosing email over text or phone calls will let you decide when to engage with this person.
Protecting your kids from the drama should also be a priority. Without bad-mouthing the other parent, you can limit interactions by choosing a neutral location for exchanges, or using a third party (such as the home of a common friend or family) so you don’t have to see each other, which is often triggering, might be worth exploring. NEVER talk bad about the other parent in front of your children (I actually encourage you not to complain about your ex with friends, family or even strangers, but that is the topic for another post). Know that children will grow up and will be able to draw their own conclusions eventually. Bashing the other parent might make the children resent you because, whether you like it or not, your children have 50% of your genes and 50% of your ex’s genes. Expressing hate towards their other parent might make the children feel like you hate a part of them.
If you fear for your safety or the safety of your children, reach out to a lawyer, to the authorities or to child aid services. If your former spouse is just being an asshole, remember that you are in control of your destiny. Be grateful that you are no longer with this person and focus on rebuilding your life and being the best version of yourself. Your ex might find happiness one day, but don’t count on it. Follow your agreement or court orders, be respectful and know that you are being the bigger person.