I knew my reaction to my soon-to-be-ex moving on was alarming when my coach suggested eye movement desensitization therapy (EMDR), a type of psychotherapy aimed at alleviating distress associated with traumatic memories. It sounded intense, but then again so was my pain. EMDR is effective, but it’s no miracle, and the now slightly dulled memory of standing in my sister’s driveway that New Year’s Day is still haunting at times. That poor, naive girl, in my mind’s eye I see white shock cross her face as she registered the words tumbling from the voice on the other end of the line. My grief-stricken brain fumbled on some mental math, trying to understand a timeline that was not nearly as protracted as what I had hoped for news like this.
For all intents and purposes, our marriage had been over for a while, just pending a judge’s seal. So why the extreme reaction? Many other women in my shoes would be skipping off, happy their soon-to-be-ex was now someone else’s problem. Not me, I am twisted like that, always wanting what I can’t have and grieving what I have lost. While others labeled my reaction as “crazy” or “overblown,” I gave myself some grace insisting it was “a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.” Admittedly, the jury is still out as to what was more disordered — the speed at which the pieces of his new, shiny life fell into place, or my reaction to it. Looking back, there are several ways I could have been kinder to myself and I hope that by sharing them, you can avoid these pitfalls if you too are replaced faster than the time it takes to boil an egg.
When you first find out, you may torture yourself, trying to discover details about a person that seemingly came out of nowhere. Two things shocked me: first, my resourcefulness and second, the wealth of information freely available on any individual. Facebook stalking is one thing but calling the airlines to find out where the happy couple are jetting off to is quite another. And if you claim to be an actual spouse, with identification information to prove it, the polite call service agent is obliged to tell you.
Trust me, there is no end to how much dirt is out there, and while you may fancy yourself as very clever, you cannot unlearn what you unearth. Sure, you can justify it as human nature, but I invite you to challenge yourself when you notice it going a tad too far. Ask: “How much longer am I willing to tolerate this situation before I realize enough is enough?” Because, and I speak from experience, when you find out that they are in Tahiti, there is only one person that suffers, and it is not the girl sunning herself in an overwater bungalow.
Don’t be naïve.
Next, your brain may go on a scavenger hunt in a frenzied attempt to minimize what is going on. Let’s call a spade a shovel, and please realize that it is highly unlikely they are just holding hands. Yes, maybe it won’t last, maybe it is just a casual fling but in my experience these “rebound” relationships progress very quickly. If there are children in the picture, don’t waste time and legal fees trying to fight their involvement; as long as they are safe, lawyers are not going to touch this one.
In my case, the big introduction happened on his birthday, one month after our divorce was final. My girls came home with a pink heart-shaped balloon, from her to him, just in case there was any doubt in my mind that she existed. It bobbed around our living room ceiling until it lost enough helium to be at eye level, at which point I stabbed it with a kitchen knife. Ask yourself, “How much am I giving up by staying attached to my version of their story?” Because the sooner you let their story go, the sooner you can focus on yours.
Don’t misplace anger.
How many of us are guilty of doing this on a good day? Now throw in a pending divorce and an ex who is already paired off and you have the perfect storm. Your anger is real, warranted, and needs an outlet. But, for the love of all things holy, try your darnedest to keep it away from your babies. Do whatever it takes, because when you see confusion and fear in their eyes as a result of your anger, there is only one person you will hate more than your ex. And, again, it’s not her.
Punch a pillow, journal, scream at the top of your lungs when the children are not home, I was even told to write his name on toilet paper. Don’t make the same mistake I did, where I suppressed my rage long enough to find myself aggressively kicking his front door early one morning on a frantic run to pick up left behind school shoes. He may or may not own video footage of that little tantrum. Ask yourself, “What is it costing me to not handle my anger constructively?” Your children are watching, do your best to keep your side of the street clean.
Don’t feel pressure to “move on.”
The dreaded “just move on.” Perhaps the most unhelpful form of toxic positivity out there. If I had a dollar for each time someone in my exceptionally loving and supportive family offered this, I would not need alimony. Let me clear this up right now, no one (other than your ex) can “just move on” as if it were as simple as flipping a switch in your brain. If that were the case, the love and relationship industry as we know it would not exist. Someone giving you this advice probably loves you dearly, but they are making it all about them, because it is too uncomfortable for him/her to sit with your pain.
I am not suggesting that you wallow in misery, but I am strongly advocating that you feel in order to heal. Numbing your pain with your own new relationship, work, or substances simply to appear as if you have “moved on” will likely implode sooner than your ex’s rebound relationship. Your journey is yours alone and succumbing to pressure to move on will lead to greater frustration. Ask yourself, “What can I control here?” You can choose to partner with a therapist, coach or other professional to facilitate your healing, offer support and teach you strategies to use in your life going forward.
Finally, don’t make it about you.
I have bent myself into a pretzel trying to understand how some people can trade out partners like they trade in cars. Let me save you time and mental energy by sharing this conclusion. This person’s need to fill a void has nothing to do with you. Maybe it’s that he/she will simply combust without a companion, perhaps he mourned the relationship years before it ended and finally, yes, at some point you may have to face the reality that the soulmate you never were simply fell into his lap. Either way, give yourself some credit for grieving the relationship appropriately and thank him for being so considerate. Because, by getting on with his life so efficiently, you have been spared of him in yours, and are free to find someone deserving of you.