This week's column comes from a reader who wants to know how to move on and let go of anger after her ex cheated.
When I was 26, I lived in a small ski town in Colorado and met a ski instructor who was so sweet. We fell madly in love, married two years later, had the first baby the next year, then twins two years after that. Money was tight. When the kids were 4, 2 and 2, I found emails from another woman. He met her at the bar after he got off work. He told me "they had so much in common." She kept saying "delete this" and "I just want to wake up with you next to me." My heart broke into a million pieces right then and there. And all three of my kids were in the bathtub—I still had to be a mom. I told him that I was going to fight for him. I told him to call her and let her know that I knew what was going on. I never told him to end things; I don't know why. Later on, he told me that he knew I would kick him out if I ever caught him cheating and then he would be free to be with her.
I tried what I thought would work. I knew I had put my husband on the back burner when it came to love and intimacy. My kids were my priority, and I guess I just didn't know how to handle a marriage also. I initiated sex, but I always knew in the back of my mind WHY I was doing this. This lasted for a while, then things went right back to where they were before. I was still very angry and felt like he was never truly sorry for what he did. I lost all trust for him.
Two years later, he did it again. I was absolutely pissed and threw his crap out the front door! We talked about divorce, but neither one of us followed through. I let him live with us last summer on the condition that he stepped up as a dad. That didn't work, so I printed out papers last August and the divorce was final February 1, 2013.
This past July, I found myself lost. I was in the Fourth of July parade with my kids, and he was supposed to take them for the night. When we passed him and his new girlfriend, my kids jumped off the float and gave him a hug. The girlfriend doesn't have kids but apparently has a high paying job and her own home in Aspen. They had just returned from a trip to Mexico two months earlier. She paid for everything. I was struggling as a single mom, and he was able to travel to far off places. After the Fourth of July, I made up my mind that I wanted to leave Colorado. I had to leave to find myself and get away from all of the negativity. It took so many arguments and fights (and a reduction of child support payments), but he finally signed court documented paperwork allowing me to relocate to Florida with my kids.
I wanted it to be a positive experience for my kids instead of them having nightmares of me dragging them away from everything they had ever known. My kids have been enrolled in school since August, and my oldest (almost 11) made the honor roll for the first time. I am so incredibly proud of how well they have adjusted. We're living with my sister and her two daughters. It's tight, but we all get along. I have not been able to find work, so I unfortunately I've had to contact my ex-husband and ask him to pay for things like a Girl Scout sash or car payment money. That part sucks.
Here is my question to you: How do you let go? Did you forgive your ex in order to move on? I am still holding on to so much anger. I'm usually a happy person, but I feel like I can't get there. I need to either let go of the anger or forgive him, but I don't know how to do that. I want to be happy again and marry someday.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s strange, hours before my editor forwarded me your email, I distinctly remember standing in my kitchen, making coffee, and asking myself that same exact same question: How do I get rid of this anger? It’s been over a year since XJ (the ex-Mrs. Jake) split, and I still have mornings when I wake up wondering, “Wait, what happened?”
Since we’re both in this together, I’ll tell you what’s worked for me.
1) Happiness is the best revenge. Right after my wife left, I remember my friend Jonas telling me one night at a bar, “Just focus on your work, and love will follow.” So since the breakup I’ve redoubled all my work efforts and it’s really paid off. I know that in order for me to be happy in a new relationship, I have to be happy about all other aspects of my life, so that’s what I’ve been focused on. My suggestion is to do the same—focus on what makes you happy (work, your kids, friends) and good things will naturally, subsequently, fall into place.
2) Distance is crucial. You made the right decision to leave Colorado. Creating distance will definitely help, and be thankful and happy you have the kids. It sounds like the new locale is making them thrive as well.
3) Avoid contact. I know you need to stay in contact for financial matters, but try to keep things brief and via email, and DON’T write angry emails (as I am frequently tempted to, and occasionally, do).
4) Avoid social media check-ups. Every few months, to torture myself, I’ll look at my ex’s Facebook page or Twitter page. No good ever comes from this. Trust me.
5) Not everyone deserves forgiveness. I know some will disagree with me on this, but you don’t need to forgive him. What’s more important is that you forgive yourself for failing, and that you try to learn from the experience. What could you have done to improve the relationship so that it didn’t crumble? How will you take what you’ve learned to improve the next relationship? If you really feel like you need to forgive him, that’s OK too. Remember, we’re all human, we all have selfish needs and desires. Try to look forward, and keep me posted!