Your ‘X’& Your Love-Life

This post is about living in the world with your ‘X-husband’ or ‘X-wife’ after your divorce. Ideally, the end of your marriage is final and you don’t have to deal with your ‘X’ any more. You can move on to a new life and eventually a new love, right? Well, unfortunately it’s a little more complicated than that for some people. What kind of psychological issues are involved when you can’t get a clean break? When your ‘X’ is still in your life?

The most obvious way an ‘X’ stays in your life is through the kids, if you have some. If not, this part of my post won’t pertain to you. It’s a bit of a set up you know, to be a good parent after a divorce you have to have some regular contact with the mother or father of your children (child). If you’ve got ‘hard feelings’ you have to do something about them. Otherwise you’ll be angry each time you encounter your ‘X.’ In most cases, residual anger and/or frustration regarding the ‘X’ means there is unhealed hurt below the surface.

This kind of hurt and the anger and frustration it can defensively generate can interfere with moving on with your love-life. Look at it this way, your negative feelings toward your ‘X’ keep you bonded to him or her. Remember, bonds don’t have to be positive, negative feelings are as sticky as positive ones. If you become aware of unfinished emotional business regarding your ‘X’ you should flag that as something you have to fix in yourself. A change of attitude and heart in this area can mean a lot when it comes to starting up a new love-life for yourself. By the way, another thing to look out for is the tendency to set up the same kind of struggles with your ‘X’ you had when you were married now in relation to the kids. You know, with the kids in the middle between the two of you.

You definitely don’t want to do this for a few good reasons. It’s like still being married, but living separated and without any benefits, and you’ll inevitable hurt the kids. Also if your kids have an agenda to get the two of you back together, I would take care of that early. This is the kind of thing when ignored it gets worse. Some kids actually believe they can fix a divorce between their parents. They believe this because of their own issues accepting the split between their parents. If you ignore the topic or feed into it in any way you are delaying something that will inevitably be more painful later on. Sit down with them and tell them the reality and help the accept it.

Now let’s move on to the problem of money. Unfortunately child care payments can sometimes be drawn to whatever unfinished emotional business is going on between two people who are divorced with children. Ideally, child care money is exclusively for the care of the children and both parents trust that is so. The children feel cared for, the parent providing the funds has done a portion of his or her parenting duty, and the parent on the receiving end does not try to get any more or less than what’s fair.

Sometimes this ideal picture is contaminated by resentments that not enough love and care were provided during the marriage, which can now be provided monetarily after the marriage. When this happens there is usually an undeclared money war going on post-divorce that often involves the courts. The hard part is, two divorced people have found a way to keep struggling with each other. All that valuable energy being wasted, and the both of you are not as free as you should be to move on.

Besides struggling about money there are a few other things people can continue doing with each other after they get divorced. One of them is revisit the old flame in some form. What I mean is, two people can get married, then divorced, and still have an ‘interest’ in each other. I used the word interest because the form this interest takes will depend on what kind of chemistry existed between them when they were married. Let’s look at a few different forms post-divorce ‘interest’ can take.

The most dramatic form of ‘interest’ would be a couple that returns to some level of romantic involvement after divorce. It is interesting to think that there are people in the world who love each other but can’t live together. I’ll assume that this can be explained by chemistry and personality. The chemistry is strong but the personalities clash and are not functionally compatible. People caught in this kind of love-life situation are strongly attracted to each other but experience a lot of turbulence when they’re together. This kid of romantic relationship is a great passionate experience but not the best foundation for a ‘working’ marriage.

I like to think of a successful and enduring marriage as involving romance, partnership, and friendship. Partnership is essentially a couple’s ability to work together on common goals, and friendship involves a honest, equal relationship with little or no manipulation or control. Two people can be great in bed but unable to work together as true friends in marriage. By the way, it’s not uncommon to remarry a person you earlier divorced because the two of you have had a change of heart. Some people need  a little more time apart to reassess themselves and others before they figure out what they really want. Love can come at the wrong time and place for some people.

For some divorced couples sex might be occasional with no commitment. My guess is, beyond the revisiting the past experience this probably represents, it is not good for your love-life to remain in some limbo or intermediary place that might be making it harder to move on. The emotional task after a divorce is to heal and move on. Seeing your ‘X’ from time to time when you need sex because it’s easy and known to you will no doubt have an emotional price tag. Healing and moving on are difficult after divorce because of the grieving and letting-go that’s involved.

For some divorced couples ‘jealousy’ is what they have left after they divorce. The feeling goes something like this: we’re no longer married but I still have feelings about who you’re with. Now, this can happen, and it usually does, without any further physical contact. It’s mostly an emotional experience. It probably indicates that there is still an emotional connection, of a marital nature, that has not yet been let go of. That last little jealous string that attaches two divorced people can be the hardest to cut. The feeling of loss is first, then the opportunity to heal, let go, and move on. Needless to say, if your choice of lover is influenced by the unhealed jealousy of your ‘X’ husband or wife, you probably need a little psychotherapy to ferret out and cut this lingering unhealthy connection.

Another word that is commonly used to describe the emotional task when a marriage ends is ‘closure.’ Closure means that you have successfully put an end to something. To reach closure at the end of a marriage you have to accept that the marriage is over. This act of acceptance causes grief, the feeling that comes when love is lost or disappointed. When grieving is over, closure can more easily occur. A divorced person can avoid or delay closure in several ways. One is to stay in a state of marital separation indefinitely. Another is to place oneself in a perpetual state of lonely exile. The opposite move can also be an avoidance of closure, when a divorced person runs immediately into another relationship without giving himself or herself time to grieve.This is commonly known as a rebound.

I think part of the problem is our collective view of grieving. Too often this emotional state, the true flip side of love, is labelled as weakness or mental illness. The experience of loss is guaranteed when you risk the experience of love. At some point hopefully later than sooner, we all grieve the loss of people we love. Knowing how to grieve constructively in daily life when necessary is something that should ideally be taught in the family. It makes love more tolerable and we certainly need more tolerance for love in this world. Dr. T. Jordan





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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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