Updated: Oct 17, 2018
We sat side by side naked in the warm luxurious Jacuzzi under the stars like many times before. I felt so loved, so safe in the familiar space created between his chest and his arms, feeling his heart beat, my leg touching his. Relaxed knowing the kids were safe and sound asleep in their beds. I teared up a little as I turned away, not knowing how my husband of twelve years would re-act to my pressing thoughts I felt so necessary for him to know.
I suppose it was good timing to talk about the future.
The months passed and he had become a stranger which was more enjoyable when not around. A forbidding "party-er" choosing to be further and further away from family as I became more and more unwilling to accommodate to the changes.
In less time than it takes to make a baby, this man had gone from my protector to my persecutor. My ally to my greatest threat. My best friend to my biggest hater. And instead of professing love, he was waging war.
It was as though a switch had been flipped after my choice to be vulnerable and open.
I just couldn’t wrap my head around the seemingly abrupt transformation. Had this malicious man been hiding in my marital bed the entire time? Did he somehow wake up one morning a different person? Did I cause this change in him? Or was he always this way and I was finally able to see the truth?
The reality is probably a little bit of all of those.
Self-protection is at the root of behavior.
To begin with, it’s important to remember that at its core, all behaviors are self-protecting. To that end, it made sense for him to play the part of a loving husband while he was receiving the gift of family. This provider image allows him to justify the rage, sadness and disappointment over the reality of his actions.
Once the kids and I were on our own, the distance and coldness I chose protected me from feeling his pain and provided me the space to process mine. In essence, by acting as though he didn’t matter, I began to believe it. A barrier of disassociation. In this view, the switch was flipped more in an effort to prevent pain than in an effort to inflict damage. From concerned, emotionally supportive, and genuine care to turning a blind eye as he struggled. Who is this cold and heartless person? After all we must co-parent still.
For my part, believing in his good-husband/dad routine insulated me from the painful truth during our marriage. I didn’t want to admit the way I was treated (especially when others wanted what I had) and I questioned my strength to break a commitment, so I chose to believe in the best of him. I did not believe I was lovable and acceptable as I was so I made sure to be what he needed instead of expressing my own needs. I passively watched as the tale-tale signs showed before me that we desired different lifestyles. I allowed myself to be disrespected and complied to his leadership. Yet once I refused to dim my opinions and thoughts and dreams, a switch was flipped. I couldn’t understand how someone I loved so much (and who I believed truly loved me) could do those things. Which leads to the self protecting act of choosing to see the other as all-bad. Building up a new image and instead of acknowledging the whole picture it now gets narrowed down to negative details. Who is worse? This view, and the distance it provided, served to protect me from further damage to an open heart, one I knew was all my own obligation. He was no longer the gentleman on a pedistool who provided a simple classic life I was so lucky to have kids with. He was now the controlling, abusive, addict asshole who was out to take me down rallying up a crew to believe this newly created image was true.
Cognitive dissonance is a powerful force.
Cognitive dissonance happens when somebody’s beliefs about themselves and their behaviors are not in alignment. It is a very uncomfortable position, and so we often strive to change either our actions or our beliefs so that they again line up.
One of the ways that my ex minimized his cognitive dissonance between the conflicting belief of seeing himself as a good person and the action of inappropriate attacks is by justifying his choices. Over time he has devalued me, both in his mind and to others. He has created an ‘updated version’ of me. (Trust me, I have heard the candid pocket calls) This new belief then allowed him to act in a cruel and hateful manner towards me while still maintaining his internal integrity.
My own cognitive dissonance was amplified as the belief that my children's father is an caring gentleman is challenged by the cracks in his facade. The consistent verbal abuse proved my memory must have confused me and I ought not volunteer to amnesia.
And for the first time, I saw him as he was, not as he wanted to be seen, or needed to be seen.
You can’t see the big picture until all of the pieces have been assembled.
I now believe that the man I fell in love and share many core building years with was not the same man I chose to divorce years ago. He changed, significantly, most likely from a combination of addiction, unaddressed childhood trauma and exterior influences. Even more so in the last few years. I also know I changed in my own ways and played an important role in our ending by diverting the much needed attention which should have been focused on the relationship over to our children and withholding my own personal desires from him.
And it was only later, once faced with an unnerving guilt and shame and sense of responsibility I began to assemble all of the clues, that I could see how it all fit together. We did not have the same core values to begin with. We wanted different things for our life style and in essence did not manage to allow each other to make much needed changes. Him and I closed a wonderful chapter together and I began reading an entirely different book, one that focused on me.
Hate is not the opposite of love.
And then there’s this – the opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference. When we truly don’t care about someone, we don’t expend the energy with attempts to bring them down. When an ex is trying to make your life difficult or attempting to manipulate and constantly degrade you, it’s a sign they have not yet let go. And it can also be an indication – albeit an agonizing one – of their own pain. The best way to handle this is with empathy. Strive for an indifference mindset.
Moving on and living a life where, even after breaking a commitment, we are worthy of love and acceptance exactly as we are. We need not beat our-self up for choosing "ME", nor convince yourself the after effects are all one persons cause. Divorce is mutual, it is consented agreement and does not insinuate hate. Indifference is different than hatred and relieving the post-decision dissonance requires you to think twice. Disassembling the dissonance is possible, and it starts with self awareness.
Self awareness and boundary setting.
Tips I have learned from this concept: