Why I Don't Hate My Ex, And Neither Should You
Infidelity is a hot button topic. The mere mention of someone cheating on someone will send everyone in the vicinity (especially if those 'everyone's' are women) into a frenzy of emotionally-fueled opinions and judgments.
Understandably, of course. Betrayal of the vulnerable human heart is one of the worst offenses in a relationship and the number one relationship fear, because it engages shame and vulnerability and wounds the heart and spirit so deeply and profoundly.
All women — seemingly confident, self-assured and secure women, monogamous women and even those in an open or polygamous relationship — are equally susceptible to the fear that her partner will disrespect agreed-upon borders or worse, fall in love with another. Every relationship has boundaries co-designed upon mutual respect, love, trust and accountability; without all of those things, it's not a relationship. In facing this fear of vulnerability and loss, we must manage our jealousies and the dark sides of our imaginations so as not to "go there" in our minds, especially unnecessarily.
So when we hear of infidelity happening to another woman, even one who isn't all that close to us, it hits those vulnerability and fear buttons, opening up the door to the insecure thought of, "what if that happened to me?"
And that's where the trouble lies. Because unless and until it does happen to you, you never truly know how you will respond.
Most women — especially when discussing the topic among fellow females — will tell you exactly how they would respond if their man strayed and it is always, without fail, and with a hefty dose of Sasha Fierce, "Oh hell no! Cheat on me and we're done! You're out of here! Goodbye!"
That's valiant. But that may not be how you will actually respond in situ. Trust me. I was of the "Oh hell no! Goodbye!"-projecting variety until it happened to me. When it happened to me, I had a child, and that changed everything. When it happened to me, I realized some important things about myself, and even more crucial things about my then-partner, and that changed everything. When it happened to me, I had invested a foundation based upon forever and I wasn't ready to give up on that future, and that changed everything. And lastly, when it happened to me, I jumped straight into the first stage of grief, Denial and Isolation, too shocked and numb to acknowledge that it was even happening at all. Therefore we tried everything, and I mean everything we could imagine to make our relationship work, fix the broken pieces, mend the gaps and start over.
At the end of the day, or I should say at the end of 18 months of trying, we still split. But at that point, we were able to do so as amicably (sorry to use the most PR breakup word in the book) and positively as possible, with understanding and hope.
Ironically, infidelity can open the door to a much greater understanding of oneself and one's partner, and while it's is what cracked our foundation, it's not what ultimatelycaused us to go our separate ways. The realization that each of us had a hell of a lot to work on as individuals, and that we needed to do that work solo, was what caused us to choose space over continuing to seek a collective solution.
While my family has been supportive of my hard-to-follow relationship status and has helped me stay rooted in love, some of my friends find it incredulous that at this point, I don't hate my ex. While I've admittedly tried for a frustrated minute here, or a jealous minute there, I definitely don't hate him, and neither should you. Here's why.
He's doing the best he can
So am I. And so are you. We all are. Without Brené Brown, my mind never would have pondered this fact, which she discusses at length in her latest book, Rising Strong. My immediate reaction as I read her words was, "No. Not everyone is doing the best they can. Some people could try harder." That homeless man. That mother in the store that snaps with impatient venom at her children. And... and then I stopped in my vicious judgment track and thought about the (many) times where I've fallen short and what I could have done better — it always helps to flip the mirror on ourselves — and I realized that Brown was right. Literally every single person at any given moment in time is doing the absolute best they can with the tools at his or her disposal. This realization has changed how I live my life and how I approach others in infinite ways. While my ex's best may have fallen extremely short of what I needed or deserved at one point in time, I forgive him. There is some strange comfort in trusting that through this experience, both of us learned things that have instigated personal growth toward a new "best."
I'm trying to heal
That means I don't have the energy or the will to maintain hatred. "Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die," is a quote most apt in situations like mine. A break up and its aftermath closely follow the five stages of grief: denial (sometimes combined with shock and/or isolation), anger, bargaining ("if only we had..."), depression and acceptance. Not everyone moves through these stages in the same order, and not everyone reaches acceptance. I have experienced every stage, especially anger and depression, and felt each of them down to my very bones. But I push myself to keep going, and as I heal and let go, I feel acceptance is on the horizon for me, even if I'm not all the way there yet. Encouraging me to stay rooted in anger, or worse in hatred, will only cause me to grieve longer. And that's kinda evil.
It doesn't make me feel defended or protected
In fact, it makes me feel defensive and protective of him. As I said in What Not To Say To A Newly Single Mom, putting a single mama in the position of protecting and defending her ex is not helpful after a split. The territory of a new break-up is all cloudy and grey, and instigating negative feelings is very counterproductive. In order to move through her grief and heal, the newly single mom needs to let her negative feelings go and work toward a place of peace and a new kind of love for her child's father (yes, really. See below). A peaceful, friendly future for ex's who must continue to function as parents after (or through) a storm is possible. Maybe not immediately, and maybe not for everyone. But after just six weeks, I am certain it is possible for us and moreover, that our new normal will result in two stronger, healthier and happier parents for our daughter. There's nothing to hate about that.
I will always love him
Just differently now. What hurt the most in the process of breaking up was the sadness of not being able to continue to be in love with, or in-loved-by, my soulmate any more. Even though we were never married, I fully intended to be with him forever — as in the two of us rocking on the porch in Costa Rica someday, me an old grey-blonde Gringa and him, an old grey-brown Tico — and the grief I felt at the death of that future and those dreams was immense. But in moments of calm since we've gone our separate ways, I am afforded glimpses of a kind of future love for each other. One that has not been possible in the middle of the kind of pain I've felt recently, but one that is centered around his place as my daughter's father and the place he's held in my life, as the man who has been through some of my most important moments with me and who remains, even through the toughest of these times, one of my biggest cheerleaders and closest confidantes.
Nothing in life is black and white
It's all fifty shades of grey. What is acceptable to you might not be acceptable to me, and vice versa. And that's okay. This applies to things that are as simple as the clothes we wear and the way we style our hair, as much as it does to complicated and personal things like our vices, behaviors and lifestyle choices. I refuse to condemn people who embrace who they are — and I can't stand people who deem themselves qualified to judge the lives of others, especially those who reside in glass houses — and I have learned that an important value of mine is to live and let live. The greatest thing one can do in this lifetime is to learn who you are and unabashedly be yourself. Therefore I make space for him to seek what he needs, much as it may hurt that I must let him go in the process, and I give myself permission to pursue my own path of healing, one that makes my heart feel calm, safe and loved.
He's the father of my child
This is the biggest reason. We are forever connected by our daughter, speaking almost daily and seeing each other fairly often. What good would it do to hate him for the rest of our lives? More importantly, consider the vast amount of harm it will do to our daughter if I were unable to forgive and forget, and instead spend my life seething in negativity toward someone she loves. Someone she wants to, and should, look up to. Someone who is half the reason she is who she is, and will be as an adult. Because of this, he will always be welcome at my dinner table, in our home and in every facet of our lives. When it comes to our child, he and I are in this thing together above anything or anyone else, and always will be.
So the next time a girlfriend, or daughter, or sister, or niece or cousin or granddaughter confides in you about a cheating 'scandal,' treat the situation with kindness and an open mind.
Hold your judgment and personal projections and remember that you have no right to operate from either of those places (see previously mentioned glass house). If she is feeling weak from her pain, the projection of your emotion could sway her own true north and that's incredibly unfair and selfish. Don't do that to her.
Trust in her to follow her own path without interfering and never, ever encourage her to live in hate. Her, or anyone else for that matter. Just live and let live in love.