A Bitter Aftertaste
By an Anonymous, Avid Single Again Reader
We have all tasted something that left a bitter aftertaste in our mouth. Whether it was a prescribed medication or a bitter beer, we went to great lengths to try to crush that nasty flavor left behind. Similarly, a divorce may leave a bitter aftertaste.
Divorce is not a pleasant experience. While some are long and drawn out, even the shortest disillusionment is unpleasant. It is natural to feel upset when the relationship ends.
Even if on good terms with our ex, it is normal to have feelings of rage or resentment afterward. Those feelings diminish and go away with time. The amount of time necessary varies from person to person and can depend on how many "bitter reminders" we have, such as alimony or debt incurred as a result of the relationship. Despite these feelings, few divorcees will argue that they would be better off had they stayed married. Many even say they are now "happily" divorced.
However, even after the alimony has ended or debts are gone, many people still occasionally think about their ex and get mad. There is a "bitter aftertaste." The questions that many ask are "Why am I feeling this way?" and "How do I cope with these feelings?"
Why am I feeling this way? Despite having moved on, it is not unusual to recollect old arguments and remember hurtful things that were said by the other person. Now however, our reaction would be different. Snappier comebacks now pop to mind. Really cutting remarks float through the head. This time we could have "the last word!"
That is what it boils down to — we would like to give our ex a piece of our mind without having them "talk back." Then we may feel that we can walk away with some sense of finality.
Also, we may feel a need to show our former spouse that we are doing okay now. A good example of this is my own divorce. My ex was a compulsive shopper who ended up putting me several thousands of dollars in debt. She never asked for alimony, a decision that was conditional on me not asking her to pay half the debt. As a result, our relationship ended with me having a negative net worth of almost $100,000. After our divorce hearing, I left the courtroom and went back to my attorney’s office and filed bankruptcy. Almost a year and a half later, my net worth is now more positive than it has ever been.
In cases like this, it is not uncommon to think "if they could only see me now." These situations need not be limited to financial circumstances. Perhaps a personal trait that an ex complained of has now changed. For example, a woman complained that her husband was too much of an introvert. Now, that man finds that he has little problem talking to strangers. He is almost outspoken! Or a woman’s husband complained that she never thought about the future. Now that same woman has a savings account, a 401(k), and her own funeral planned!
These are, perhaps, extreme examples; they nonetheless demonstrate how people may evolve after a divorce. They personally notice a change and now have that if-my-ex-could-only-see-me-now feeling. And sometimes there is actually a desire, maybe even a need, to show their ex how they have changed — perhaps suggesting that "it was your fault I was that way to begin with!"
How do I cope with these feelings? Dealing with those feelings are the same as dealing with that bitter aftertaste. Everyone copes differently. For some, finding someone new is all that is required. A new companion takes time and attention — leaving less of both for thinking about previous partners. A new relationship also provides an outlet to vent about the past and, mostly, provides assurance that there is "nothing wrong with me."
Good friends also provide this same kind of support — particularly those who were friends before the relationship began. Better yet are good friends who have "been there, done that." They possess an understanding that others may not.
A more difficult way of dealing with these feelings is finding out how the ex is doing. Sometimes, however, relief can be gotten by doing this. This should be thought about long and hard and should only be attempted if on good terms with the former spouse. It is better to try to inquire about an ex through mutual acquaintances rather than contacting them directly. We may find out that, while life has gotten better for ourselves, life for them has actually gotten worse. For example, unusual circumstances put me in contact with my ex. I found out that, while she is happily remarried, she had ended up filing bankruptcy but now has her own savings plan, the latter being something that I had always harped at her about. While I did not find the news of her bankruptcy heartening, I would be amiss to say that there was not a part of me inside that said "a-ha! Now she knows what it is like!" Of course, there was also a sense of "I told you" when she admitted to having her own 401(k) and admitted "an old friend [me] told me to do that several times." Often, that little "a-ha" feeling is enough to cleanse our palate and wash away the bitterness.
Remember! Trying to contact an ex. is, more often than not, unwelcome. Resulting quarrels will perpetuate angry feelings. Another quarrel is like another sip of bitter beer — it just leaves that taste in your mouth that much longer. It is always better to take satisfaction from your new life and to discuss things with a good friend, a fellow divorcee, or even a counselor. They are more likely to provide the support that is needed. They can also provide a viewpoint that we were blind to in the first place. This often proves to be the best mouthwash of all.