DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: It’s been 4 years since my ex-wife left me, and I still can’t get over her. We were together for 8 years, 6 of which we were married. Towards the end of our marriage, she started hanging out with new people and her personality dramatically changed in a short period of time. She told me I didn’t fit in with her new life and left me.
I’ve tried everything I can think of to get past it, but I still miss her, the old her before she changed. I’ve tried meaningless one night stands, casual hookups, and even got into a serious relationship last year. I haven’t had any problems with these relationships, I don’t compare the women I’m with to my ex. But in the back of my mind, I still miss her and I end up breaking things off.
Mentally, I’ve been on depression medication since the breakup. I’ve been doing well with self care. I have a good social support network with awesome friends. I even enjoy being single! I take myself on dates and I’ve learned to appreciate living by myself.
But I still miss her. I don’t want to get over her to move on to new relationships. I don’t need to get over her to keep mentally healthy. I just feel like I’ve been in mourning for years and I’m hoping that eventually it will get better. Does it get better?
Lost In The Past
DEAR LOST IN THE PAST: Here’s what’s going on, LITP: you’re having a hard time getting over your ex-wife because the way things ended has clearly hit you in a vulnerable spot. And I can totally understand that; being told “hey, you just don’t fit in my life anymore byeeeeeee” is some cold s--t. But as much as that feels personal… it really isn’t.
I know, I know, how can it not be personal? Well, in the same way that outgrowing a pair of shoes or pants isn’t personal. Or the way that you outgrow an old life. One of the things that we don’t talk about much when we talk about marriages and long-term relationships is that we don’t stop growing or changing as people. This is normal; if you’re the exact same person you were ten years ago, five years ago, hell, last year, then you aren’t living; you’re in stasis at best. Humans don’t live like that; every experience we have changes us. The wisdom we accumulate, the perspective we find, the people who enter and exit our lives… these all change who we are, even if it’s in a very minor way.
For much of the time, couples (or triads or what-have-you) grow in ways that are complementary to one another and in ways that mean that they’re still compatible as a relationship. But there are many times when we change in ways that mean that we’re no longer compatible. This isn’t inherently good nor bad; it just means that our lives were growing together in the same direction and then reached a point where we diverge. That doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you or her; it just means that you’re different now and what worked before doesn’t work now.
If you want an example of how this divergence can be a good thing, imagine a relationship that works in part because the roles that each partner takes are defined in part by something traumatic in one person’s life. But, as they process their trauma and overcome it, they find that the role that they’d taken no longer fits them or their relationship. Their needs have changed, and their new life and new outlook doesn’t necessarily mesh with their partners’. While it’s a shame that the relationship may not work, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure; it means it was right for the two of them at that time in their lives. Now that particular time has come to its end and a new chapter in their stories begin… and the newly single person is in a better place in life because of that relationship and having healed their trauma.
Now getting back to your situation: It’s entirely understandable that you miss the woman you married. In a very real way, it’s like that person died and the relationship you had with her died along with it. But I suspect that there’s that part of you that feels responsible, that you could have prevented this. That if you did the exact right thing at the right time, your wife would still be the way she was and your relationship would still be going strong. But… you couldn’t have, because this wasn’t about anything you did or didn’t do. This is about what she was doing, the experiences she was having and the life she was living. You two lived and grew together for a while, and then that time came to its end. She changed into who she is now, and the person who she used to be is in the past… and that new person was not compatible with you.
And that sucks. It’s a tragedy. And I think part of why you still cling to this is because you still cling to the idea that your ex is in there — as though this new person were possessing her and shoved your ex-wife out of the controls. But she didn’t; this is just who she became over time. It’s not who she was, but it’s who she is now.
I think what you need to do is to let go of her. You need to let go of the hope that your ex-wife as she was still exists and mourn the loss of her and your relationship properly. Let yourself feel that grief, let yourself experience that pain and resignation of knowing that she’s gone and that there’s no coming back. Give yourself permission to let part of her live on in your memory and in your heart… but let her go. Let yourself finally have that grieving process that I suspect you’ve been holding at bay and I think you’ll finally find both release and catharsis.
It’ll suck. A lot. It’ll hurt worse than it does now. But that pain is the pain of healing, of draining the infection and cleaning the wound. It’s the pain that means you’ll finally be able to let the wound close, instead of picking at the scabs. And while it’ll hit you like a hammer to the chest, you’ll realize — sooner than you think — that you feel better. Like the pain is a little less and getting less every day after.
Because yes: it will get better. If you let it.
You’re going to be ok LITP. You’ve got this.
All will be well.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com