We all have lifelong relationships with our parents, siblings, children, and other relatives. Sometimes we are lucky and find lifelong friends that stay with us through the years and twists and turns of our lives. Another kind of lifelong relationship some of us are lucky to acquire is the relationship with our exes. They may not be lifelong but they have to last at least until the youngest of our children turns eighteen. In rare cases, we prefer these relationships to stay — even after the kids grow up. Unfortunately, most of the time that is not the case. When I share the story of my separation with my ex-husband, I often hear that we are lucky that we managed to have a great post-divorce relationship and that “everyone else” doesn’t.
I didn’t get as lucky with the relationship with my husband’s ex-wife. It started out great; we went for walks, helped each other out whenever possible, kept in touch, and were quite friendly, but then something happened, and it all went down the drain. She stopped being friendly. She stopped wanting to hang out. She stopped texting. Our relationship changed. It’s still there — just different. Full of judgment, resentment, hurt, and silence. She will be a part of my life until her youngest child with my husband turns eighteen. I feel her silent presence when we make important decisions, when we make travel plans, when my husband sends her the monthly check, and when I hear the news about her life from her daughter… Every time she comes up, I feel a pang of sadness about the loss of our companionship. Sometimes it’s not only sadness but anger and frustration as well. I’m frustrated that our relationship is not how I’d like it to be. I’m angry about her ignorance of her children’s need for boundaries, and I’m angry that she’s angry at me.
Over the last few years, she has become my spiritual teacher. Thanks to her, I get to learn and practice my most important life lessons: that some people won’t accept me or like me, no matter what I do, that I can not change other people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, no matter how much I’d like to, and that there are still parts of me that I haven’t learned to accept that surface when I react to seeing them in her. That’s a lot of lessons and practice opportunities to be thankful for!
I wish it were easier.
I wish I’d learned my lessons already and we’d magically move on to a brighter and friendlier future together as a big happy family. But we are not there yet and I don’t know if we’ll ever be. For now, I have to accept the reality and let go of my dreams of big family celebrations and vacations together. I have to accept our differences, I have to accept not being accepted, and I have to let go of the past and stop reminiscing about how great things used to be when she still liked me and asked me never to leave her ex-husband and her daughters because I’m just so wonderful.
Obviously, I still have a long way to go.
These lessons do not come easy for me.
I hate not being liked. I am such a nice person, and I haven’t done anything wrong, how could anyone possibly not like me? Yet, there she is — not liking me, and teaching her kid not to like me either. That was a tough pill to swallow — going from the most favorite person in her child’s world to the least favorite overnight without my participation in the matter. I am still bitter about that. What kind of mother in her right mind would strip her kid of the extra love they could get from her new extended family? That’s their path, I tell myself. There’s got to be a reason. I may not see it, but there is one, isn't there?
I am slowly learning to come to terms with being on someone else’s hate list. That too shall pass. Or won’t. Either way, I’m learning to accept not being accepted. I practice letting go of my desire not to be on that list. If it makes her life easier to hate me —I’ll live with that. I get it — blaming the outside world (or me) for your problems is much easier than taking responsibility. Maybe that’s how I can help her — by being the scapegoat. I am okay with being the scapegoat.
I wish I could influence her thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I wish I could talk to her and explain life to her. I wish I could get her to understand the implications of her actions. I wish I could make her see things differently. I can’t. Even if she’d let me try I don’t think she would ever see things the way I do — she is a different person with different background and life experiences, she will always see the world through her lens, and I — through mine. I wish we could get just a tiny bit more aligned. We won’t. I wish she would stop yelling at people around her. She won’t. Not until she decides she doesn’t need to. I wish she had stopped being upset with her ex-husband. Who knows, maybe one day that will happen. Or maybe it won’t. We have to wait it out — only ten more years of forced interactions, and that’s it! I am reminding myself that we are all unique, we think differently, and we are all working through different traumas. It’s okay to be different.
Some aspects of her personality trigger me. I believe that what triggers us in others is what we haven’t learned to accept in ourselves. Every time she does something that frustrates me, it’s a chance for me to take a closer look in the mirror. Are there suppressed parts of me that want to yell, attack, and be mean to others, are selfish, shrewd, and like being a victim? Of course, there are. Do I like them? No! I hide them deep down inside and barely let them exist. Meanwhile, she gets to act out and do all those things I don’t allow myself to do. I tell myself, that it’s okay to be mean and selfish, act victimized, and drop any and all responsibility for my well-being onto others. Sometimes. I admit that my thoughts are not always pure, that I have selfish interests, and that I want to be weak and play victim too sometimes. Hello you, my Shadow, it’s nice to meet you! I see you. Don’t be shy. It’s okay not to be perfect.
Thank you, my husband’s ex-wife, for being such a great teacher! I wish I didn’t have to keep learning these lessons, but I guess I will have to. Until I really get it and accept our reality. Maybe eventually something will shift. Maybe there will come a day when we celebrate kids’ birthdays together and co-parent our children in a productive, loving way.
Only time will tell…