What does it mean to make peace with your ex? This is a tough question. When people feel their ex-spouse betrayed them deeply perhaps simultaneously betraying their children, making peace often feels like letting the ex “get away with it.” It feels to many people that somehow someonehas to hold the ex accountable for the pain caused by their behavior. With an unapologetic ex and a world unlikely to dispense suitable punishment, if the injured partner simply moves on, will justice ever be done?
Unfortunately, holding onto the wrongdoing and resulting resentment, troubles the hurt spouse significantly more than the other. Revenge is not possible. Reciprocal bad acts are likely to hurt the children and unlikely to succeed in healing the original injury. Studies show that resentment causes illness. Burai Rick Spencer, writes that, “holding on to resentment and anger, refusing to forgive, is like eating rat poison and then hoping for the rat to die.” When we really look at the problem, forgiveness is the only answer that makes sense.
“Hold on one second,” you might be thinking, “I cannot possibly tell that no-good #^%$*&^ so-and-so that what he (or she) did was OK.”
No one thinks you should. Forgiveness does not mean saying the behavior that hurt you was okay. It does not mean permitting yourself to be hurt again or even be in the same space as the person who caused you pain. Forgiveness means allowing yourself to move forward in life without holding on to the pain of the injury. Burai Spencer says, “forgiveness means letting go of the anger, resentment and blaming that we feel concerning some action that has had an impact on us. Forgiveness does not change what happened, but it does change our way of relating to what happened. . . Forgiveness does not require reconciliation.”
Janis Abrams Spring has written a book called, “How Can I Forgive You?: The Courage to Forgive, the Freedom Not To” (HarperCollins 2004) that addresses this problem head on. Dr. Spring’s book contains very clear steps to help process the impact of deep hurt and find a way to free oneself from holding onto the resentment without foregoing accountability.
Sometimes people who have been very hurt by a husband or wife, choose to divorce in litigation because they are sure that the judge will punish the ex for the wrongdoing. Sometimes people feel that to sit in mediation or Collaborative Law sessions gives credence to the ex’s perspective that they are reluctant or unwilling to grant. It is important to know that many very high conflict couples are successful in resolving their divorces in Collaborative Law and quite a few are also successful in mediation. In fact, an alternative dispute resolution method might well be better suited to respond to the dynamic created by the past than a judge. Something to consider if deep anger is present in your situation.