11/22/2011 01:40 am ET Updated Jan 21, 2012

What Did I Ever See in My Ex?

In my experience, when a person is the leavee, they often tell me initially they would take their spouse back if he or she wanted to come back to the marriage. This is true particularly when the spouse being left didn't see it coming and didn't think the problems in the marriage were "that bad."

But then something interesting happens.

As the divorce proceedings take place, the leavee witnesses all kinds of behavior that they'd either never seen before or they had denial about (her selfish streak isn't that bad!).

In 90% of the people I polled, there was an emphatic "NO!" when I asked this question even three months into the dissolution process. One woman had a classic response when asked if she would let her husband back in if he were to ask her to reconcile. In a word, "EW!" Another client told me that after his wife had him served with divorce papers on Valentine's Day, he wasn't sure if he could even look her in the eye again, never mind let her back in his bed!

Divorce definitely doesn't bring out the best in anyone and this is so for several reasons:
  • 1. People are more afraid -- it is a time when you have to spend more with less resources so your survival fears kick in (not to mention the added stress of being a single parent)
  • 2. There are many unknowns and that can be unsettling
  • 3. You are at the mercy of others who don't know your case as well as you do (including, at times, a judge who has the power to change your life drastically)
  • 4. It is major upheaval for the entire family (including extended) as well as social circles
  • 5. It is an ending. This last reason deserves some special attention.

Endings are hard for most of us (even when it's our decision to end the job or relationship, for example). It takes a great deal of maturity to contain all of your intense emotions and not act out in some way.

People do jerky things when they are "needing" to not like the other in order to justify a break up. I often hear people talking about their spouse "demonizing" them and complaining more than usual just before dropping the "D" bomb on them (By the way, it may seem odd in the moment, but this all makes much more sense in retrospect).

Even when leavers know they are in the wrong, they can still try to turn things around and make the leavees feel they've done something terrible.

In one instance, a man who started an illicit affair that got outed by the daughter, tried to divert attention from his own wrongdoing and began accusing his soon-to-be-ex-wife of being an alcoholic. There was no basis for his accusations and the commotion about it soon died down but the woman (actually the same one who said, "EW!") was devastated to be left in such a way and then have another layer of pain added on top of everything else.

Seeing the worst come out in the person you married can be scarring. Seeing the worst come out in yourself can be terrifying. Yet, in such a major transition as this, it is unfortunately not uncommon.

There are books you can read to help you make sense of things such as, The Script, by Elizabeth Landers and Vicki Mainzer, and Broken Open, by Elizabeth Lesser, and When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron.

It's also invaluable to get emotional support from professionals as well as from others who have been through something similar and who understand (as long as they want to heal with you or have already healed). Find a divorce support group in your area. If one doesn't exist, feel free to contact me and I will try to help you locate support near you: