When I was married to my ex, I did as so many other wives do: I leaned on my husband. That’s what marriage is supposed to be. A couple should help one another out, pool their strengths and resources together for the greater good of their home and family, and help one another carry the burden of life. As our marriage progressed, I became frustrated that I couldn’t count on him as much as I often needed and had to do progressively more myself; but, in a crisis, or given enough time, he would get around to helping me.
When he and I made the decision to end or marriage, he made it clear that he was no longer available to do anything for me. In fact, he took pleasure in seeing me struggle.
His perspective was that if we were still together, he would (in theory) be available when I needed him, but if we were no longer a couple, I was on my own.
The first real evidence of this was when we were actively making plans to divorce, but still residing under the same roof until we could get our details in order. I started having car problems and found myself without a car to get to church that day or to work the next. An hour before church started, he made it clear that I was on my own for a ride. I walked and even saw him and my children drive by me along the way. He later gave in and offered me a ride home (which I declined) because our children were so upset that he made me walk.
In preparation for the next day and getting to work, he smirked as he saw me make calls to arrange for a ride. Before long, I found someone driving to the same town where I worked, and my crisis was averted, for the moment. He was clearly disappointed to see that I succeeded in finding transportation instead of falling flat on my face and jeopardizing my job!
It was in that moment that I pledged he would never see me struggle again, and I would walk in front of a speeding train before I would ever ask him for help!
To be clear, I no longer considered it to be his responsibility to look out for me, any more than I consider it to be mine to take care of him! Civil people, especially people who will still need to co-parent children together really should try to cooperate and work with one another to troubleshoot through obstacles for the best interests of the kids. I have never put my children in jeopardy in my promise to remain fiercely independent; but, to this day, I swear to you, I will not be needy in his presence!
Have I stressed, struggled, and cried over how to make my way through divorce trials and tribulations? You bet! But, I would rather sell everything I own, rearrange my schedule, and kill myself trying than to ever concede to his “you can’t survive without me” attitude!
Guess what? I can survive and then some!
I will walk, I will scrimp and save, I will be resourceful to the nth degree, I will trade and barter with friends, and anything else I need to in order to provide for my kids and manage my responsibilities; but, I swear upon my own grave that I will never in this lifetime ask him for money, ask him to repair something for me, ask him for a ride, or even ask him to manage something for our kids on my behalf!
I will never again put myself in a position to be used, ridiculed, threatened, or obligated because I will never again owe him anything, show my weakness, or allow him to feel any power or superiority over me. I understand that the perks of a relationship include being there for each other; so, in no way do I still consider it my right to call on him for anything. In fact, because we’re no longer together, I wouldn’t even dream of it! He’s no longer “my person” and I’m no longer his. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to expect him to bend over backward to do anything for me, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking.
Now, has he needed me since our divorce? Yes. His car has broken down many times since we went our separate ways. I have become involved only because our children needed to get to school. I will overlook the irony and my personal feelings in these situations simply because we have a shared responsibility for our children. I’ve never given him a ride individually, and I never get involved with his personal financial or other affairs.
I’ve needed things, including things for our kids since we’ve divorced; but, I have always found another way to solve my problems rather than making myself needy or dependent on him.
I’ll refrain from judgment or criticism of other divorced women and how they interact with their exes. I realize that some people part on more amicable terms and still consider themselves friends even when they can no longer be spouses. Still others divorce on very contentious terms, yet still turn to one another asking for financial assistance, to fix cars and make home repairs, for rides, and other favors.
My two cents in the case of divorced former spouses who are not on the friendliest of terms is that the longer you enable someone, the longer they will continue to come to you to solve all their problems.
It’s difficult to make a clean break and go on with the future when the past keeps calling and efforts aren’t made to develop new supports and learn to problem solve for ourselves.
The longer we rely on an ex to solve the problems of the world, the longer they will continue to be in our world and remain an integral part of it. I suspect that some continue to lean on their ex because they still have unresolved feelings and don’t want to see the relationship end. For others, it may just be habit, familiarity, or a sense that perhaps that help is “owed” for whatever pain was inflicted during the marriage.
One divorced woman’s ex complained to me that she continually calls him, years after the divorce, to ask for money, help to fix her plumbing, a place to sleep when her air conditioning isn’t working or to borrow his car while hers is in the shop. He acknowledged that he needs to enforce boundaries better in their relationship, and he usually helps because he fears for his children. I have to wonder, though, why (after 9 years), she still automatically turns to her ex to solve her problems? Has he made it far too easy for her not to develop other supports, or is she still clinging on to the past?
Whatever the case, I would urge my fellow divorced women to begin to cultivate other means of solving problems so that an ex isn’t the automatic first call whenever something goes wrong. Even if you’re not like me, and driven to prove that you can manage on your own at all costs, it’s healthy to start to respect boundaries. Some of us continue to be the caretakers for our exes, which similarly has the potential to be unhealthy and co-dependent.
Another mom shared with me about how her ex was rather demanding about her helping him to hang a door in his house, yet he was unavailable to help her with an issue she was having with her lawnmower. If he can’t be willing to help as much as he expects to be helped, then is this really an arrangement to be involved in?
Divorce, in most ways, is the end of a relationship and a commitment to support a spouse. The process of making the break in the marriage won’t always occur overnight, and it may certainly feel foreign to begin to depend on others whenever events in life spiral out of our control. At some point, however, we need to consider to what extent and for how much longer we want our ex involved in our life and our business? Can we trust them? Do we want our well-being in their hands? Do we still want to continue to depend on our ex to keep our life running smoothly?
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