There’s a saying I see often that says “you either get bitter or you get better.” It refers to anything that goes wrong really in your life. But I think it mostly refers to relationships. At least, that’s how I relate to it because I have really had to work hard at not being bitter and angry quite a few times in my life. Two major relationships have challenged this for me. And I struggled with it for many years with the sexual assault as well, but more internally.
With the first relationship, I really struggled with that feeling of bitterness. And anger too. A complete lack of forgiveness because I was young and I thought of forgiveness as excusing his behavior. Behavior that made it ok for him to abuse me and then walk away from me and a child. I held onto the bitterness for a LONG time. I’ll come back to that. Maybe.
With my marriage and divorce, I’m still struggling. Mostly because I have kids with a man who chose to mostly check out. He won’t help me coparent because it’s too difficult for him. He won’t really talk to me at all. He will allow email. Wow, thanks. That’s super helpful when one of the kids is going through something and I’d like his support and opinion on how to handle it.
I do not get that at all. I won’t apologize that my kids are closer to me than to him and so they come to me with things. That’s because throughout their lives I was there for them and tried to help them learn how to solve problems knowing that mistakes are ok. I let them know their feelings are never wrong, they have the right to their feelings. And so they came to me and then I shared with their father how they were feeling. But now that we aren’t together, I’m not allowed to share their feelings and discuss things with their dad. I’m suddenly a liar who obviously changes what my kids tell me to make their dad feel badly. Um, hello? The people who would be hurt if I did that are my kids, and I would never do that to my children. Never. I would never decide for them how they feel. I could not hurt them by making up things and passing them off as their feelings.
The first four months after moving away from their dad, I felt like that almost every day. Just angry and bitter. And I really had to work on it. I had to decide it doesn’t matter. I can be a great parent to them without him. And I can support them through hurt, and choices, and happiness. And they will absolutely be ok. I still have plenty of time to show them how to take care of themselves and be proud of who they are and the feelings they have in going about their lives. And the best way I can do that is by showing them how I will live a life being true to myself and how I really feel. I will not be with someone who tells me I shouldn’t or can’t feel what I feel. I will never, not ever, accept someone telling me my feelings are wrong.
Listen, I AM wrong many times. If I present something as a fact and I can be shown the correct information, I accept that. If I go East from Wisconsin to find Wyoming, I’m not going to try and say I’m correct. I fully accept responsibility at work when I do something wrong, or say something I shouldn’t, or forget to complete something due. But when I feel something, I own that feeling, and that is never wrong.
I knew when I thought about dating that I would never date someone who doesn’t have what I consider successful, honest family relationships and at least one friend who knows everything about them. I would say now that the lack of that is a giant red flag for relationship success. You can disagree if you want to, but I can tell you that based on these two challenging relationships in my life–if someone doesn’t have a close friend(s) and doesn’t seem that honest with their family about who they are, it is likely because they aren’t capable of the empathy and emotional openness that is required in a forever relationship. And that is just not ok. At least, not for me.
The last hurdle for me in releasing the bitter from my divorce and being truly and completely better, is accepting that his truth is fine because it is his to live with as he chooses and I don’t have to worry about if he never accepts his part of the responsibility for why we are divorced. This is very difficult for me. Because I believe that he is of the opinion that I just gave up and walked out on him without trying. He has actually said that I am the reason he doesn’t see our child. AND THE WORST is that he truly believes and said to me several times that the problems, the reasons it ended, were ALL ME. And that is so hurtful it makes me furious. I own my problems. I have said them to him and I have worked my ass off to change in the ways necessary to be a better partner.
Here’s the deal with change: everyone does it, and if you get pissed off and say things like why should I have to change anything, you should just accept exactly who I am…that’s because you are unwilling to see that something can be improved and should be improved so that you are capable of relationship compromise. Just like you learned as you grew up from being a child, and then a teen, and then a young adult. If you act like all change is bad, and you function at 40 just as you did at 20, then you are probably a ridiculous person I don’t even want to be around so, whatever, stay exactly the same then. I never asked him to change what makes him who he is for real, way down deep where his morals, values, and desires are found. I merely asked for us to consider, together, how we can both have our needs met for love and safety, and how we can do better to respect and love each other. To change…together. To grow…together, instead of apart.
Deep breath. Clearly this is my work. Accepting that he wasn’t willing to do the work and that even if it appears that he is trying harder in his new relationship than he did with me, it is not the truth. At first we did really well, with the help of a counselor. But he just decided it was too hard to remember that “stuff.” Which to me said, accept when I don’t care about you or your feelings of safety, or don’t.
I don’t. Deeper breath.
That’s ok. But really sad, because it meant we had to never be together again. And that is not what I wanted. You see? I’m still bitter.
But I marched myself right back into a therapist office last week to get it all the way right. To get all the way better and lose the bitter for good. Because ultimately, I love the memories I have of my family with him and our kids, but I am much happier now. I am with a man who I have always dreamed about because not only does he completely “get” me, he is very tuned into communication and love instead of just having a giant ego that only wants to be right. We aren’t perfect, but we are absolutely perfect for each other. And when there is conflict, we work it out and respect each other without trying to prove each other wrong and hurting each other with words that can never be taken back after being said. And I will love him forever.
Loving him makes me want to be the best me. The best me, and even better.