This, too, shall pass.
Today it’s one year since my then-wife told me she wanted a divorce. I’ve spent the majority of the year feeling angry, bitter and disappointed.
Early on, I decided to allow myself to feel that way for a year. If I wasn’t getting any better after a year - and that’s today - I would go see a therapist about it. Feeling angry, bitter, and disappointed all the time is really exhausting, and in the long run it’s just damaging, both for myself and everyone around me.
The most prominent emotion has been anger. Exactly how angry was I? Whenever I saw my ex-wife, I felt a primal rage I had no idea I had in me. On the outside, I wasn’t raging, and I didn’t get loud or physical, but I only managed to communicate using single words and grunts. My body language was also what you could safely call dismissive.
On the inside, however, everything was an emotional earthquake, and as soon as I was alone, I had to let it out. When I drove back to the rented apartment I now call home, I screamed from the top of my lungs, I cursed in ways I never imagined I could. It helped a little to unleash the rage that way, but it was weird when people on the street looked worriedly at the car.
It got even weirder when I started biking.
The Numbers Game
At one point I decided I needed a way to determine if my rage increased or decreased over time. If I was able to somehow measure my anger - and other emotions - I could perhaps discover a trend. So, as the nerd I am, I created a web page where I could register the six basic emotions; sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust on a scale from 0 to 10. I also wanted to find out if there was a connection between these emotions and how hungry and tired I was. So I added a feature where I could register that as well. In addition to all the numbers, I could also add a note to explain what I thought had triggered the feelings.
Over the course of about four months, I only registered my emotions, hunger, and fatigue 79 times, which unfortunately isn’t enough data to discover any trends. The anger chart below, for instance, doesn’t really show any progress one way or another. If anything, it just makes me look like a generally angry guy.
One interesting titbit to take away from the limited dataset, however, is that there seems to be some correlation between hunger (blue) and fatigue (orange). Or perhaps I registered most of the data in the evening, I haven’t looked that closely at the details.
So, does this mean that the idea of registering all of this was just a meaningless waste of time?
No, not really, and here’s the kicker: Actually, there are two kickers. First of all, it gave me another way than screaming and swearing in public to vent my emotions. Looking back at the notes I wrote, it’s obvious that there was a lot of things happening in my head at times, and to have somewhere to jot down what I felt was a good thing. At one point, I even wrote a song that you’ll never hear.
But the second kicker is the real gem: I haven’t felt the need to register my emotions since the beginning of November. That’s three months ago.
The turning point came when I realized I wanted my ex-wife to be happy. This dawned on me when I wrote it in an e-mail to her in October. It really was the weirdest thing: When I wrote the words “I want you to be happy”, it was like a switch turned off, and the anger I felt when writing the e-mail went away.
Even though I won’t be the one that makes her happy - I’ve already tried and failed miserably at that - I still very much want her to be. Not just because she’s a person I still care deeply for - she was, after all, only equaled by our daughters, the most important person in my life for 12 years - but also because her happiness reflects on the kids.
So when I feel the the anger building up inside of me, I try to bring back the “I want you to be happy”-moment in my mind. And it helps. It doesn’t make the anger go away, but it removes some of the edge from it.
It looks like I won’t have to go see a therapist after all.
To the Future and Beyond
Am I fine? No.
But am I better than I was one year ago? Yes.
Will I be able to sit down with my ex-wife and have a pleasant conversation with her again some day? I honestly don’t know. I no longer rage like a primal cave man when I see her, but I’m still having a very hard time looking her in the eyes and hearing her voice. Not because I’m ashamed of anything, but because when I do, I feel the anger, disappointment, and bitterness coming at me.
Maybe all that will go away some day, too.
Now go and give someone you love a long, warm hug 💚
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