The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference.
~ Mal Pancoast
When any relationship ends, it’s not uncommon for one or both partners to feel intense hatred for the other at some point. There are several reasons this can occur. Some people feel an intense dislike for their spouse even before their marriage ends. They may feel this when they believe their trust has been betrayed. Or they may feel it as a response to a great deal of mental or emotional damage experienced during their marital relationship, which may continue happening until they decide to divorce. Some people need to feel this hatred in order to justify leaving the relationship. Their intense anger is used to separate (or even repel) them from their spouse.
The second instance of hatred arises in response to feeling rejected by the other spouse. Perhaps one spouse has expressed dissatisfaction with the marriage that wasn’t anticipated, or one spouse behaved badly, such as having had an affair or refusing to participate in family functions. When we are hurt, one natural reaction is to become angry. Hate stems from intense anger.
During divorce proceedings, there are many opportunities to feel hatred toward your spouse. It can crop up when your spouse handles something in a sly or underhanded way, asks for too much, or requests something to which he may be legally entitled, but which you think he should not ask for. The fact that this person whom you married and with whom you may have had children can be so insensitive to your needs can create very strong negative feelings.
Finally, there may be hate even after the relationship is legally dissolved and the divorce is finalized. This hate can come about as a result of feeling that your spouse “ruined” your life or was untrustworthy, or because you saw her true colors come out during the legal proceedings. Having this intense level of emotion present through¬out a divorce is not abnormal. It’s actually indicative of how attached you were to your spouse. Although we sometimes use anger to push others away, in another sense we stay intensely connected to whomever we are furious with. They live rent-free in our minds, where we imagine what we’d like to say or do to them. Or we use up a lot of our energy just thinking about them.
You don’t despise your spouse because you don’t care for him or her anymore. When you despise someone to whom you’ve been close, you still have an emotional connection to that person. Indifference is the true opposite of love because it means there is no longer an emotional connection between you and your spouse.
Only when you reach the place called indifference will you know that you are on the other side of the healing process. When you are indifferent to your ex-spouse, you will know that you’ve worked through the pain that you experienced in your marriage. You can’t will yourself to be indifferent, but you can certainly think of indifference as a goal you want to reach.
I am closer every day to the freedom that indifference brings.
This article has been edited and excerpted from Stronger Day By Day with permission by New Harbinger Publications, Inc, copyright © 2010, Susan Pease Gadoua is the author of Contemplating Divorce, A Step-by-Step Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go (August 2008), and Stronger Day by Day: Reflections for Healing and Rebuilding After Divorce (July 2010). Susan is a licensed therapist based in the San Francisco Bay Area with an expertise in marriage and divorce.
Other articles by Susan Pease Gadoua