One’s real life is often the life that one does not lead.
~ Oscar Wilde
One of the most common thoughts people share when their marriage ends is the loss of the hope they once had. Ideas like these are often stated: “If only she’d gotten sober.” “If only he could have stayed faithful and wouldn’t cheat.” “If only the therapist could have reached him.” “If only someone had intervened.”
It’s difficult to move on from such types of thoughts, especially when you feel that several relatively minor issues or just one major issue caused your marriage to fail.
One woman told me recently she had loved her husband and had wished only that he had been more mature. In her mind, their marriage could have worked if her husband had simply grown up and stopped acting like a bachelor. She seemed almost ready to blame her husband’s therapist for the breakup by saying that she wished the therapist had been more direct with her husband. Although I know that there are ways in which people can and do change, they transform only because they want to and are ready to not because someone is forcing them to change or convincing them that they should view themselves and the world differently.
As frustrating as it may be, whether the issue causing conflict is the need for a partner to be more responsible or the need to end an addiction, you cannot force another person to change.
No matter how close you felt you were to have the partner you wanted, you did not have that partner. You left your spouse, or your spouse left you, or the breakup was mutual. In any of these three scenarios, neither you nor your partner had enough of what you wanted and needed from the other spouse, even if it missed by only a hair. It will make your divorce experience much harder to endure if you continue to think about what a great relationship you could have had. “If only he had loved me more,” or “If only she had wanted kids,” or “If only he had stopped gambling.” Whenever you find yourself feeling sad, depressed, hurt, or angry because of how it might have been, stop thinking those thoughts. Instead, remind yourself of the disappointments, embarrassments, hurt, and pain that were caused by what was missing.
Whatever was missing in your relationship was sig¬nificant, because if it hadn’t been, you would have been able to save your marriage if both of you had wanted to change and had been able to change.
I accept reality today and don’t let myself dwell on “if only.”
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