You don’t have to have a villain in your story.
Nearly half of marriages in the US end in divorce or permanent separation. Chances are, you’re part of the divorce statistic in one way or another.
There’s an interesting phenomenon about divorce. Everyone’s ex is “the bad guy”. (Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, the bad guy can be a man or a woman).
Stories about people’s loser ex are some of the most common stories out there. They come up in nearly every conversational setting. Work, parties, coffee, the gym, tv, …
The ego is crafty at weaving tales. It does it faster than the blink of an eye.
You see, if your ex is the “bad guy” in the breakup story, that makes the you the “good guy”. If you can blame someone else, that means you didn’t do anything wrong. If the other person did things to cause the breakup, that means you’re “better” than the other person.
It eases the pesky uncomfortable feelings we’d all rather avoid. Feelings like guilt, remorse, shame, grief, loss, failure….
As much as you’d like to think you were the good guy, your assessment is skewed. You were sometimes a jerk too. - Christine Bradstreet
Almost everyone sells the story of the bad guy when they talk about breakups.
You might not want to admit it, but you’ve consciously or subconsciously been enrolling people to be on your team. The worse the villain, the better the story. The better the story, the more sympathy, attention, or validation you get. The more sympathy, attention, or validation you get, the more righteous you feel.
There’s always a bad guy, and if nearly 50% of marriages split up, how is it that all those people think the other person is the bad guy? The math doesn’t compute…
It’s less common, but instead of making your ex the bad guy, maybe you made yourself the bad guy. Taking all the blame, thinking you weren’t good enough, didn't try hard enough, or weren’t deserving enough. Either way, there’s a bad guy in the story.
You and your ex can both be the good guy.
The Universe doesn’t have a limit on good. There’s room for both of you. - Christine Bradstreet
Seeing the world as black and white feels neat and tidy, but there’s no rule that says you both can’t be good guys.
When you see the inherent goodness and worth in both of you, you create a space where animosity, power struggles, revenge, and hurt feelings can dissolve. Being willing to see the good in your ex benefits you both.
The Universe gives you what you focus on.
The more stories you tell about your ex’s bad habits, annoying behavior, and overall failings, the more of that you get.
There’s no room for a person to impress you when you insist on only seeing the parts that bother you. Acknowledge the good, and you’ll see more of it.
If you’re not able to see the good, at the very least, take a neutral approach.
How to stop labeling your ex:
✔ Stop telling stories that end in your personal assessment. Stick only to the facts.
You put your kids to bed at 8:00 pm and your ex lets them stay up until 10:00. Those are the facts. The made up story is one parent is virtuous and the other is irresponsible, or one parent is uptight and controlling and the other liberating.
Stop thinking and talking about the made up part of the story. What you’re really doing is judging, and that never ends well.
✔ Stop freaking out when your ex does things new or different.
Once you separate, each one of you has new freedom. A freedom to explore and do things you didn’t do together, like a big burly guy trying yoga for the first time, or a career change, or, gulp….going on dates.
You want that freedom for yourself, so don’t make your ex a villain for trying new things. A breakup leads to a time of exploration. People are finding themselves and reassessing what they really want in life.
“I still have sadness and complicated feelings about my divorce. But how beneficial is it to keep hanging onto those feelings? If someone lives through an accident, his aim is to become better and healthy. My aim is always to progress — to make better decisions and be a better father, a better boyfriend, a better husband if it happens again.” Ryan Phillippe
✔ Release and forgiveness.
Yes, your ex did things that hurt you. And whether you know it or not, you did things that hurt your ex. There were needs that weren’t met, words that stung, betrayals, boredom, and a host of other painful things. But you both did those things.
Forgive your ex. Forgive yourself. Give the gift of releasing the past for both of you. The world is made better by two happy people moving forward.
✔ Take responsibility.
A marriage is a partnership, and both people contribute to the dynamic. Even if one person’s behavior looks outstandingly bad, you married that person and played a part in the dynamic. That’s not a judgment, it’s a statement. You’re a different person now than when you were a partner in the marriage, but acknowledge the part you played in the past.
What your ex did or didn’t do isn’t your responsibility, so stop trying to control it or change it. This is time to focus on you being the best you you can be.
The allure of the bad guy story is strong. I told that story myself for many years.
Sometimes the story charged me up, but really it just left me feeling angry, resentful, and stuck. It made me look small everytime I told it. And even if I didn’t speak it out loud, it seeped out in ways that affected a lot of lives.
Whoever the bad guy is in your story, your stories are made up just like mine were.
All the stories created and defended by the ego are for self preservation. We cling to them and depend on them to define us. Ultimately, they were made up to preserve our version of the truth and defend our ideas of who we are and how the world is supposed to work.
Every life you touch is made better if you and your ex are both the good guy.
You think you gain benefit by making your ex the bad guy, but really you’re keeping yourself stuck.
The story of the bad guy is so intoxicating that you'll cling desperately to it. But the truth is you can’t heal or move forward if you can’t release the idea of the bad guy. One day the pain of hanging on to the story will be greater than the fear of letting it go. When you let it go, you will heal.
I wish you the best in your journey forward.