How Do I Break My Habit of Sending an Occasional Nasty Email to My Ex?
Have you moved on with your life?
The other day, I received an interesting letter from someone asking me how she could break the habit of sending an occasional nasty email to her ex-husband. This woman was clear that her emails were not threatening to her ex-husband and she does not send them often; maybe every two months. She does not know why she does this since she proclaims that she has moved on with her life, has a great job and loves being a mom to her daughter. She added that she has a wonderful group of friends who get together often. She’s baffled as to why she behaves this way.
This is not the first time I have been approached with this question.
What does the behavior tell you?
As I am not a therapist, I am unable to give her an answer from a psychologist’s point of view. Since this was not a foreign question for me, I contacted two mental health professionals, one a psychologist and the other a social worker, to provide me with some insight into this behavior pattern. The opinion of both mental health professionals was that the writer of the email had clearly not moved on with her life, no matter how much she proclaimed she had.
Now that we had adequately addressed her issue from a psychological standpoint that “She has not moved on with her life,” it was now my turn to put on my Divorce Consultant and Private Investigator hats and get to the nitty gritty of her problem and what she could do about it.
What I know about behavior patterns, I have seen my share of unconventional behaviors, in and out of the courtroom, and the consensus of opinion is that people don’t engage in any behaviors unless there is some kind of “payoff” for them; even if it is a negative one. We may eat that huge piece of cake because it tastes so good knowing very well that it may pack a few extra pounds onto our hips. How many times have you purchased something on your credit card knowing you should not have purchased it however, you just had to have it?
No matter how much she professes to have moved on with her life, she clearly hasn’t. Sending an email to their ex-spouse is about the last thing on their to-do list. It’s great that she has a job, great friends, and loves being a mom. Despite the wonderful parts of her life, there is something that is still there and very raw. It’s obvious that she has some unresolved issues with her ex-husband that she feels the need to vent to him. The question I ask her is “What is hoping to achieve with the venting?” Does she have the need to purge some unresolved anger or is she expecting a reaction from him? Either way, her letter writing campaign needs to stop, which is why she wrote to me.
What do you hope to achieve by venting to your ex?
We all want to vent to our ex-spouses and tell them all the ills that they perpetrated on us. Wouldn’t it be nice if they responded with utter remorse and added that they missed us so much that each day of their lives is nothing but an empty void without us? The truth is most people don’t get that response. Instead, they are met with resistance and blame, and the cycle of arguments starts all over again. “You did that. No, you did this.” In other instances, the emails or texts go ignored. Sometimes, the receiver blocks all correspondences.
Obviously, the writer has the need to vent to her ex-husband of the wrongs he perpetrated on her and how it is impacting her. The question is will she receive the payoff that she is looking for? My guess is that anything she wrote in her emails was nothing he had not read or heard before from her. The letters were nothing more a valid place for her to release her frustrations. It was time for her to let go.
How do you change the behavior?
Divorce is a sharp slice into a relationship; a relationship that was of many years or even decades. To suddenly obliterate a person from our lives is very challenging for many people. Some people can do it the day of the divorce. They leave the courthouse steps and never look back. Others need to ease into the new living arrangements. This does not mean that the writer had the right the infringe her anger or unresolved issues on her ex-spouse. It does mean that her feelings are valid and need to be redirected. This can be done through therapy, talking with friends, journal writing or writing a letter to her ex-husband that does not get sent.
Moving on really means moving on from him. Engaging her ex-husband by writing him letters, whether he responds to them or not, is not part of the moving on process. Using other ways to release her anger and hurt will reduce her need to vent to her ex-husband. Hopefully, she will begin that process so that she does not engage with him at all. Being stuck keeps her from living her best life and that is really what living is all about; living one’s best life.
The effects of a divorce can stay with you for much longer than you’d think.
The Divorce Recovery Ladder is a book that can help you take care of yourself while you climb out of a divorce.