One of the most often repeated things people said to me as I was going through my divorce from my kids’ mom was, “Someday she’ll be sorry.” Another one I often got was, “The best revenge is living a happy life after your divorce.” But is that really so?
I have often heard people lament, “I wasn’t the one who broke my covenants, so why is [former spouse] having all kinds of fun in a new relationship, while I am stuck struggling in every area of life.” To this question, well-meaning people will also answer, “He (or she) might look happy now, but eventually he (or she) will be sorry for what he (or she) gave up.” I have even seen people rush into new marriages within a few months after a former multi-decade marriage ended, where there is a real feeling that part of the reason is implicitly telling the former spouse “I’ll show you!”
The foregoing expressions by well-meaning people all presuppose that my former spouse needs to suffer for me to feel better. It is talionic justice writ large—from the old Roman law that criminals should receive as punishment precisely those injured and damages they had inflicted upon their victims.
I suppose in the anger stage of grief, it might be helpful for a person to think this way. “Someday he (or she) will be sorry” is a little bit validating. It’s like telling yourself, “I was a great spouse and someday he (or she) will realize that it was the biggest mistake of his (or her) life to give me up!” But is it true? Do people ever really regret it?
About a third of divorced people surveyed report that they regretted getting divorced. That’s a sizable number and suggests that many in our culture do, in fact, regret getting divorced. (It may also suggest that our no-fault divorce culture does not take the decision to end a marriage seriously enough.)
The foregoing statistics notwithstanding, it would be a grave mistake to base my happiness on another person’s misery. It just feels wrong. As Father Lehi wrote, Satan “seeketh that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (2 Nephi 2:27.) Basing my happiness on another person’s pain or regret also places the reference point for my happiness outside myself. I have no control over what my former wife does or thinks or regrets. I have no way of really knowing what she thinks about. So why base my happiness on anything in her life? If I think that way, and she seems to be flourishing (whether she actually is or not), I am going to be resentful and frustrated about it. We are all human and capable of jealousy and pride. We are best served by finding happiness within ourselves and our relationship with Heavenly Father, regardless of another person’s success or failure.
It is also important to move on from a former relationship and embrace the future. It is difficult to do that if you are constantly watching and waiting for your former spouse to fall flat on his or her face. You can’t create a healthy new relationship when you are still fighting the battles of an old one–even if you are only fighting them in your mind. (Your mind is where your connections to others exist.)
The parable of the wheat and the tares teaches that the books aren’t balanced daily, and justice is God’s to mete out—not ours. (Matthew 13:24-30.) You can waste your life watching and waiting for someone else to get his or her comeuppance.
My wife Cathy recently attended a baby shower for our daughter-in-law, which was given by my former wife. My wife and my former wife sat together at the lunch and talked and had a pleasant time. When I arrived to pick Cathy up, my former wife came out to greet me as well and brought me some fruit from the lunch. I hadn’t seen her for a couple of years because she lives on the east coast now. We spent a few minutes getting caught up. I was glad she was pleasant. But even if she had not been, it wouldn’t have affected me very much.
Cathy told me that my divorce story came up in the conversation, and my former wife sees our divorce story pretty much the same as I see it. Do you understand how rare that is? Usually, if we hear both people talk about a divorce, it is a panoply of examples of how the other person was in the wrong. That is where the cliche comes from that, “there are two sides to every story.” The only way you ever get beyond the distortions and self-justifying explanations is if both people have done a lot of self-confronting and reflection. That’s a more mature way of dealing with a broken heart than staying stuck in resentment and blame. Forgiveness comes in intentionally putting down the rock of resentment, deciding it no longer matters who was “right,” and accepting that where we are in life is for our best good (See D&C 122:1-9).
I don’t need my former wife to regret anything to be happy in the life I have now. I wouldn’t even wish for that. I wish her well. I am so happy with my life today that I almost can’t believe it. I have a wonderful wife, an amazing family, a great career, and a chance to spread light in the world through articles like this one. My former wife does not really factor in any of that. I am simply grateful for the things I learned from our marriage and happy that we are on friendly terms.
The best way to find happiness after divorce is to look inside yourself and do the work necessary to feel better. It is about finding and living in shalom (peace, wholeness, and restoration). It is starting over and creating a new life and a new relationship, using everything you have learned through all of your prior study and experiences to do better next time. Enjoy your lives my friends. Don’t waste them wishing for someone else’s misery.
About the Author
Jeff Teichert and his wife Cathy Butler Teichert are the founders of “Love in Later Years,” which ministers to Latter-day Saint mid-singles seeking peace, healing, and more joyful relationships; and the authors of the Amazon bestseller Intentional Courtship: A Mid-Singles Guide to Peace, Progress and Pairing Up in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jeff and Cathy each spent nearly a decade in the mid-singles community and draw on this experience to provide counsel and hope to mid-singles and later married couples. Jeff and Cathy are both certified life coaches and have university degrees in Family Science. They are the parents of a blended family that includes four handsome sons and one lovely daughter-in-law.
Purchase Jeff & Cathy’s book at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09KMXXJN7?ref_=pe_3052080_276849420