For some of us, money problems dog us for years. Health problems, too. Our careers may have been interrupted repeatedly and for extended periods, playing a key role in the financial vulnerability where we find ourselves unable to “move on” after a divorce.
If I hear it one more time – “Why don’t you just move on?” – I’ll scream.
I’m so sick of pop culture’s insistence that we “move on” after divorce – caving to the feel-good, superficial, non-stop stream of well-meaning advice that you cannot be happy after divorce until… you got it… you “move on.”
What exactly does that mean anyway?
How do you “move on” when you’re smack in the middle of the anger, the sadness, the bewilderment – and the consequences – even years later?
When your divorce is high conflict, when the aftermath of your divorce leaves a trail of issues that cannot be swept under the rug, when you’re confronted by mind games and maneuvers that do not disappear – regardless of your attitude or your actions – then “moving on” shouldn’t be part of the discussion.
You aren’t being the victim. You aren’t hanging on to feelings for your ex. You aren’t intentionally dwelling in the past. Rather, you’re dealing with the present – acts and impacts that are still taking place – affecting you, your children, your health and well-being, your livelihood, and if you have one – your social life.
These emotions remain in the present because this is your now. These consequences are also your now.
Living With Long-Term Impacts of High Conflict Divorce
In some situations, divorce leaves us and our children with wounds, but over time we put the pieces back together in ways that lead us into a better life for all involved. We’re civil, we heal, we co-parent respectfully.
We may be grateful to no longer find ourselves in an emotionally or physically abusive situation, and we are truly better off as are our children, though starting over means living with a difficult legacy.
We may have made our way out of an empty marriage, all parties relieved to be on their own, and even financially solvent. That sounds like a “win” to me.
We may be creating new families, and blending our children with new partners. Things are going well.
But this isn’t the case for everyone. For some of us, money problems dog us for years. Health problems, too. Our careers may have been interrupted repeatedly and for extended periods, playing a key role in the financial vulnerability where we find ourselves. Likewise, legal fees and support problems may add to the money mess, and the cumulative effects weigh us down more and more each year.
We may also be struggling to understand the narrative that is… or was… our life with a partner. We may be piecing together a past that makes no sense in light of new information, or signs we noticed but thought it better not to act on.
Living With Anger, Regret, and Societal Views
We kick ourselves for not “seeing,” for not “reacting” in some anticipatory way, for not knowing what was happening. And those who tell us to move on are kicking us, too.
You bet. Sad, too?
But feeling and expressing anger doesn’t mean we can’t love – ourselves, a new partner, our children, our friends. That’s another pop culture myth, and it’s simply not the case.
As for specific anger over vindictive or manipulative actions, especially if children are caught in the crossfire, what’s not to understand? What parent doesn’t fight ferociously to protect her young?
Angry and bitter all the time is a different matter of course, and I’m not suggesting that we don’t do everything in our power to rebuild our lives for ourselves and our children. But rebuilding trust is exceptionally difficult when the ground is still trembling.
Dealing With, Not Moving On…
I know a handful of mothers whose divorces were high conflict, and the aftermath, in some cases, is still raging. The high conflict aftermath can be a terrible thing.
Imagine still battling divorce-related issues – logistical, financial, and emotional – after five years, seven years, ten years. The term “battle fatigue” comes to mind.
Imagine thinking the divorce wars are behind you, only to find that legal actions pop up when you least expect them, or your child is being manipulated by a master puppeteer who may suffer what some call “character disorder.” And divorcing the character-disordered spouse?
The fact is this: For some of us, the official termination of the marriage doesn’t mean it’s over at all. If something isn’t over, there is no moving on, only “dealing with” – and possibly a state of hypervigilance that we’re hard-pressed to explain to others, as we dread the next salvo and worry when it will hit, asking ourselves yet again:
How will I protect my children? Where will I get the money to go back to court? How much will it cost to get a lawyer involved this time? Can I make the rent? Will my boss put up with yet another afternoon off for depositions?
You take each challenge as it comes. You steel yourself. You may well become increasingly isolated. Those friends who stuck by you for a year are long gone. You hunker down. You protect your children as best you can. You make difficult choices that offer lessons (you tell yourself), but never a “win.”
High Conflict Life After Divorce
A single mother I’ve known for some time lives with the legacy of an ex-husband who was not only emotionally abusive prior to abandoning his family, but whose manipulations resulted in serious impacts to her children, and to the health of one.
That child – and the mother – will live with those health consequences for the rest of their lives. He, with an illness and she, with the worry, the care, and the expense – none of which she’s in a position to bear.
The ex? He has never attempted to address the damage he caused – not emotionally and not financially.
How could they not feel anger, not to mention confusion and betrayal? Should we simply tell her to get over it, to put the past behind her, to embrace the forgive and forget mantra that is yet another pop psychology myth?
I don’t think so.
Naturally, this doesn’t mean she can’t experience moments of appreciation for the good days that come her way. But “moving on?”
I’m guessing she’s just as irritated as I am when she hears an acquaintance remark: “How long has it been since your divorce? Why don’t you just move on?”