Yeah, I’ve been both.
I didn’t grow up wanting to be either. It’s not like it was a goal of mine or something on my to-do list to become this otherworldly reactionary woman who shape-shifted based off the actions of her boyfriend or husband, but I did.
And I’m wondering, have you? Or more accurately, are you?
Are you, sweet girl deep down inside, currently a crazy ex-girlfriend?
Are you, dear woman whose heart is breaking, currently a bitter ex-wife?
Listen, you know I’m on your side. I will always be on your side. And I know that more than likely your boyfriend or your husband hurt you. And I know that more than likely, he might still be hurting you even if you’re not together anymore, or perhaps simply because you’re not together anymore. And you’re reacting to that hurt. I know.
I know that there is no pain like the pain of a love relationship ending. I’ve had it happen five times, three with the same man. Nothing has torn my heart apart more than when the man I loved and I walked away from each other (or attempted to).
And in my pain, I have done some things I’m not proud of. I’ve eaten more chocolate than one little thing should eat. I’ve put my engagement ring back in a box, walked into a house, slammed it on a kitchen table and said, “I don’t want this damn thing back until you know what the hell you’re doing with me.” (Not my finest hour.) I’ve gotten in a car and driven towards Iowa, for no reason other than I didn’t want to be in the same state for one more second. I’ve cried rivers of tears. I’ve written letters and emails that I never should’ve sent. You get the picture. I’ve been the crazy ex-girlfriend.
And I’ve been the sad ex-wife. The victim-y ex-wife. The pity-me ex-wife. The high-and-mighty ex-wife. The yelling ex-wife. The angry ex-wife. And I swung briefly for a time into bitter ex-wife. But, thank God, I didn’t stay there.
Because here’s what bitter-ex-wife-land consists of:
Rereading emails. And then rereading them some more.
Telling everyone within earshot of the most recent horrific thing your ex-husband did.
Being mean to your ex-husband in your head.
Being mean to your ex-husband in emails and texts.
Being mean to your ex-husband over the phone and in person.
Being mean to your ex-husband in front of or to your children (his children).
Becoming obsessed with what he’s doing and not doing and what he’s saying and not saying.
Possibly finding ways to numb your pain, that you will regret if you don’t already.
Missing out on your life.
Again, oh my gosh, don’t get me wrong. Your ex-husband hurt you and might still be hurting you. And your ex-husband may have hurt your children and might still be hurting your children. And you need to physically and emotionally protect yourself, and you need to physically and emotionally protect your children. You know that I get this. (Y’all have no idea how much I get this.) If your ex-husband is doing drugs or drinking and driving or is beating your children or you or breaking into your home or going against court orders, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Protect yourself.
But if it looks different than that..… Say, if he’s moved in with the woman he left you for and that stings more than you can put into words. Or, say, he is behind on child support but it’s because he’s in between jobs and not because he’s living this extravagant life and just trying to screw you over. Or, say, simply, he’s moved on, and you haven’t, and you can’t stand the thought of how easily he seems to have forgotten you, how quickly he seemed to throw away your love. If it’s that kind of thing, I want you to do me two favors. And I need you to trust me.
First, get a journal and at least fifteen minutes alone. And ask yourself this question: What are the three main things that I am angry with my ex-husband about? (Yes, just three.)
Be honest, but think this through. Look beyond the little details to the bigger picture.
If your knee-jerk reaction to this question is, “That bum hasn’t paid child support in three months,” I want you to look deeper. Because what you might be really upset about, deep down, is the sadness because you can’t help but wonder if the man you once loved who you would’ve considered a good father doesn’t seem to love his kids since he’s not providing for them, despite the actually logical reasons behind it if you could remove yourself just a bit from the situation. Or maybe it’s the fear that brings into your life. Do I have what it takes to make it on my own, to take care of my kids, if he doesn’t come through?
Okay, so, once you’ve jotted down your top three issues and then looked inward for the deeper, more real, issue, I want you to ask Jesus to heal those concerns and those sadnesses and those fears and to bring you peace.
Now, I want you to set aside another small chunk of time. This one is going to be more difficult. And you may not like me for it. But that’s okay. It’s a chance I’m willing to take because your heart is at stake.
I want you to take some more deep breaths. And I want you to close your eyes for a moment yet again. And I want you to ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart and to help you see your situation clearly.
Then I want you to ask yourself this: How are my words and my attitudes toward and about my ex-husband affecting my heart and my life? And how are my words and my attitudes toward and about my ex-husband affecting my children?
I know, you want to smack me. I kinda want to smack me too right now. Just do it. Just please ask yourself these things. All grace here, girls. I don’t have time or space for judgment. This is between you and God.
Then I want you to take a couple more deep breaths and sit quietly. And I want you to pray these words: Holy Spirit, help me see my ex-husband the way you do. Soften my heart toward him. Give me compassion for him. Help me help, and not hinder, his relationship with our children. Please protect my heart with him, but help me be kind. And if you are nowhere near being ready to pray this prayer and mean it, ask the Spirit to help you get ready to one day pray this prayer and mean it.
Life is full of pain. Hard marriages are full of pain. Divorce is full of pain. Men can hurt us. But girls, we can hurt our men right back….dangerously so. Hell hath no fury and all, right? We know how to dole out vengeance. We know how to make men pay. We know how to use words and looks and our children as weapons.
And yet. Christ calls us to something so much deeper and higher and better.
Though our bitterness can absolutely cause pain to our ex-husbands (if we keep our kids from him, for instance, when it really isn’t a matter of any kind of emotional or physical safety at all), you know who our bitterness hurts the most? I know you already know the answer to this.
It truly hurts our children. And it deeply hurts ourselves.
I want you free. Jesus wants you free. Ask him to take over your heart, to bring you deep healing and restoration, and to help you live a bitter-free life..…for your kids, for yourself, and for him.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled. -Hebrews 12:14-15-
If this post encouraged you, you would benefit from “Unraveling: Hanging onto Faith through the End of a Christian Marriage”, found here.
So printing this one out. Timely and exactly what God has already been speaking to me after receiving yet another harsh email. Thank you so much, Elisabeth, for the practical application of God’s amazing Word.
You’re welcome, Susan! Thank you for commenting. And printing it out! 🙂
Thank you so much for you words! They truly are calming and the perspective I needed. I can’t help but think, Jeaus went through a horrific, painful death, that He didn’t deserve, and He never once sent a bad email or even so much as raised His voice, He handled it graciously, and when He did raise His voice, he raised to the Father, pardoning our sins… My sins, my husbands sins… He gets my pain, being betrayed, being rejected, being persecuted, and He set the example… GRACE. Respond in Grace, look to the Heavenly Father and have the focus be on Him, not the people at your feet casting lots for your clothes… Thank you!
“Respond in grace.” I love it.
Confirmation – again – that God wants to set me FREE in Christ alone!! A most excellent post Elisabeth!! Most excellent!! AMEN! and Thank You!!
Thank you, Kim!
I have been all those “ex wives” (angry, sad, victim, bitter, etc) over the last year and a half and I can definitely say that peace does NOT come until you reach the point of being past all that and truly focused only on your life, your children, and moving forward in a positive way to what God has planned for your future. Was I “justified” in my behavior – probably. My Ex did some very awful and hurtful things to me and our children. But am I justified in holding on to those feelings and carrying them with me for the rest of my life? Absolutely not. Great post Elisabeth!! You are a blessing!
Thank you, Nicole! And so grateful we don’t have to STAY all those ex-wives!
Most of the time I feel over it (32 year marriage, 11 kids), but sometimes the bitterness comes back…..especially when struggling with home or car repair or financial difficulty or dealing with teens alone. Why does one encourage contact with a father who is a threat to spiritual health….talks a good talk, doesn’t even crawl, not to mention walking the walk? Is this something one should even desire? My mother always pushed us kids to have our absentee father to family events and it just made life stressful. I think if leavers want to leave by divorce or desertion, ok, but don’t push for a family get together so you have kids to decorate your holiday photos for facebook and then ignore them (and God) the rest of the year.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! A thousand thank yous! I really needed to read this now. I feel like I’ve been stuck in a very negative place (I hate negativity) and distant from God. I needed someone to speak blunt truth to me about my attitude towards my ex and I think this is exactly what I’ve let affect my walk with the Lord. This post was so very well-written, timely, and appreciated!
Hi Elizabeth! Great article as always! I completely get changing my heart towards my Ex… which I am still praying and asking God for help with.
As I read this though, I interpreted some of it as If I should be “friends” with my X.
Not saying you said this though, that’s just how I felt reading it because of my own issues with codependency.
Thankfully, I divorced after all my daughters were over 18, and I chose not to fight for alimony, so I do not have to communicate with him in any form.
I have chosen to go “No Contact” with my Ex as he is still addicted to pornography and still emotionally abusive to my daughters. Which is difficult to respond lovingly with my daughters when they tell me some issues that arise when they interact with him…
I try hard to be neutral with them, not always succeeding, but I am also honest as well.
I tell them he is ill and an addict. I also warn them not to leave their children alone with him ever.
I fear his addiction may progress to possibly abusing his grandchildren. I don’t say this out of bitterness. I say this as a possible reality of someone who refuses to work on recovery from a sex addiction.
My point in all this is that I need to remember that I’m asking God to change my heart towards my Ex without going to the other extreme in that if I have forgiven him and I pray God’s healing for him, that doesn’t mean he will ever be my friend.
Does that make sense? Lol
As a codependent, I am still working on not going from one extreme or the other…. but maintaining healthy boundaries with protective self-care.
Maybe there are others here who needed this perspective and I felt like sharing it. Thanks!