Almost 12 months ago, I found out that my ex was cheating on me and at the time, I felt like the world stopped and wouldn’t start again. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t figure out what to do, I couldn’t see what was really standing in front of me – a pathetic excuse for a man.
Today though, I see this man in a slightly different light. I’m actually thankful that he did what he did. I hate his actions and choices and don’t condone them but I have chosen to forgive him for things he did to me and for how his actions affected my kids. I can’t say that I don’t have moments where I have to talk myself down from huge amounts of anger that I have toward his continued poor choices, but I’ve had to make the decision to let God deal with him and also to make the choice to allow God to grow positive things in my life by just letting a lot of things go. (And please don’t think that it’s easy to do this…I have to make a conscious decision to do this every darn day.)
And what a difference 12 months can make.
Lesson #1: I had to grow my little Mommy and Me Gang.
My kids have grown so much, emotionally, in a positive way. I didn’t fully realize the negative impact my soon-to-be-ex really had on them and shame on me for not realizing it. I’ve really beaten myself up over some of the things that they’ve shared with me now, that they felt they just ‘had to deal with’ because they knew I loved their stepdad.
Now though, my little family of four is so solid and I can honestly say that had I been with my ex still, I think my family-unit with my three kids would have suffered even more because they were silently struggling with my ex. Now that he’s gone, I’ve watched my second son really open up to me about everything that he’s feeling because he feels supported and heard; I’ve watched my oldest son learn empathy, sympathy, and how to care for others; and my little lady…well, she’s learning how to drive her brothers insane but that’s what two-year old little sisters are supposed to do.
I’ve learned how to connect with them and we have this weird gang-like mentality – that to get past one of us, you have to get past all of us. And without my ex making his poor choices, I wouldn’t have had that. I didn’t have this before my ex and I got together but I’ve had the last 10-12 months to build that relationship and it’s the most incredible experience. They are fully aware that they come first, before any man in my life, or anything else.
As my best friend told me a looooong time ago, give yourself time, if you’re getting divorced, to build a bond with your kids that is impenetrable. I didn’t…I thought I had, but I didn’t give it enough time before being in a serious relationship and it prevented me from seeing exactly what they were experiencing because we weren’t impenetrable yet and they just wanted me to be happy so they avoided sharing how they were feeling about my ex…sadly, I don’t think that they felt that they had a choice. Today, they know that they get to pull the kill-switch if they have issues with someone that I am dating.
My advice – wait until you are on solid ground with the kiddos before you introduce a serious relationship to the kids. I would even recommend waiting until your relationship is solid with your kids before jumping into a serious relationship yourself.
Lesson #2: Don’t expect your relationships to change until you change your habits.
Basically, if you don’t change anything, you’ll find yourself in the same types of relationships over and over and over…until you change something.
I like to serve others and make them happy. It’s who I am and it makes me happy to know that I was the one that put a smile on someone else’s face. The only problem with that is that I’ve only focused on being the support for someone else I’m in a relationship with instead of making sure that my needs were also being met. In a way – I needed to learn how to serve myself.
About nine months before I found out that my ex had been cheating on me, I left my job, my career, of 17 years so that I could help him with his business and support our household needs while he built his business. While it was the dumbest decision I could have agreed to, in the end I think I may end up thanking him. I’m working my tail off to build my own business so that I can create and maintain the same lifestyle that my kids have always been used to and so that I get to use my brain every day doing the things that I love – being creative and being there for them as their mother and support system.
Had I not left my job, I wouldn’t have been in a situation that forced me out of my comfort zone to create my own little world in which I allowed myself to fully do things my way. I had to make myself become a little selfish and to choose to do things that I’ve always wanted to do but was never given the chance to do because my spouse didn’t want to do them…like make my kids Matzo Ball soup whenever they wanted or choose a restaurant other than Ale House if I was going out to eat for dinner. (It’s the little things that make me happy.)
I’ve really had to self-reflect over and over and truly learn what I’m worth and how strong I really can be and I’ve learned how to serve myself. It may sound extremely selfish but I needed to be forced to do that because otherwise, I likely would end up with another man that took and took and took from me, because I like to serve, without the guy giving back to me or serving me. And I’m not high-maintenance…I promise. I don’t expect much more than thoughtful attention, learning my coffee order, and giving me the time I need to watch any of The Real Housewives.
…when I least expected it, someone really important entered in my life. And because I was more solid within my own expectations of myself and my behavior, I knew what I was willing to allow into my life and into my kids lives and how much I would allow myself to serve without being served in return.
The beginning of a new relationship is fun and exciting and you want to do everything for that person to not only impress them but to make them happy. My fatal flaw in relationships is that I have always misinterpreted the happiness that I feel, after serving someone, as happiness, that the person I’m with, is returning to me.
The reality is that the happiness that I felt in past relationships, in the beginning, I had created on my own and that’s not healthy. You should be with someone that gives as much as you give.
And with this guy, I have this. Had I not learned to focus on making myself a priority and how to appreciate ‘how I’m wired’, I could easily have gotten lost in a new relationship. I appreciate my quirks now and won’t let myself be in a relationship unless that person appreciates them as well.
Thanks to my ex, I was forced to take a hard look at myself and the personality traits (from the people I was with) that I had been allowing in my life. I wasn’t questioning myself about what I had done wrong in my marriage, because no one should take blame for my divorce except the cheater and abuser, but I was quizzing myself about the type of person I would ever again allow in my life or my kids lives. And I’ve learned a lot about myself through this process.
My advice – reflect upon your past in order to know what behavior contributed to the divorce and then work your tail off in order to not repeat that behavior, whether that is allowing it in your life or determining that it’s your behavior that needs to change.
The key, though, is to give yourself time to make these changes and not to rush things or allow others to tell you what your timeline should be. You’ll know when you are ready for your next step in life.