Cause and effect
Well, Peaceful Readers, it’s the Friday before Christmas. I’m sitting by the fire in my Chocolate Chair—a comfortable, brown leather recliner. I have my nice green afghan on my legs. (My mom made it for me years ago.) I’m wearing a blue sweater, black sweatpants and fuzzy, striped, pastel-pink socks. Call me mismatched, but warm and cozy. It was cold and it rained a lot today, which makes the fire and the fuzziness all-the-more comfortable.
Speaking of mismatched, let’s get back to the issue of Post-Marriage Boundaries with my ex-husband, Greg. We were definitely not on the same page in that department. Say it with me—with some great Southern twang, like Gomer Pyle: “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” Wasn’t that fun?
When friendship encourages abuse
If you read part 5 of this post—Healthy Boundaries With My Ex-Spouse—you know that I’ve been having some fun with the word friend. Obviously, when I use the word friend, I’m talking about a real friend, not a checkbox on a website.
Here’s the interesting thing. Greg treated his first wife and his ex-girlfriend like dirt in the same ways that he treated me like dirt. Yet they remained friends with him after their break-ups. I was the first one of his significant others who said No way, buddy. Your behavior was deplorable. Get away from me. Because Greg experienced absolutely no natural consequences for his bad behavior in the past, he kept getting worse and worse.
What they thought
His bad behavior was actually rewarded by the “Let’s be friends” response of his first wife and ex-girlfriend. These women thought they were being nice. They thought they were being understanding. They were doing what everyone does on TV. And Greg got to keep a solid fan base. Woohoo! A current wife, a current girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend and an ex-wife. Sounds almost like a cheerleading squad, doesn’t it.
An abuser’s spin on friendship
Let’s dig a little more into the impact that Greg’s first wife and ex-girlfriend had on him—because they bought the culture’s Mantra for Breakups: “Let’s be friends.” In truth, their decision to remain friends with someone who abused them did two really bad things. First, it validated the abuser himself, so he could continue to think highly of himself (i.e., “I’m a good guy or they wouldn’t want to be friends with me”). And secondly, it encouraged the abuser to keep on abusing. How? Greg could deny that his conduct was abusive: alcoholism, pornography, lying, cheating, requiring abortions, and general cruelty. He could justify his behavior by saying, “We’re still friends” (i.e., “The way I treated her was normal and acceptable;” “Everybody’s doing it;” etc.).
“Let’s be friends” fueled the sickness, lies and denial. “Let’s be friends” eliminated healing instead of encouraging it.
“Let’s be friends” can be really dangerous,
depending on who your friend is.
I don’t have to tell you that parents who don’t speak the truth to their children—who allow their children to behave atrociously—are raising future menaces to society. We all get that connection, don’t we? The same is true for those of us who are supposedly grown-ups. When abusive behavior is ignored, it’s being silently encouraged. I’ve been guilty in that department—the silence, not the abuse. When abusive behavior nets a pay-off, like “Let’s be friends,” it’s being given a high-five—tangible, potentially-enthusiastic encouragement. Don’t do that.
No can do
In addition to being harmful for the abuser, “Let’s be friends” is obviously harmful for the victim. If I had chosen to be friends with Greg after our separation/divorce, that would have been emotionally disastrous for me. It would have left a door open that desperately needed to be closed. It would have welcomed chaos when I needed peace. It would have validated and encouraged an abuser to keep on abusing. No can do, peeps. And, like the story of Aunt Greta, it would have kept me from achieving closure on a destructive relationship. I needed closure so I could move on with my life.
Appropriate consequences, which lead to healing
Natural consequences provide all of us with what we need—the truth—the reality of what we’ve done and how it impacted people. Most people acknowledge that the first step in solving a problem is to admit that you actually have a problem. Only then can we seek healing.
After our divorce, Greg experienced appropriate consequences for his terrible behavior for the first time in his adult life. “No, Greg.” I said no and I meant it. We would not be friends and I told him why. Shock of America. In the first post in this series, I called our marriage The Nine Years of Misery. When I told Greg “It’s over,” I meant “It’s over”—not just sort-of over or mostly over. Really over. That’s what every single one of my boundaries communicated to him. “There will be no contact between us and it is not up for discussion.”
The first step
As time passed, he drank in what my decision meant: (1) His behavior was seriously bad and (2) he would never see or talk to me again. Greg saw at least part of the truth—when he woke up from his intoxicated stupor. And guess what happened….
He finally admitted that he had a problem.
Greg eventually went to a 12-Step Program for his alcoholism. How did I find out? He tried to call my sister Pam and her husband to make amends with them—one of the 12 Steps. They didn’t return the call. Their nickname for him was The Roach. Needless to say, he disgusted them and they wanted him gone. I second that emotion. But I was very glad to learn that he got some help for his alcoholism. That makes the world a much safer place. I hope he also addressed his other problems.
What appropriate consequences mean and don’t mean
My decision to cut Greg out of my life was the healthy decision for everyone involved. The decision wasn’t a punishment, nor was it an indicator that I didn’t forgive him for his heinous conduct. I did forgive him. In fact, he apologized to me during The Porch Visit and I told him that I had forgiven him for everything. Forgiveness allowed me to move forward without carrying The Heavy Baggage of Unforgiveness. Life With Greg left me with a big enough suitcase (i.e., trauma) to unpack.
Forgiveness and friendship are two very different concepts. Just because I forgive someone doesn’t mean I will be having contact with that someone. Some people—like Greg—are abusive. Some people are mentally ill. Some people have personality disorders.
Some people do not get to be a part of my life.
There are evil people out there. I’ve met some. I’ve been related to some. And I’ve walked away.
Keep these things in mind.
♦ When you invite someone into your home, you are displaying friend-like behavior.
♦ When you talk to or text someone casually on the phone, you are displaying friend-like behavior.
♦ When you give someone advice, you are displaying friend-like behavior.
♦ When you chat with someone out in public, you are displaying friend-like behavior.
♦ When you send someone a Christmas or birthday card, you are displaying friend-like behavior.
♦ When you schedule something social with someone or extend an invitation, you are displaying friend-like behavior.
♦ When you ask other people how someone is doing, you are displaying friend-like behavior.
♦ When you follow someone on social media (and/or allow them to follow you), you are displaying friend-like behavior.
Am I making my point?
Ask yourself these questions.
♦ What qualities do you require in a friend? Not an acquaintance. A good, meaningful friend.
♦ Knowing everything you know about your ex-spouse, does he or she possess—consistently and admirably—the qualities you require in a friend?
♦ This next question is a slightly different take on the same issue. If you met your ex-spouse today, would you choose to be friends with him or her? In other words, is your ex-spouse truly Friend Material? Really?
♦ If you chose to be friends with your ex-spouse, what other relationships would be impacted? How would those other relationships be impacted? Would the impact(s) be positive and healthy—across the board?
♦ How would choosing to be friends with your ex-spouse affect you—emotionally, socially and spiritually?
Dig deep when you answer these questions.
Life is not a popularity contest.
In part 4 of this post, you learned about my Aunt Greta. She kept a big photo of her ex-husband on her wall and lived in the past. After I shared Aunt Greta’s story, I asked these questions….
Looking at the truth
Yes, you [and your ex-spouse] had some good times together. But what is today’s truth? What is the reality of your ex’s character, behavior and current role in your life? Get out your journal and write down 10 truths—today’s truths—about your ex-spouse. What do these truths teach you?
Inappropriate and messy
A friendship with your ex-spouse would most-likely be inappropriate and it makes things messy when you decide you like someone else romantically-speaking. Really messy.
I mean, really. Would you date someone who likes to pal around with his/her ex-spouse? No way.
My recommendation is this:
Don’t pursue or maintain a friendship with your ex-spouse.
Maybe there are healthy exceptions to my advice. I just can’t think of one.
Applying the recommendation closer to home
Let’s unpack this boundary issue very close to home. Would I be happy if Brandon received a Christmas card from his ex-wife? Uhhh, absolutely not. I would be livid. A Christmas card communicates I still think about you and I want you to think about me. Or perhaps it communicates this: Remember that I’m a nice person. Either way, it’s past history pushing itself into the present. Not cool. Not good. Not healthy. Not respectful to anyone involved. It sounds like a big, fat case of Look At Me, Look At Me, Look At Me!
It. Is. Inappropriate.
Use caution, Peaceful Readers. And respect—for yourself and others.
Choosing your team
I’ll say it again. Life is not a popularity contest. The Bible says it this way:
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God?
Or am I striving to please men?
For if I were still pleasing men,
I wouldn’t be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10, World English Bible
Calling the shots… or seeking wise counsel
Since Greg and I didn’t have to coordinate child support or visitation, I got to call the shots in The Boundary Department. When children are involved, things can be very complicated. I’ll be the first one to say that I’m not qualified to make any comments in that department. Consult knowledgeable people who have your best interest at heart.
Getting help in the boundary department
If you aren’t sure where to draw the line with your ex-spouse, I strongly recommend seeking the advice of a great counselor and/or a very experienced divorce support group leader.
Here’s an important recommendation from the last series:
Speaking of boundaries, have you read Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend? It’s a must-read masterpiece. I gave away my copy to someone who really needed it. I think I’ll buy it again. It’s one of those books that needs to live in our home. The full title is Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life. I like to describe this book as “essential reading for healthy living.”
Christmas… just around the corner
If you’re dealing with a divorce, remember to follow through on the To-Do List for The Season of Grieving from part 3 and part 4. Holidays can be especially challenging.
Let’s all focus on Christmas next week—our celebration of Jesus’ birth—and spending our time with people who are good to us. Choose wisely.
Coming next: What’s coming next? Good question. Come back after New Year’s Day, and we’ll both find out. I have some notes and thoughts scribbled down (i.e., typed out) at this point, but I’m not really sure how much more I’ll have to say on this subject, Grieving Divorce. It keeps growing. I’ll be the first to say—it’s a complicated, intense trauma.
The Lord be with you….
Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.
Truth from The Word: Romans 1:7
Song for Healing: During this great song, Tauren Wells is singing to God directly. Drink in the healing lyrics of “Known.”