Dear Chump Lady,
I have been living and following my new year’s resolution for three months now. “Chump no more in 20 1-4.”
You have shown me the light, enabled me to make the changes that I needed to make, and move forward in a healthy and confident way. I have attracted some terrific people, a new job, and for the first time in two years I really feel great!
But, I still suffer occasional lapses of “if onlys” or “shoulda, couldas.”
When I was offered that new job…who did I want to call? It still brings tears to my eyes to think about that.
So lay it on me. I need to shake this last nut out of my tree.
Dumped at 57 after 33 years of marriage
Why are you writing to me? You’ve got this new life thing nailed. Terrific people, a new job, feeling great.
So your only problem is after something wonderful happens you want to call your ex? You’ve got Phantom Spouse Syndrome.
You know, like a phantom limb. Even though it’s not there, your brain thinks it’s there and you sometimes feel the pain of the absent limb. Not surprising after 33 years of marriage. It’s sort of like an emotional hallucination, except the pain is very real.
Writing this just got me googling about phantom limb pain, which is pretty interesting reading. One of the theories is that our bodies are made up of a “neuromatrix” and when an amputation occurs, the brain has to substantially reorganize itself. (Even more interesting is some emerging evidence that our brains are “hard-wired” to assume we have fully formed appendages. For example, a person born with four fingers who loses that hand will have phantom pain in five fingers.)
I think something similar occurs in our brains when we amputate a spouse. It takes awhile for our brains to reorganize. The coulda, woulda, shouldas are just you chewing over the problem, rewiring that brain, processing the injury.
One reason chumps get stuck on second guessing is we think at some level we could have controlled this outcome. It’s frightening to realize that we’re vulnerable. That someone could just run their own life, and our lives, off the rails. We replay it over and over checking for loopholes, for some evidence that it was our fault or we missed a spot, or if our ex had been busy that Wednesday he or she would never have met the affair partner.
There are infinite possibilities in the realm of woulda-coulda-shoulda, but those possibilities don’t change the reality — this person is gone from your life. That’s your reality and you have to deal with it. Process the injury by accepting it.
Here’s the thing about losing limbs — they can’t be replaced. You lose an arm, you can’t grow a new arm. Lose a cheating fuckwit? You can replace a cheating fuckwit with another cheating fuckwit (please don’t) — but you can also replace a cheater with something much better — a bionic new life.
In the place of that loss, you can grown a new life. It doesn’t have to be another spouse, it can be new friends, old friends, family, a loving tribe, a faithful Australian shepherd puppy. Frankly, a bag of rocks would be better company than a cheating fuckwit. In any case, the centrality of losing a fuckwit becomes peripheral in time.
My prognosis is that as you experience that new life, it will eclipse the old life, and you’ll grind away on the “whys” less and less. The new life will BE your life. You’re only three months in. I think you’ve got a ways to go, but stick with the awesomeness.