Eaten alive

I'm consumed with thoughts of my ex-husband roasting on a spit. How can I stop hating him?

By Cary Tennis
Published March 15, 2004 8:11PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Here's my story: Wild and impetuous youth that lasted way too long, pregnancy, desertion of boyfriend, resulting baby ... bliss. My son literally saved/directed/focused my life. I love him more than I ever thought it possible to love anyone. Now for the bad part. When he was 3 and a half I met a man and my impetuousness reared its ugly head. We got married, he adopted my son (with the unwritten caveat that if we should ever break up he would never fight me for custody). This he promised a gazillion times. Three years later (and rocky years they were) he decided that he didn't want to be married anymore (or so he wrote me in a letter).

When I filed for divorce he promptly hired a lawyer and (you guessed it) fought for and received joint custody of my son. How do I stop hating him? How do I stop being consumed with thoughts that involve his body on a slowly turning spit? It's eating me alive. I've never hated another human being before now. You seem wise. Any advice for me?

I'm a Wreck

Dear Wreck,

I know a couple of things you can do. What I do is go out in the backyard and start digging. I dig through all my self-righteousness and self-justification to reach that one original impulse without which none of this would have happened. When I find it I have to admit that all this could have been avoided if I only had not done that one original thing. I then accept responsibility for what that one original act has brought me to. And I accept that all the time during all those years between now and then I was free to leave or to change the course of events. I admit that I probably knew, or could imagine or foresee, what would happen if I kept on. I admit that my present predicament lay dormant in my past behavior; it was one of the risks I was taking. I see that I had a choice and thus bear some responsibility for the way things turned out.

By the time I have done all that, I'm too exhausted to think about the person I hate. It's too much work just seeing my own motives clearly and understanding how I, once again, for the umpteenth time, have deceived myself and others in order to gain some hidden satisfaction -- a satisfaction hidden even from myself.

I can't do this for you. You have to do it for yourself. You have to start digging. I have no business even pretending to really know what was going on in your head, but I do notice that you referred to your first dealings with this man by saying that your impetuousness reared its ugly head. So you know now that it wasn't such a smart idea to get together with him. And you probably knew it then. So if you go back over what you've done, you may come to see that, yes indeed, you've made a mistake and now are living with the consequences.

If you've harmed anyone in making this mistake, then you need to think about what you can do to make amends. For instance, if involving your son with this man has harmed your son, then think about how you can make amends to your son. One way you can do that is to shield him from your hatred of his stepfather. You can make the world bright for him. You can smile and be happy when your ex-husband picks up your son to spend time with him. You don't want your son to be unhappy about spending time with his stepfather. He has no choice in the matter.

Here is something else even more demanding and exhausting and devious and perverse that I do in situations like yours: Pray for your ex-husband to get everything that he wants. Yes, pray with all your heart for this man you detest. I know it sounds perverse, and it is; but it perverts something that is already perverse -- like multiplying two negative numbers. Heck, I don't know if that analogy makes any sense. All I know is that if you can bring yourself to pray for your ex-husband to get everything he wants, you may find after a while that you feel better.

And, truth be told, why wouldn't you want your son's stepfather to get everything he wants? Shouldn't your son's stepfather be a happy man, so that your son, if he must be in his presence, can enjoy the benefits of his happiness? I mean, I know you would enjoy seeing him turning on a spit over an open flame. Who doesn't enjoy watching a well-marinated man cooked to perfection? But seriously, it's best for your son if your ex-husband is happy. So pray for him to be happy, and be kind to him, especially in the presence of your son.

I'm not saying all this will make you hate him less. But it will reduce the damage your hatred does to others.

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Cary Tennis

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