Human beings have a natural tendency to pay attention only to data that supports their pre-existing point of view or desire. Information that contradicts their beliefs or wishes is filtered-out of their awareness. Obviously this practice can lead to severely distorted notions of people and events and to making very poor choices and decisions.
I see this selective attention “phenomenon” in many divorced clients I work with. Once it is decided there will be a divorce one or the other spouse will begin to rewrite the history of the marriage and especially the biography of the person they were married to.
The ex becomes evil and this sort of thinking is most prevalent in the one seeking a divorce. Why? Guilt, shame a way to justify their actions. We feel better about ourselves if the ex is evil and we had no choice but to leave.
What is wrong with this kind of thinking? It takes away any chance of a civil divorce. It damages any children of the marriage and God forbid an adversarial attorney become involved with the selective attention thinker. You can kiss a large chunk of your marital assets goodbye if this happens.
I remember my ex as being a kind and loving man. He was a great father and as long as he had us, up until the day he left we never wanted for anything. He had his issues just as I did. He could be hurtful but in no way was he evil. Being able to remember him in this way enables me to see him as human…someone who makes mistakes but isn’t evil.
It helps me to continue to try and have a civil relationship with him. Something we should all strive to have with an ex-spouse.
He on the other hand, remembers me as being the cause of all his misery. An abusive shrew that kept him from living the life he wanted to live. His revision of who I was in the marriage and who I am as a person keeps him from being able to see me as human. I have to be seen as the evil one in order for him to continue to feel good about himself and the destructive decisions he has made since leaving the marriage.
Because of this he will never be able to have a civil relationship with me.
Just as our marriage failed, so has our divorce. The key to a successful divorce is the ability of both spouses to see each other as flawed human beings, not as evil beings.
Is the way you process data about your ex keeping you from having a “successful divorce?”
Author Bio: Jan Meacham practices Family and Marriage therapy in Nashville, TN. Jan is in the process of writing her fist book about her own experience with the divorce process and it’s aftermath.