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Ask Dr. Zoe – Can I Move On If I Still Love My Ex?

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‘Turmoil in Texas’ Asked:

My husband and I were married for 12 years. He cheated and we have been separated for the last four years and are now getting a divorce. I was very angry at him the first two years after we separated. Then, when my anger subsided and I forgave him I wasn’t sure where to go from there. Our lives are intertwined raising our kids and his family is my family. The last two years I have gone back and forth emotionally. I have finally accepted I still love him. I don’t think spending our lives together will work out but I can’t get completely over him. How can I move forward?

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Turmoil in Texas,

Divorce happens in two different realms. The emotional divorce and the legal divorce. They have nothing to do with each other. In order to truly be divorced, both of these divorces have to happen. The frustrating thing is that they never happen at the same time. Sometimes the emotional divorce happens years before a legal divorce and sometimes years after…or never.

You don’t want to be in the “or never” category, but don’t worry, that’s not likely to happen. It sounds like you are moving through your grieving stages. Anger is a part of it. When the anger subsides, as it has for you, sometimes you are left with a feeling of confusion because you are able to see him and the relationship through a different lens now. Yes, you will always be intertwined because of your children and family connections, but that is just the reality of divorce and modern families.

If you are thinking of getting back together with him because you are no longer angry, please remember that love is no good reason to be in a relationship with anybody. We humans have proven over and over again that we are very capable of loving people who are not good for us. So, you need to have some much more compelling reasons why you think he may be a good choice for you.

Yes, you have children together, but they will grow up and leave and they are already acclimated to the separation. Now is an excellent time to get out a piece of paper and write down all of the reasons why he would make a good partner for you and all of the reasons why he wouldn’t. Take a good, hard look at that list and evaluate it as if he were a man you were meeting for the first time because the reality is if you get back together with him, this needs to be a totally new marriage—not the one that you had before. What would be your conclusion?

You asked me how to move on, which gives me an indication that you may have already come to a conclusion. You move on by accepting that you love the father of your children and you may love him forever. That’s okay. But don’t allow this feeling of love to confuse you. Once you have decided that you should not pursue a relationship with him, you need to actively practice not entertaining the idea of the relationship with him in your mind. It’s easy to romanticize what could be. It’s easy to stick with the evil you already know. It’s scary to walk into the unknown.

And stop telling yourself that you can’t get completely over him. Yes, you can, but you don’t have to be void of feelings of love or care for him in order to move on from the relationship into a healthier life.

Focus on yourself now. What have you let go that you need to pick back up? What are your goals and passions as an individual? Focus on creating and maintaining a new normal without entertaining the fantasy of getting back together and you will be well on your way. You’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace.

Dr. Zoe


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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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