Dear Carolyn: My wife and I are divorcing after many years of marriage, and I am having a difficult time understanding her desire to remain friends. The reason for the divorce is her cheating on me multiple times, and I finally realized our marriage died many years ago. All of her affairs were with married men so her actions destroyed multiple families, and I do not want to associate with a person who has so little respect for the feelings of others.
I realize we will have to interact at upcoming family events, but I would like to keep our communication to a minimum, which is causing resentment on her part and a great deal of confusion for our families. How do I stay true to my convictions without coming off as the bad guy?
– No-Win Situation
A: This could be Part 2 of Wednesday’s column: What’s so bad about coming off as the bad guy?
If she thinks you’re mean for declining her overtures of friendship, then tough for her. If your families are confused, then mark a path for them toward understanding without stomping on your ex: “Please trust me, I have my reasons for keeping my distance.” Adding for her family’s benefit that you value your relationships with them is a thoughtful and important touch, assuming you can mean it.
As long as you remain civil, cooperative in handling the divorce and its ripple effects, and discreet about what unraveled your marriage, you ensure that any detractors will be drawing the wrong conclusions about you.
Yes, that’s hardly at the same point on the satisfaction scale as, say, everyone learning what your wife did without your having to tell them – but it’s enough to build the rest of your life on from here. People of integrity will see that.
You don’t mention children; if you have them, and if your ex-wife is spinning things to court their sympathy, then you might have to be more forceful in your own defense: “I will say you don’t have the whole story, but I won’t say bad things about your mother.” Again – people who get it will get it.
You also can say to your ex that you won’t be the one to break the silence on what happened, but you will correct any misinformation – not for the sake of it, but when it’s harming relationships with people you love.
I don’t see much mystery to why she wants to remain friends, by the way: If you’re OK with her after what she did to you, then presumably she can be OK with herself. Right?
That would give you another fine reason not to be friends, if you needed one, since letting someone use you to dodge emotional consequences is a favor to neither of you. But you don’t need it; your convictions are more than enough.
That said, you might want to add forgiveness to your list of convictions – not for her sake, but for yours, because you’re the one who stands to suffer if your anger puts down roots. Her emotional shortcomings apparently far exceed her ability to address them; viewing her through that lens will do more to connect you with your inner good guy than branding her a villain ever could.