There’s something about divorce that brings out the inner animal; that primeval part of us that is stripped bare of social restraint and operates only on instinct. A predatory instinct. Thank goodness for that little guidebook we like to call the Marital Settlement Agreement, especially in high conflict situations. It spells out the rules of engagement in black and white, leaving little room for interpretation and manipulation.
Except when dealing with a bitter ex.
There is an ex-spouse in my life that is incapable of controlling their roller coaster of bitterness, even though it’s been a while since the divorce. This absence of control manifests itself in the usual nasty emails and hostile acts (disguised as being “in the childrens’ best interest” for justification purposes – I am going to puke if I hear that statement one more time), but it’s the self-aggrandizement that turns the bitter-ex into a tired cliché; a cheesy, one-dimensional sit-com character playing the part of a bitter ex.
This character – I can’t refer to them as a person any longer because all pretense of common courtesy and normal human interaction is gone, leaving just a shadow of who they once were – is chameleon-like. They can turn on the charm in situations where they need public opinion to swing in their favor, but otherwise it’s a constant offensive attack…while elevating themselves on to a self-righteous pedestal of judgement.
There is nothing funnier (not funny, ha ha – funny, pathetic) than a self-righteous bitter-ex. Their narcissistic personality has them convinced that they are faultless, perfect even. They can’t understand why CNN isn’t parked outside their door getting an interview for a smear story about the wrongdoing they’ve been subject to by their ‘evil’ ex spouse. After all, their ex-spouse is pure evil (the world should know how dangerous and evil they are!) for daring to end the ‘perfect’ marriage to the ‘perfect’ person.
They don’t hesitate to use the court system as a weapon, unless and until the courts rule against them. At that point the settlement and custody agreements become nothing more than a nuisance because it would not enter the bitter ex’s mind to accept responsibility in any form.
Did the court order that the family home must be sold? The bitter ex doesn’t care! Supposed to stay current with financial obligations taken on as a result of the property settlement? Well, the bitter ex’s situation is different – it doesn’t apply to them! They concern themselves with revenge first, money (taken from the ex spouse or some unsuspecting friend that buys into the sob story) second and image (bitter ex = good; ex-spouse = evil) third. Following the rules? Doesn’t make the list. Although they demand it from the other party (there’s the self-righteousness!).
This all sounds frustrating, right? At least, you say, they’re consistent. You can count on their behavior and therefore steel yourself against the backlash.
Not so fast.
You see, the self-righteous bitter ex calls upon court orders to justify their own behavior and make demands because “we have a court order”. In fact, it is not unusual for the self-righteous bitter ex to completely disregard large and important portions of the court-ordered agreement, then call foul (to everyone in the community…CNN, where are you?) when an item they’re counting on is not followed perfectly.
It is such blatant and hostile behavior that it begs the question: what is going on in their dark and damaged souls (assuming they have one!) that allows them to justify it? In most cases their disregard for the rules creates short-term stress and expense (I know, let’s pay the lawyers another $5,000 to resolve an issue we could have handled in a 5 minute phone call for free!), but even worse, every single time this bitter ex ignores a court order, they are digging a deeper financial hole for themselves.
I guess it’s possible that they’re not smart enough to realize this (and in our personal bitter ex experience this makes perfect sense), but how can that be? It is a simple matter of looking just a few years down the road instead of focusing on the present. In most cases the court orders a judgement based on what is best for the situation in the short- and long-term. Assets such as the family home are reviewed along with the individuals’ ability to support them, and in most cases those assets are ordered to be sold. The court recognizes that neither spouse can afford to keep up the home on their own, and because one or both spouses can’t figure that out for themselves, the court intervenes and orders the sale.
Ignoring a court order usually results in sanctions or harsh financial penalties. Considering the bitter ex is quite comfortable creating fiction on top of lies on top of exaggerations to weasel their way through the process, the court buys into their falsified income and expense declarations (“I can’t afford attorney’s fees!”) and goes easy on the offender.
What I’ve realized over these past few years is that you can’t change a person’s basic character. If a person is a knucklehead when they’re married, it’s pretty safe to assume they’ll be an amplified version of a knucklehead when going through a divorce (and after). If a person has a delicate relationship with the truth when they’re married, it’s pretty safe to assume they’ll be comfortable lying about everything during a divorce to manufacture an outcome different from that which they would receive had they played fair. If a person can’t take responsibility for their part in a marriage ending, they probably can’t take part in being responsible for much of anything.
Divorce results from mistakes, bad decisions and failures. It’s the bigger person that can admit their shortcomings and ultimately take responsibility for their part in a marriage ending. The failure of a marriage results from the failures of both parties – unfortunately the bitter ex can’t quite wrap their arms around this concept; therefore every problem, issue and challenge that arises in their lives (which they usually bring on themselves) is simply the other spouse’s fault. There’s that self-righteousness again.
It’s enough to want to dig a hole and hide for the rest of our lives.
Just when I’m about to grab the shovel, though, one thought comforts me and I visit it often for a reminder that it’s all just temporary.
The thought is this: soon the kids will be adults in their own right. The bitter ex’s most effective weapon – the reason we cave and allow the bitter ex to behave with such recklessness and disregard for court orders – becomes ineffective not too long from now. We are free to pursue loving and enjoying our amazing kids without a Disney-esque villain lurking in the shadows with the next poison apple at the ready.
And better yet? When it’s all said and done, all the bad decisions will catch up with the bitter ex, beginning with the financial train wreck (in fact if they squint they’ll be able to see that headlight off in the horizon…it’s getting closer, bitter ex).
And best? The bitter ex has to wake up every day, look in the mirror and see what they really are…for the rest of their lives. We get to move on and be done with them.