Why You Need to Strive for Indifference Toward Your Ex

my strong feelings for my husband, both positive and negative, were keeping me tied to him. The more I stalked his activities on Facebook or via credit card charges, the less I would be able to heal and move forward with my life.
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Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa

I often had trouble sleeping while my nearly 30-year marriage was falling apart, so I would Google various self-help topics on my iPhone while lying awake late at night. Occasionally, I'd come across a factoid or bit of advice that would truly resonate. Here's one: "The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference."

Pow! That one hit me right between the eyes. I had loved my husband for a very long time -- over half my life. Because of the deep hurt I experienced when the marriage ended, it was easy to transform my intense feelings of love and care into their evil twin counterparts, hate and anger. When I read this statement about indifference I suddenly understood that love and hate are actually two sides of the same coin, and that neither one would help me recover from the harsh reality of my broken marriage. In fact, my strong feelings for my husband, both positive and negative, were keeping me tied to him. The more I stalked his activities on Facebook or via credit card charges, the less I would be able to heal and move forward with my life.

I vowed that indifference would be my goal. (No surprise: This is easier said than done).

Here are four ways you can work toward indifference so you can get on with your life:

  1. Shift the focus to yourself. The dictionary definition of indifference is "a lack of interest or concern about something." When you're married, the norm is the opposite of indifference. You're interested in absolutely everything about your spouse, from dinner-time discussions of "How was your day?" to his/her latest accomplishments at the gym, ongoing health issues and books or news items of mutual interest. Because this ongoing concern occupies a huge amount of your psychic real estate, achieving indifference requires a radical change in your outlook. You have to stop worrying about the minutia of your spouse's life and shift that concern to yourself. Think about ways you can improve your career, your fitness level, your social life. Make plans and use your network to help you achieve your new goals. This may sound selfish, but after spending so many years as a "we," it's perfectly acceptable (and necessary) to concentrate on defining your "me." Just remember that focusing on yourself doesn't preclude being a good citizen, friend and colleague. Use Rabbi Hillel's wise words as your guide: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?"

  • Take responsibility for your own happiness. The difference between being happy and being miserable has more to do with how you react to life's challenges than on the specific challenges that come your way. In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra breaks it down for us:
  • When you feel frustrated or upset by a person or a situation, remember that you are not reacting to the person or the situation, but to your feelings about the person or the situation. These are your feelings, and your feelings are not someone else's fault.

    Once you recognize that you (not your ex-spouse or anyone else) are responsible for your feelings, you will become empowered. You will take control of your life. And you will stop spending so much of your precious time and energy thinking about what your ex is up to.

  • Let go of your anger. During divorce, anger toward your spouse is normal, natural, and -- to a point -- useful. It is, after all, one of Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief. But because anger is an intense emotion, it is antithetical to your goal of indifference toward your ex. So at some point, you'll have to just let it go. If you continue to seethe about the hurts you suffered during your marriage and divorce, you'll remain forever tethered to your ex and to the past. This ongoing backward focus will prevent you from embracing opportunities for future happiness. Australian nurse Elizabeth Kenney wrote: "He who angers you conquers you." If you want the freedom that indifference brings, you must first break free from anger's oppressive yoke. Only then can you reclaim power over your life.
  • Redirect your passion. Remember: your goal is indifference toward your ex -- not the world. Take the intense feelings and passion you once felt for your spouse and transfer them to something you find meaningful and exciting. Pursue a hobby or sport you've always wanted to try. Sign up for a pottery or language class. Take that bucket list vacation. Give back to the community. Become a mentor at work. The list is endless. Go for it, whatever it is. In Nelson Mandela's words: "There is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."
  • Remember, indifference is a goal. You won't achieve it overnight, especially if you were married for a long time. If you're reading this while lying awake late at night, here's one more useful tidbit: Whenever you find yourself thinking about your ex, think about the lyrics to Gotye's catchy pop ballad: "Now and then I think of when we were together...Now you're just somebody that I used to know."

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