One of the most difficult aspects of a break up or a divorce is seeing the other person become involved with someone else, and not only appearing to be blissfully happy, but appearing to be the perfect spouse! It’s crazy, it’s infuriating, it’s hard to comprehend. Now he’s doing all these things with this other woman—things YOU desperately wanted him to do, but he wouldn’t. So, you’re left dying to know the answer to this question: “Why couldn’t he change for me?”
Read this email from a reader whose boyfriend left her. They have three kids together.
He is married now with a baby on the way. During our relationship we had so many issues. He cheated a couple times. I cheated once. He didn’t work. I worked two jobs. He stayed at home all day with the boys. At the beginning of our relationship he was abusive. He stopped after a while. He was still abusive emotionally. I am so drained of being sad. Not understanding why we couldn’t make it work. He is now working. He has his own place and married. Why couldn’t he have done this stuff when he was with me??
I have to believe that this reader feels angry at the injustice of how everything worked out. It sounds like she was supporting the family, working hard, and putting up with his cheating, along with his emotional and physical abuse. How awful it must feel that he is already married, already has another baby on the way, and now, all of a sudden he is working, and has his own place. He appears blissful in his new life, like he’s got it all together. That must burn like hell to someone who was cheated on and abused while financially supporting the family.
So, let me offer two potential answers to “Why couldn’t he change for me?”
1. People often say, “People don’t change,” but I don’t believe that. People can change. For example, an alcoholic can get into recovery and can then change. People go to therapy to sort out all kinds of issues and the work they do there can help them change. And, sometimes losing someone you love—via a divorce or breakup causes the person to look in the mirror, take accountability for some of the things that went wrong, and take steps to be better in their next relationship. Ask any divorced person (including me) and they will most likely tell you they are a better spouse in their current relationship than they were in their marriage.
2. His changes are only temporary. In the case of this reader, physical and mental abuse are very very serious problems. I have a hard time believing that this guy is never going to be abusive to his new wife. Give it time. Sadly, he will be who he was in the other relationship (unless he decides to get help). The cheating might be the same thing. If he chose to cheat when things weren’t so great with the first woman, I wouldn’t be surprised if he does it again in this marriage. Another killer is, he is now working. Why didn’t he work when he was with the other woman? Did they agree that he was the stay-at-home parent? Or, was he lazy and chose to let his girlfriend foot the bills? I don’t know these important details, but I can say, I’m not sure him working is temporary, or if he finally got it together and decided to become employed after feeling bad about himself in the other relationship. It’s hard to say.
How do you cope with the question, “Why couldn’t he change for me?”
My opinion is, you say to yourself, “Because there were so many other problems weaving in and out of what I wanted him to change.” Or “Because the reality is, he didn’t love me enough to change, so the breakup/divorce is a good thing, because who wants to be with someone who is unwilling to change when they know their spouse isn’t happy?” No one.
You can also be wise enough to realize which changes are real, and which are temporary. Remember that every person who gets into a new romantic relationship is on his or her best behavior for at least the first 2 years. Year 3 is when reality sets in, and people start to show who they really are. That’s not a bad thing if you’re with the right person, by the way.
Lastly, remember that change is good. So, in some cases, it’s OK to be happy for your ex spouse when he makes changes for the better—even if he wouldn’t change for you. That’s what life is all about—learning from our mistakes and growing and changing negative behaviors. So, instead of being pissed off about good changes, be happy because the beneficiaries of the changes are often the kids. Instead of resenting the fact that he changed for the better, focus on trying to make changes within yourself that will make you happier.
In closing, if you see your ex-spouse happy and a changed man, and you continue to think, “Why couldn’t he change for me?” all that’s going to do is fester and make you bitter and hold you prisoner to being happy in your own life. If you think, “Good for him, and everything happened the way it was supposed to happen,” that fosters peace, and acceptance, leading you on your own path to a happier, better life.
Like this post? Check out “Divorce Advice for ‘I Am Angry With God'”