One of the most difficult, frustrating 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 seemingly being the perfect spouse! It’s crazy, it’s infuriating, and 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 children together.
He is married now with a baby on the way. During our relationship we had so many issues. He cheated a couple times. 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??
Here’s my advice:
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 thing that is most likely really frustrating for this woman is that he is now working. Why didn’t he work when he was with her? Did they agree that he was the stay-at-home parent? Or, was he lazy and chose to let the mother of his children 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.
Sometimes, people show up differently in a different relationship. Maybe they like themselves more around the new person. Maybe he/she brings something out in them that the previous person didn’t. It’s no reflection on the first person, it’s just the way it is. Is it unfair? Yes, it is.
How do you cope with the question, “Why couldn’t he change for me?”
My opinion is, you say to yourself one or more of these things:
“Because at the time when we were together, he wasn’t strong enough to face his demons and change.”
“Because maybe this other person brought out something in him that caused him to get the strength and or desire to change. That doesn’t mean she is a better person, it just means that it was meant to be this way. It seems extremely unfair, but there’s a reason for everything.”
“Because maybe he realized he needed to change, and rather come back and ask for a second chance, decided it was easier to start over with someone else.”
“Because his changes are temporary and eventually he will revert back to his real self.”
In regards to the last one, 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 doesn’t mean year one and year two doesn’t mean anything, it’s just the way it is.
Regardless of why your ex decided to change for someone else, remember this:
Change can be 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.
It’s very normal to feel hurt, angry, frustrated and bitter that your ex seems to be a better person with his new spouse. That said, try to remember that positive changes benefit the kids. Instead of resenting the fact that he changed for the better, maybe 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 hold you prisoner to being happy in your own life. If you think, “This is good for my kids, and I am letting go of the past,” that fosters peace, and acceptance. Remember that letting go of the past and accepting what happened doesn’t mean pretending what he did wasn’t wrong, or that it doesn’t mean anything anymore. You don’t have to forget, you just have to let go and move on. There’s a big difference.
Plus, have you ever thought that maybe you might end up being the beneficiary of some guy who changed for the better after his divorce? And guess what? He’s getting the best of you, too, because you’ve probably made some changes for the positive. So, in effect, why couldn’t you change for him?!