The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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Why does my ex continue to hate and torment me?

(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)


Dr. Kenner:   Here is a question about someone who is having some marital, actually ex-marital difficulties. Here’s from Randy. “Dear Dr. Kenner. Could you tell my why my ex-wife still hates me and never misses an opportunity to make my life miserable after three years apart. We live in different states, we rarely see or speak to one another and she has even remarried recently. Shouldn’t she be past all of her issues with me by now? I was always good to her and I have tried to be nice to her whenever we speak, but nothing changes her attitude toward me. This makes for a very problematic situation, since we have three children, ages 9, 7 and 4. Thanks, Randy.”


My first thought was, oh my God, I feel so sad for your three young kids because they were ages 1, 4 and 6 when you guys went through the divorce, so for their very early, formative years, they have felt this tension. This chronic tension between their parents. I’m wondering, you had three children fairly close in age, I’m wondering if a piece of the puzzle isn’t that she was overwhelmed by the birth of a third child? Maybe she has some real negative feelings toward you, your ex. Maybe you didn’t share in the parenting or maybe you wanted to have sex at times she didn’t want to, she was too busy diapering and burping and feeding and folding clothes? That may not be the case. That isn’t in many cases when I’ve heard this type of a situation. Because the demands of bringing up three young kids are pretty intense. Now, that may not be the case. You may have had some help.


But the one thing I’m hearing is the two of you did not do what is mandatory if you’re going through a divorce and you have kids. When I say mandatory, it’s psychologically so healthy. It would give you both a breather. That’s to become parent partners. You’re no longer marital partners. That bond breaks. But you want to figure out how to work relatively well as parents together. And if you have not solved that problem and it’s going on three years, it may go on seven more years, 10 more years. I would recommend the book, even though you’ve already been through the divorce, there’s a book by Florence Bienenfeld, Helping Your Child Through Your Divorce. She talks about how to become parent partners.


Another word about your wife, another possible clue. She’s angry. Something feels very unfair to her. What do you think are some of the possibilities as to why she is angry with you? Anger is the emotion of saying, “It’s not fair. Randy was not fair to me.” You, being Randy. “He was so unjust to me.” What is she experiencing - not from your perspective, but from her perspective - as unfair? It could be that she’s just dishonest. And she’s just shifting the blame to you. It could be that she’s mistaken. Maybe she heard rumors about you that were baseless and she wants nothing to do with you. Maybe there were rumors that you were cheating on her with many different women and that was never the case. But it never got resolved. Maybe she heard that you were an alcoholic and that’s not the case. I don’t know where that anger is coming from, and that’s where you would need to actively listen to the actual words she says when she yells at you and gets angry with you.


And you want to be honest with yourself. What is your role in the anger? This is a different aspect, Randy. You say to her, “I’ve always been good to her and I’m nice to her whenever we speak.” Nice is sometimes not so nice. Meaning, if you did something that she experiences as grossly unjust, like never helping out with the kids or maybe having had an affair, then no matter how gentle or cordial your words are now, or maybe even then, it may not mask her evaluation of her. Maybe you never got a job or something. It won’t help her change her evaluation of you if you sweet-talk her now. So when somebody who is nice to me, when they’ve actually hurt me and they’ve not properly addressed it, it feels phony to me, and I don’t like to have that veneer of niceness. It’s very hard for me to reciprocate.


That’s when you need to get down to the key issue. It’s really hard, she’s recently remarried and she may not want to go into any therapy with you, but you could try to find ways. Maybe you could get some individual therapy to find ways to see if she would open up and express what’s wrong and then you need active listening skills so you don’t beat up on her. It could also be a habit. She could have reheard so many times how bad you were that she just says it out of habit, or maybe she’s remarried and she wants to make her current husband feel good and like you’re not a threat, so she just keeps saying, “You were awful. You were really awful.” You can’t control her. You can certainly reach out to her and that doesn’t mean you get angry with her, but you can be factual with her and see if that helps her open up.


Male:              A point on that parent partners thing, just a reminder, you have an article that you wrote that’s on the website.


Dr. Kenner:   My website is and I thank you for that.


Here’s a quick question. “I am friends with Maxine, a woman who has a preteen daughter, Julie, and she has serious medical problems and wants to take medical marijuana and it isn’t legal in her state. What does she do? Does she violate her personal integrity?” I think she needs to do a lot of thinking as to why she wants, why that might be the best, why she wants to take the medical marijuana. Is it the only thing that can help her, given that she has a daughter, given that she puts herself at risk since it’s illegal? And what the effect on her daughter might be? And if she can learn better skills, pain management skills, that may help her tremendously. If not, maybe she can talk with her doctor. Maybe there’s a way to get that help for herself with it being okay and not putting herself at risk.



Movie clip     

Interviewer:   There’s a big snake in the plane!

Interviewee:   Oh, that’s just my pet snake, Reggie.

Interviewer:   I hate snakes. I hate them!

Interviewee:   Come on. Show a little backbone, will you?


Dr. Kenner:   And that was from Indiana Jones. If you remember that movie - maybe you don’t, maybe you never saw it because it’s an old, old movie now, but the fear of snakes scene is memorable. Do you have a fear of snakes? Or, as I had as a child, I had a fear of spiders. I had a phobia against having shots. If my doctor told me a year earlier that this is not your year for a shot but next year is your year for a shot, little Ellen - I was a young kid - I would feel the pain in my arm already. I would imagine it and I would anticipate it on and off for that next year. “I’ve got to get that darn shot this year.” The whole year would be defined by, “This is my shot year.” Now, once I became pregnant, my kids are now grown, but once I became pregnant, I decided I didn’t want to have a fear of shots, and you are given so many shots, so much blood is withdrawn, that I forced myself to look at the blood being drawn, over and over and over again. And I felt enormous pride in being able to do so, because I absolutely have no fear of shots. I also live in the woods so I have no fear of spiders anymore. I can pick them up with my hands and bring them outdoors if I want to, if they end up in the house. I don’t have a fear.


Male:              Didn’t you kick the doctor once?


Dr. Kenner:   You don’t have to bring that up! Yes, I had to have blood work done. This, I think was the tipping point. I needed blood work. When you get married, and you needed to get some blood work done, and I went in for the routine blood work - get this, this is embarrassing - to my pediatrician, at the age of 20 or so, and he went to draw blood from me. I didn’t kick him that time, but I locked myself in the bathroom, afraid to come out. That was when I said, “This is ridiculous. I am a grown adult. I want to get out of this.” And of course once I got pregnant a few years later, I totally kicked the habit of being phobic. When I was a kid I actually kicked him into the waiting room, refusing to get a shot. There’s a history behind it. I’d had to have an operation and they said they were going to give me a shot in my butt, a big needle, and I screamed and yelled and boy, they gave me that shot and I woke up in such pain because they took out my tonsils and adenoids, that that was the beginning of my shot phobia. So it’s fascinating to study your own phobias, to figure out the initial cause, and to learn the wonderful, remarkable cognitive therapy skills to be able to talk in past tense about your phobia. You don’t have it anymore.