Working with divorcing couples, I frequently hear about the concept of fairness. Often one of the former partners (or both) feels cheated or taken advantage of. In spite of extensive negotiations, the person starts second guessing whether the lawyer did a good job, whether the outcome was fair, whether the other partner is laughing their way to the bank, or whether the system is adversely stacked against them.
This reaction seems natural, given that we’ve all been taught since childhood that things in life should be fair. (How often do we hear the children in our lives exclaim “it’s not fair,” because of some perceived injustice?)
While I applaud parents for teaching about fair play and supporting attempts to create a fairer and more level playing field, there are times I think that “fair” is just another four-letter word. Even though the world has never been fair, we want better. We try to impose a sense of justice on this unjust world. Then, when things don’t work out in a way that’s fair, we feel bitter – holding on to hurt, sadness, and anger for years.
When a former spouse focuses on what the other has or hasn’t achieved or acquired or kept and measures it against what they themselves have achieved or acquired or managed to keep or reclaim, it can be difficult or impossible to move on. Instead of moving toward the future, they are reliving the past. Instead of getting past the anger, the anger is intensified.
Can two people, who have hurt each other, strive for fairness? Sure, but ultimate fairness will be hard, if not impossible, to come by. Instead focusing on the unfairness, I encourage my clients and others going through divorce to strive for healing, learning, and becoming stronger because of what they have gone through.
Here are some shifts in thinking that can help divorcing couples make a better future from the broken pieces of the past:
- Accept that life isn’t always fair or balanced. It’s not realistic to think that for every “this” your ex has, you’ll get “that.” It is so much easier to deal with being wronged when you come to terms with the apparent lack of fairness.
- Remember that “coming out even” doesn’t mean sameness. It’s likely that you’ll do better in some areas while your ex does better in others. You and your ex are different people with different priorities and ambitions. The only thing that matters is your sense that you are doing okay.
- Set your own goals and timelines (without concern for your ex’s) and measure yourself only by what you are doing about them. You can’t control what happens in your ex’s life, and you don’t know the whole truth of what is going on in their life. Letting go of comparisons and focusing on what’s important to you is an important part of letting go of the marriage.
Takeaway: Dwelling on all that is unfair will inevitably deepen your hurt or anger and interfere with the grieving you need to do in order to live a vital life. You are a living being with dignity and a life of value. Not everything in life is good, but there is a way forward.
That is about as fair as it gets.