I will never again say never. Wait. What? Nevermind.
Something unexpected and beautiful has happened that felt surreal for a while, but now that I’ve had time to process it I’m ready to share.
After about 5 years of conflict and 1.5 years of basically no contact, I recently received an apology from my husband’s ex-wife. It contained no justifications, no excuses, no blame, nothing but a pure, sincere apology and a request for forgiveness for every “angry word and hurtful message” she ever sent to me.
“Stunned” doesn’t begin to describe what I felt at that moment. Shock, relief, gratitude, dumbfounded… that was some of it.
And a surprising feeling of being freed from a burden that I didn’t know I was carrying. It felt like a ton of bricks had just been removed from my heart. Only I didn’t know they were there, until they were gone.
I thought I had done a good job of forgiving her without an apology, but I couldn’t have known how differently I would feel after actually receiving one.
The thing about an apology is it’s an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. With that gift in hand (and I DO see it as a gift) I immediately softened, lowered my guard and was able to look back at our situation with a new perspective, with more compassion and a clearer picture of how difficult things were – for everyone – at that time. It’s not an excuse, just an explanation.
For those of you who don’t know anything about my experiences, you can get a glimpse here.
With every change (even positive change) we experience a loss
After the initial feeling of shock and elation started to wear off, a feeling of uneasiness crept in. It took me a while to realize what it was: a feeling of loss – which really confused me. I should be feeling nothing but happiness, right? Then I finally figured out exactly what I felt I was losing: the certainty I had about her. The predictability of her behavior and who she was in our relationship. With certainty, I had put her in this box of being “high-conflict” and being incapable of ever changing.
But with that apology, all of the things I thought I knew about her and our situation flew out the window. It left me feeling very confused. After all, I had written a book about how to deal with the conflict. I work with stepmoms on a daily basis to help them cope with such situations. Does this invalidate all my past work?
Do circumstances matter?
I have no idea what prompted the apology. Why now? I can make assumptions all day long, but in the end it’s none of my business and it doesn’t really matter.
I do, however, believe circumstances must have played a part. I’ve always believed at any given time we’re all doing our best. All of us are different people in different situations at different phases in our lives.
So if everything aligns just so to create the perfect storm, our best might be a 3. But when circumstances change for us, we have the opportunity for our best to be a 10.
As I’ve said, I may never know what brought upon this change. But I do know for sure that for my husband and I, not communicating with his ex for over a year was extremely helpful. It forced an interruption in an unhealthy pattern and gave us all a chance to reset. Perhaps needs that were getting met through the conflict were forced to get met elsewhere.
Not because of the apology itself, but because of the space the apology created within me, I’ve been able to use everything I’ve learned (professionally and personally) since then to explore the ways in which certain things could have been handled differently. How my husband and I could have approached situations in a different way that might have led to more collaboration and peace instead of more conflict.
We couldn’t have known that then – but when you know better you do better, right? So I’m grateful to be able to use my knew insights to help other stepfamilies who are having their own difficulties.
So what’s the moral of the story?
It’s a funny thing, the timing of this apology. I had just completed a new coach training where they teach that we should elevate everyone. And although I love that in theory and it really resonated with me, I felt conflicted about it because of my experiences. And then I received the apology. It was like the Universe’s way of saying “Told ya so!”
Now that I’ve had some time to sit with it, I’ve gained some clarity on the things I was unsure of:
- The past hasn’t changed.
- Everything I’ve written on the subject still stands.
- Thousands of women (and men) are stuck in high-conflict situations and the work I do with them and the tools I teach are still not only valid, but crucial for finding inner peace when faced with conflict.
But now there’s also… hope? And the belief that seeing the conflict as separate from the person could really serve us.
There’s also a knowing that anything is possible.
The past remains, but now our future will surely be different. And words can’t express how thankful I am for that.
© 2016 Jenna Korf All Rights Reserved
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