‘I want him to be happy, I just want me to be happier.’
This stuck in my mind after I spoke it a few years ago, and while not one of my finer moments, it was an honest one. It’s not so difficult to wish an ex well, as long as you’ve got to the desired measure of success before they have. We can be happy for former friends and lovers but we often have a mental caveat in place. They can achieve their dreams, be happy, enjoy life; but we want to be doing these things first, and to achieve a measure of comparative success that in some way slightly eclipses theirs.
In my post for ‘E’ I considered envy, but actually jealousy and envy are slightly different. Envy is defined as ‘resentful longing’, while jealousy is ‘envious resentment’. Jealousy therefore couples together that longing for what that person may have and resentment – the bitter indignation at having been treated unfairly.
Divorce can often leave one or both partners feeling that they have somehow been treated unfairly. Therefore, when one half of the former couple achieves something, jealousy is a normal emotion to experience. Perhaps your former spouse has met someone quickly and settled down. Perhaps they have achieved that promotion, or embarked on their dream career that you would previously have supported them in but now have nothing to do with. Maybe they have children, or money, or holidays, or material possessions.
Our experience of their success is that we would somehow have been part of that, yet now they have that (whatever that may be) and we do not.
Often our jealousy or envy ties into our own ideas of success. If we reflect honestly, the areas we want to experience success in first (before them being crucial here) are often linked to what we believe success to look like; work, family, finances. But if we look at our own reactions, we might find something of our hidden dreams within that…perhaps our jealousy indicates something that we want and don’t have. Resentment may also stem from the fact their achievements have been reached without us. The fact we were not integral to their success is somehow jarring, and results in jealousy, an envious resentment, especially if the success incorporates a previously shared goal.
Jealously comparing our success does not make success sweeter. If anything, it brings a bitterness that we harbour over their achievements and makes our own drive to succeed or achieve about beating our ex-spouse, rather than personal goals.
So how do we escape jealousy?
Firstly we can consider our motives. Are we after something because they have it or want it, or are we seeking it because we want it for ourselves? Therefore secondly, what are our own desires? What do we want to achieve, even without the support we may previously have had? If we are to be true to ourselves, do we want the same things they want? If we are aiming to earn as much as they do when we would actually prefer to do a job we love that pays us less, we’re never going to compare like with like, or be happy. Success looks different for different people.
And finally, have we learnt to be content with what we have? This idea of contentment is not easy, because sometimes it means choosing to be okay with less than the ideal we might have in our heads. But when we are content in our ourselves and what we have, it becomes much easier to be happy for others in their successes and triumphs.
Does this mean we’ll be genuinely pleased if someone shares one of our ex’s achievements with us? Maybe not – we’re still human. But at the very least it means we move away from jealousy and envious resentment, and can remind ourselves confidently of who we are and the contentment we have in our own lives and achievements.
Our lives will likely look different. We might individually achieve dreams that were once shared and do this at different times and in different ways. But being jealous won’t help us be successful, just resentful of what we do not have. Finding contentment in who we are and what we have might not mean we never experience a flash of jealousy, but ultimately: We want to be happy, and we want to be okay with them being happy too.