(Based on a true story with names changed to protect privacy)
Tim tells the story like this: His wife Sarah suddenly announced that she was no longer happy and wanted a divorce. Totally blindsided, he felt his life turned upside down. He couldn’t imagine divorcing and having his 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter go back and forth between two homes. Tim found himself obsessing about their new arrangement. The financial aspects felt overwhelming– he made a lot more money than Sarah did and feared that between the divorce and child support, he’d be left with nothing. He was devastated—alternating between fear, sadness and anger. When he thinks back on it, he doesn’t know how he made it through that first year.
At about the year mark, a new man arrived on the scene. Justin, Sarah’s boyfriend, had a daughter very close in age to their daughter. Tim was amazed at how quickly this new relationship between Sarah and Justin developed. Within six months, the “new family” was living together, and within a year Sarah and Justin were married. Still reeling from the divorce, Tim felt like a zombie. Mostly he just muddled through, still struggling with moments, or even hours, of intense and sometimes debilitating emotions. Justin, on the other hand, was alive and energetic, excited about being a parent to two more kids. The two new step-sisters loved the new arrangement –after all, they now lived with their new best friend. Tim felt like Justin was trying to steal his kids away. When the kids talked about Justin or his daughter, or when Tim saw them with together, he felt physically ill. He didn’t have the energy to compete.
Tim believed that Justin’s positive attitude was just a façade and that below the surface he was conniving, manipulative and mean. He couldn’t believe that Sarah and the kids had been taken in by this man. The anger and jealousy was so strong and painful that he could barely stand to be in his own skin. He was afraid that eventually his kids would want nothing to do with him. He saw nothing but loneliness and pain stretched out in front of him for many years.
Tim wished for Sarah to hurt as badly as he was. He wished that Sarah and Justin would start to fight. He wished that they would divorce. He wished that his kids would start to see how evil Justin was. He wished that his kids would go through their miserable adolescent years and turn on Justin the way only adolescents can do. He imagined that if the things he wished for came true, he would have the upper hand, and the kids would have him and only him for their father, and he would live happily ever after.
Ten years later, Tim says: “Be careful what you wish for.”
All those things came true. Sarah and Justin got divorced. It was a bitter and ugly ending, and of course the kids were in the home enduring the hatred and bitterness that was hanging in the air between Justin and Sarah. “Justin doesn’t talk to or see my kids now,” Tim explained. “After a short honeymoon period, they did turn on him. They didn’t like that he was trying to insert himself in their lives. They didn’t like that he took over the discipline in the family. His dictatorial style was very different than mine, and they resented it. They would remind him loudly that he wasn’t their father. He felt rejected by them and angry that they showed him no respect. He became very bitter, reminding Sarah often how miserable her kids were, often in front of them.”
The years Sarah and Justin were together were not happy. “Is that what I wanted for my kids? Really?” asks Tim. “Sure, a part of me feels smug and superior. But really, is that what I wanted for my kids? To be in a household that wasn’t really happy for all those years? I see now how hard it was for them, and how much it bogged them down and made them sad. Am I really happy that they ended a ten-year relationship with their step-dad and have nothing to show for it but bitterness? Did that benefit them somehow?
“Sometimes, now, I get angry at Justin. I get angry because he walked away from them, because he turned on them when they rejected him and wasn’t man enough to not blame them, because he wanted too much from them and didn’t give them enough. I am mad at him because half of the time for the years Justin and Sarah were together they lived in a home where there was conflict and negativity.
“Amazing,” muses Tim. “I am mad at him for doing all the things that I wished for. Did my wishes play a part? I don’t imagine that I am so powerful that I created these things because I wished for them, but is there a way my negativity contributed to the situation? If I had wished that things would go well, if I had understood that my negative desires were not in the best interest my kids, if I had known that my bond with my kids was too strong, and that Justin could never replace me, if I had somehow sent good wishes instead of bad, would that have helped?”
It certainly couldn’t have hurt.