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Letting Go of the Ex

You're better off whether or not you are preoccupied with your ex-spouse. Preoccupation has the potential to cause further resentment.

Do you feel hostile toward your ex? Friendly? In terms of your well-being, it may not matter. What's important is that you're no longer preoccupied with him.

Carol Masheter, of the University of Utah, sought to discover the difference between healthy and unhealthy post-divorce relationships, and found that preoccupation was the key. She gave participants a questionnaire that measured, first, their feelings of hostility toward their ex, and second, their level of preoccupation, or how much they still thought about their former partner. She also assessed the individuals' overall psychological well-being.

Not surprisingly, people who had high levels of both hostility and preoccupation weren't doing too well—but neither were those who felt friendly toward their former spouse and were still emotionally involved with her. They were often dependent on their exes, and sometimes harbored unrealistic fantasies of reconciliation. People with low hostility and low preoccupation enjoyed the greatest well-being, but those with high hostility and low involvement weren't far behind.

Masheter says that these hostile but uninvolved exes may actually use their anger adaptively, to invigorate themselves and ward off a potentially paralyzing depression. "Mid-range anger may help people, particularly women, differentiate from the spouse and get on with their lives," says Masheter. "They turn their anger outward in constructive ways."