It is an often repeated phrase that everybody goes temporarily insane when they get divorce. Calm rational people who in normal circumstances function in a reasonably competent matter suddenly have daily flashes of anger. Things that most people would be able to just let go become the “I have to assert my boundaries” and refuse to budge on picking up the kids at 5:45 pm rather than 6 pm.
So what can you say to people who are so infused with anger that they can’t think straight?
- Write it out, AND DO NOT SEND IT TO YOUR ESTRANGED SPOUSE. Divorce lawyers both love and hate social media and emails. We love it when we are getting confessions and misconduct of the other side, and we hate it when our own clients get caught up in it, and can’t see what they are doing. Writing out your anger, just for you and not to share, forces you to organize your thoughts, and allows your rational brain to take a look at what you have written and recognize it for what it is. Whatever you do, make sure that you lock it up, either physically or electronically. Kids seem to come across these writings with alarming frequency even when they are not meant to be shared.
- Shout it out, BUT NOT AT YOUR LAWYER. You feel frustrated? I get that, but yelling at your lawyer, demanding that they need to make the divorce happen the way they want immediately, isn’t really productive. Shout it out in the privacy of your home, when the kids aren’t there, and get it out.
- Talk it out with a friend. Better yet, talk it out with more than one friend, so you can repeat yourself as many times as you need to process your anger, without exhausting your friends with your emotional energy overload. Pick friends to share your anger with who are going to listen, empathize, and offer perspective. Friends who are going to pick up your anger and be angry with you serve only to ramp up your anger, and shift your perspective so that the most unreasonable thought starts to become normal. When that happens, you start sharing your angry thoughts to anyone who will listen, whether personally or on social media, which can then be used in court, if relevant.
- Seek professional counseling. It is a sign of insight into recognizing that you are feeling stressed in a way that is too much, and need someone to help you process your anger in a way that helps you, and ultimately helps you get through the divorce. Bottled up anger that doesn’t get dealt with ends up lingering for years, which is exhausting for you, unpleasant for your friends, and hard – really hard – on your kids.
- Re-examine your core beliefs. Is your anger coming from a loss of a “happy ever after” dream? What is that you really value in yourself that you want to keep, regardless of the divorce?
- Do your own personal growth work. The people that are the healthiest coming out of a divorce are people who took the time to think about what went right in the marriage, what went wrong, and what you can do to change. It’s the best way to avoid getting right back into another relationship with the same dynamics that didn’t work out well before. It can also feel like you are getting the “you” back that you liked, and want to be going forward.
- Learn what presses your buttons. Usually, when you are in a relationship and trying to make it function, you learn to ignore certain behaviors that irritate you. When you are in a divorce, those same behaviors now inflame you. Your wife hasn’t been going to church in 5 years, but suddenly the only church service she wants to go to is the one that you have been attending since you separated? Instant anger? If you find a trigger, then make sure that you take time to think about what your goal is, before you react to it. If your goal is to attend any church service, your reaction might be to change services, or even churches. If your goal is to maintain the social network at that particular church or service, your reaction might be to negotiate and see if she would go to another service.
- Protect your children. Do not expose your children to displays of your anger which are more intense than appropriate for interacting with your kids. Your kids are already dealing with their own feelings and anxieties, they don’t need to take on your anger as well. Don’t use your kids to express your anger by telling them negative things about their other parent. That may be how you feel, but your kids shouldn’t feel that way either. Don’t try to encourage the kids to take sides, to only choose you. It may feel good in the moment, but it harms the kids for a very long time. And always remember – you are not nearly as subtle in your expressions of anger as you think you are. Even if you aren’t raging, your kids know if you suddenly lock your jaw and narrow your eyes when your spouse is brought into conversation, or you are talking to your spouse.
- Pick your battles. Yes, your position may be very reasonable, but there is only so much emotional energy you should be willing to give to a conflict in a divorce. Figure out what’s really important to you, and let the rest go. Maybe you will end up doing more of the pick-up and drop off than is absolutely fair, but it will be less time and effort than being angry about it, especially if you don’t necessarily “win” the point, if a win is even possible.
- Use “I” messages when expressing your anger. Talk about how you feel, not about what the other person has done. Recognize that just because you don’t like something, doesn’t necessarily mean that the other person is going to agree that their actions were wrong and change the error of their ways. Also recognize that people who are bullies have heard the same message, and will use “I” statements, but still make it about attacking someone else. Manipulation is still manipulation, even if the “correct” terms are used.
- Give yourself time. Time to grieve the loss of a relationship, time to grieve the emotional wounds that come with a high conflict divorce, time to find your emotional “center” again. People often say that it took them two years to be in a healthy emotional state after the time that the parties separate. Don’t rush this time. It takes as long as it takes.
- Forgive, let go, move on. When the other person no longer has the power over you to make you feel angry, to trigger your emotional buttons that cause an angry outburst, you benefit, and so does the rest of the people who come in contact with you. If you are angry two years after the divorce, with no new intervening events to cause anger, then you are making a choice to hang on that anger, to your detriment.