Anger: how to deal with this destructive emotion during your divorce
Divorcing is an emotional roller coaster, and one of the emotions that you will nearly inevitably experience is anger.
Anger might be present because you can’t stand your ex, it might be there because they are treating you badly, because you have less access to your children and/or they broke their marriage vows. It could also be present as one of the stages of grief as you experience bereavement over the end of your marriage.
When does anger go from normal to destructive?
Many people consider anger to be a bad emotion, but it is actually a very useful emotion. It can really fire us up to take action, and it can stop us being treated unfairly. In the context of divorce, it can also help us to get over our spouse as we focus on their bad points. However, this can also lead to people becoming so angry that it interferes with the financial and custodial settlements as they try and settle the score with money and access to children.
Research has found that anger leads to more acrimonious divorce, worse post-divorce adjustment, and negatively affects children (Emery, 2008). Anger can also have long-term financial implications on you and your family, as money is spent on court fees and lawyers.
What to do to keep your anger in check
Breathe . We know that anger makes us tense, which makes us angrier until we snap. Relaxation is proven to help reduce tension and therefore anger. As obvious as it sounds, take slow, deep breaths, making sure that your breath fills your lungs. Also, check for tension in your body, and try to let go of it. There are lots of great relaxation videos online and on YouTube. Look out for progressive muscle relaxation which works on your breathing and body tension. Perhaps do a relaxation exercise before and after any discussion. Cognitive behavioural therapy (or “CBT”) has also been proven to have good results for anger reduction. This can be provided free on the NHS if you ask to be referred by your GP.
In summary, CBT encourages you to challenge your thinking. For example, can you take a compassionate view to why your spouse might be acting as they are? Can you see things from their perspective?
CBT would also encourage you to look at how the anger gets you to behave, and encourages you to replace your current reaction to anger to something more healthy. For example, if you are venting to others constantly about your ex, this has actually been shown to make things worse.
Likewise, if you are spending lots of time looking at what they are doing with their new partner, this will likewise increase your anger.
Five Tips for communication when angry
1. Try to wait to be calmer before you respond in anger.
Be upfront about your feelings, and ask to sleep on any important decision when you feel angry. Likewise, before sending an angry email or text, sleep and re-read it in the morning, or go for a walk.
2. Keep to one issue at a time.
The tendency is to try to resolve all anger at once by raising lots of issues with your ex. Instead, insist on resolving one issue before addressing others.
3. Prepare what you are going to say in advance, so that you can word it calmly and sensitively.
4. It might sound prescriptive, but it remains important to use "I feel" statements.
This helps others to see your perspective, and you cannot be argued with on this aspect, as no one else knows how you feel. Finally, by focusing on “I”, you will not be accusing them, which can stoke anger.
5. Finally, accept that anger is a part of divorce.
Give it time to pass, and regularly just check it is not influencing you to act in unhelpful ways. Instead, focus on how you want your post-divorce life to look like, and don’t focus too much on what your soon-to-be-ex is saying about you or doing. Ultimately, their happiness no longer has anything to do with yours, and now you have so much more freedom to feel happy again!
- 16 Va. J. Soc. Pol'y & L. 346 (2008-2009) Anger is Not Anger is Not Anger: Different Motivations Behind Anger and Why They Matter for Family Law
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