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Divorce and Dealing With Anger

Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Newsflash! You’ll probably feel angry during some point of your divorce – probably at many points. Recognized as the second stage of grief, anger can be an expression of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of experiencing deep emotional pain. These fears can have us feeling defensive, misunderstood, or even unfairly treated by our former partner. 

Yet anger can also be a symptom of a personal boundary violation, such as betrayal, infidelity, deception, disappointment, or injustice. In this way, anger is acting as a valuable signal that something important is amiss. 

Whether it’s a mild frustration or an overwhelming rage, the first step to understanding and managing your anger is acknowledging that it exists. When your emotions start to rise in the heat of the moment, pause and consider how you can constructively express your anger in order to minimize damage and help you heal. 

Kym’s Story

In the first couple weeks after discussing divorce, I discovered what “road rage” really means when I began shouting at other drivers for minor infractions or for not driving fast enough for my liking. Then a friend told me that the only car accidents she’d ever had happened during her divorce and I realized: I was really angry but had no outlet for it (except shouting at other drivers!) — and I needed one. So I asked my friend for a referral to her therapist and that turned out to be a much more effective (and less dangerous!) outlet for my feelings. I think I just wasn’t used to feeling so angry, so I didn’t recognize what was happening at first. (Kym] 

Getting Practical

It’s normal to feel angry during a divorce. If you feel angry because you believe your spouse’s demands are unfair, then anger is acting as a valuable tool to move you to action on your own behalf. While you shouldn’t write an impulsive, aggressive email telling them how wrong they are, but you also but neither should you ignore the validity of your emotional response. So instead of writing that all-caps email, acknowledge that your boundaries are potentially being violated and do something productive like calling your lawyer and explaining why your spouse’s proposal isn’t acceptable. Once you have taken action to address the situation, then you can work on releasing the anger. A combination of exercise and meditation is one of the most effective ways to release anger. Research says that it only takes about thirty minutes from the start of exercise to release those feel-good endorphin hormones, which boost positive mood and happiness. Exercise also gives you a physical outlet to release tension. Whether it’s a walk, a cardio class, or a punching bag in the garage, there are lots of ways to convert your emotion into exercise. Mindfulness and meditation techniques can also help diffuse anger. These relaxation techniques give you time to think about the situation that has upset you. Breathing exercises can be both purifying and energizing, bringing a sense of serenity. Sit up straight and fill your breath deep into your abdomen. Then, bring your breath up into your rib cage, and then your chest and throat and through your nose. Let go of all your negative thoughts and emotions as you exhale your breath for the same length of time as the inhale. Other ways to release anger include listening to or playing music, spending time in nature, writing in a journal, and talking to a trusted counselor or mentor.

Be Aware

Our anger is often aimed at reclaiming control or feeling powerful. Recognizing that the root of these issues may be our own fear, lack of control, or powerlessness, can help us direct our anger away from others and instead address ourselves. If the anger is a justifiable reaction to a true boundary violation, then taking concrete steps to resolve the issue in a just manner can help feelings of anger dissipate. If you know you’re prone to anger, knowing what sets you off can also help you to manage your anger proactively instead of reactively. Maybe it’s the topic of custody, or discussing how your finances will be split, or simply seeing your ex-spouse’s things. There will be situations and conversations during your divorce that you won’t be able to avoid, especially during legal proceedings. But being aware of your triggers will help you proactively address them and control your emotions in the moment. Once you’ve identified your triggers, plan ahead for how you will deal with your emotions in those situations by visualizing how you will respond and what you will say. Anger that is suppressed rather than expressed depletes your emotional and physical well-being, festering inside as bitterness. Don’t just hope that it will subside on its own—take action. You have a choice whether to feed your anger or to pursue peace. Revenge only leads to further damage and a false sense of empowerment.

Remember

You are likely not the only one who is angry. Perhaps it is your ex-spouse who is directing their anger toward you. It may not be easy to control your own response when you are put on the defensive, but returning anger for anger will not bring resolution. If you are on the receiving end, remain in control of yourself and seek to understand the source of their anger. If someone raises their voice or tone we instinctively want to counter with an equal or louder response. Recognize and catch it before it happens and your control of the situation will surprise even you.

Take Action

Make a list of your anger triggers and make a plan to prepare for how you will respond. When you do feel your anger rising, take a deep, relaxing breath. Choose a physical activity that you enjoy to help you diffuse your anger, and commit to it regularly. Talking to a therapist can also help tremendously. The steps you take to address your anger and its root hurt will ultimately contribute to your healing.
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