Three steps for leaving your divorce anger behind you.
When my ex-husband and I decided to divorce in 2002, we came to the decision rationally just like we’d come to most decisions in our marriage. Being two rational human beings who had never fought, we thought it would be in our best interest to save money and effort by continuing to live together until we were able to sell our home.
Sounds reasonable, right? Well, it wasn’t reasonable at all.
Neither of us had been through divorce before, and we had no idea of the changes we would be going through or the intense anger we would feel toward each other. I remember one instance when we were talking about something that made my husband angry. So angry that he punched the wall in front of my face. I had never seen him do anything of the sort before and it made me angry in return. Instead of punching the wall, though, I took it out on myself. I remained outwardly calm, but internally I blamed myself for the divorce and generally made myself miserable.
Now I realize that the intense anger we were experiencing during divorce was actually the accumulation of all the little angers that we had never addressed during our nearly 18 years of marriage. For years, we had been sweeping our angers and irritations under the rug because they just didn’t seem to be worth dealing with in the moment. Unfortunately, we didn’t forget them; we hid them and they grew. They grew so much that by the time we decided to divorce they had turned into a mountain of frustration and anger. There was no longer a reason to try to make our marriage work and so the slightest insult or frustration could set us off. Our anger was like Mt. Vesuvius erupting; it threatened to explode and erase all evidence that our marriage had even existed.
We all have similar experiences when we divorce. Some of us experience the eruptions during the marriage. Some of us experience the eruptions once the decision to divorce is made. Some of us even experience the eruptions long after the divorce is final.
Believe it or not, divorce anger can serve an important purpose and it’s not all bad. Divorce anger can help you to separate and sever your marriage bonds. However, you don’t need to experience the anger for prolonged periods. In fact, if you do, then you’ve probably gotten into the habit of being angry and are stuck.
If you’re stuck in the anger, don’t worry; you can get past your divorce anger. Here are some steps to help you get unstuck and defuse your divorce anger.
- Accept that everyone (including your ex and his or her attorney) is doing the best they can with what they have at every moment. You’re just not going to be able to make your ex be someone they’re not. Lisa Nichols has a great way of teaching this. She says you can’t supersize people. Some people just have a 24-ounce capacity and when you expect them to give you 64-ounces, they just can’t do it. So if you’re expecting your ex to be kinder, smarter or more responsible than they’re capable of, you’re going to be disappointed. When I teach this concept to my clients, I suggest they take a picture of a shot glass and use it as the screen saver on their phone. That way the next time they get angry at their spouse, they can look at the shot glass and remember that their ex just isn’t capable of giving or doing any more than they are.
- Acknowledge that you and your ex have different priorities, capabilities and motivations. When you and your ex were married, your priorities and motivations probably were the same, but that is no longer the case. Only you can decide what’s right for you. Only your ex can decide what’s right for him or her. And if your ex didn’t have the capabilities you wanted them to have in the marriage, there’s no way they’re going to magically develop the capabilities now that you’re divorced.
- Check for residual anger and express it — appropriately. Anger is an energizing emotion. I’ve never heard of someone who was so angry they fell asleep, have you? So, even though you’ve defused the anger intellectually, chances are that you’ve still got some adrenaline flowing around your system that needs to get used up. To check this out, take a couple deep breaths. Is there still a part of you that wants to do something active like taking your ex to task, cleaning out the junk drawer or punching a pillow? If so, you need to burn up the adrenaline. Some of my favorite ways to do this are exercise, punching a pillow, screaming into a pillow and dancing to some really loud music. Find an activity that allows you to safely and appropriately work your frustration out while you adjust to your new thoughts of acceptance and acknowledgment.
Taking a deep breath and following these steps the next time you start to feel furious with your ex will allow you to defuse your divorce anger and get on with living your own life instead of continuing to be entangled with theirs.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment
Think of one recent situation that you’re angry with your ex about. Sometimes the easiest way to learn something new is to practice, so let’s take this situation through the three steps above.
- How can you change your thoughts about your ex so that you can accept they were doing the best they could in this situation? Remember that accepting that someone is doing the best they can doesn’t mean you have to like what they did. It also means that you’re never going to be able to make them into someone they’re not.
- How can you acknowledge that your ex now has different priorities than you do? Even if the only priority you can think of that your ex has is that they want to live their life without you, it’s still different from your priorities.
- Take a deep breath and check your body for signs of residual anger. Can you feel that your blood pressure is elevated? Are you clenching your jaw or your fists? Are you feeling energized to just take action? If you answered yes to any of these, then it’s time to get active and burn off that residual anger.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.
This article originally appeared on YourTango.
More than 350,000 family abductions occur in the U.S. each year, nearly 1,000 per day. 1,000 children abducted by a parent, a relative every day! On November 2, 1987, I lost my two children to such an abduction by their father. Monica was almost six years old; David was one and half. I had never known or heard of anyone who had had a child abducted either by a family member or non-family individual(s). I did not know where to turn or what to do. What I fervently did know was I would find and be with my children no matter the obstacles. Above all, I vowed I would never give up hope.
During the almost thirteen years it took for me to locate and reunite with Monica and David, my journey had many twists, turns, and often heartbreaking dead-ends. For a long time, I was unable to look at or touch my children’s toys and clothes that had been left behind. I would drive by the school where Monica had attended kindergarten and I would start to cry. A child in a stroller would remind me of David.
There were numerous calls to and conversations with local, state, and Federal law enforcement, and attorneys both in the U.S. and Mexico. There were repeated futile attempts to find organizations that would help. There were disreputable private investigators who claimed they would find and bring Monica and David home if I just paid inordinate amounts of money. Ultimately, I connected with The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). This organization understood and I knew they would undertake the steps needed to find my children.
As the years went by searching for my children, I made important professional and personal decisions. I knew that I had to take care of myself both physically and emotionally in order to be a strong person and parent when I reunited with Monica and David. I sought and obtained my accreditation in public relations and started a firm, which continues today. In conjunction, I found immense value in therapy, which allowed me to grow and obtain a sense of self. Along the way, I met a man, Earl, who is now my husband. He has been my rock and support through all the “ups and downs” in the journey.
Through the relentless efforts of several at NCMEC, Monica and David were found in Toluca, northwest of Mexico City. I will never forget April 4, 1999, when I received the incredible news!
Except it was not a fairy-tale reunion. Monica and David were strangers. My children had been told I was dead, and as I was still alive, why had I waited all these years to come for them? Both stated that we would never be friends and, definitely not family. My journey in searching for my children was not over. It had actually just begun. And, I was determined, more than ever, to remain hopeful and patient that one day I would have a relationship with my children.
Nine years after we reunited, on February 4, 2008, my birthday, David called me. “Happy Birthday, Mom, I love you!” I was speechless.
The following year, Mother’s Day 2009, Monica sent me a card.
“Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! Love, Your Favorite Daughter!”
Today, Monica calls me Favorite Mom and she is Favorite Daughter.
And David calls Earl “Dad” and signs all of his cards, emails, and texts to each and both of us, Love, Son.
My journey continues.
P.S. – Susan Morrow’s book chronicling her search, reunion, and rebuilding the relationships with her children is due to launch fall 2013.
Susan Morrow MissingKidsLogois a crisis management specialist and helps organizations in the areas of internal planning, communications with media, community, and industry audiences, and counseling during actual crisis situations. She uses her immense talents as a consultant at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. In this role, Ms. Morrow’s nationwide team of 20 volunteers supports families whose children have been abducted by one parent or a family member to locations here and abroad. She and her team have helped over 2,000 families in the last seven years. Ms. Morrow also counsels families experiencing long-term abductions and provides post-reunification support.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
As you’re progressing through your divorce, how have you been able to use love, patience and hope to get through your toughest spots? I hope that you’re not in Susan’s situation of having your children abducted, but I know that you have had some tough times. These are the times I’m asking you to think about how you’ve had a chance to use love, patience and always hope to make it through them.
How might you rely more on love, patience and hope to support yourself as you use your divorce as the starting point for you to live the BEST of your life? Although it might not seem like your divorce could actually be the beginning of the BEST of your life, with a bit of determination and creativity it can be. If you’d like some support in figuring it out, just let me know. I’ll be happy to help.
If you’re looking for more help on how to navigate the challenges of your life now, read more articles on Life After Divorce.
Have you ever heard someone say that instead of working things out a couple is taking the easy road by deciding to separate and divorce? I have and all I can say to those ignorant people is “Seriously? You have no idea what it takes to get divorced.”
Making the decision that a relationship in which you’ve invested YEARS of your life is better off ending than continuing is FAR from easy. In fact, it’s usually gut wrenching. Although there are the extremely rare people who enter into a marriage with the intent that it end with divorce, the rest of us jump into marriage with both feet, a sense of commitment and a willingness to make things work whatever that takes. And did I mention we usually spend YEARS trying to make things work before we ever think of separation or divorce. I certainly don’t see how any sane person can look at a couple who’s divorcing and say they’re taking the easy road.
Reaching the decision to separate and divorce is hard. It was one of the most difficult decisions I ever made not only in the moment the decision was made, but in the fall-out of that decision. EVERYTHING changed in that moment. Not all the changes were for the better – at least not in the short-term. I came face-to-face with some hard truths about me and how I was living my life. It wasn’t all pretty and took a whole lot of really hard work to get me straightened out. BUT I am a much healthier and happier person now.
The road I’ve taken since my separation and divorce hasn’t been easy, but it has felt much more alive and real than the road I was on in my first marriage.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach helping people just like you who are contemplating divorce. Should you stay, or should you go is a powerful question and I’m here to help you make a smart decision that will lead to your greatest happiness… whether you stay OR go. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.
If you’re looking for more help answering the question “Should I stay or should I go?”, read more articles in Unhappy Marriage?.
It’s only natural to feel some anger when a marriage breaks down to the point of no return. It is understandable to be angry when feeling betrayed by anyone, especially a spouse or ex-spouse. Anger is such a powerful emotion that sometimes it is nearly impossible to keep it to ourselves, even during moments when we know we should. This is not to say that anger should be avoided or hidden. Recognizing and dealing with anger is an important part of healing and moving on from a divorce. There are right times, right places and right ways to acknowledge, express and work through anger towards your ex-spouse…none of which are in front of your children!
Regardless of how angry you are and regardless of how justified your anger might be towards the other parent, burdening your children with your anger towards the other parent is not only unfair to your children but can cause them very serious emotional harm.
Children naturally love both of their parents, regardless of their adult mistakes and regardless of how flawed or imperfect the parents may be. When one parent disparages the other parent to or in front of a child, it is like a knife in that child’s heart. Disparaging the other parent to or in front of a child can present itself in many forms including the following…
- Making verbal comments that insult, ridicule, discredit or disrespect the other parent. This includes comments about the other parent’s physical appearance, financial status, employment or any other aspect of that parent’s life.
- Physical gestures or body language that implies the other parent is not worthy of respect. This can include gestures such as eye rolling or loud sighs or sarcastic laughs or even a certain tone of voice that implies a negative message regarding the other parent.
- Actions of custody interference towards the other parent out of anger or to seek revenge. This includes any behavior that crosses the appropriate boundaries established by separation or divorce. Some examples include obsessive and intrusive questioning about time spent with the other parent, frequent interruptions of time spent with the other parent and refusal to comply with the custody schedule.
In addition to children naturally loving both parents, children also naturally want to please and have approval from both of their parents. Burdening children with your anger towards the other parent places your children in an impossible loyalty bind by making them feel that may must choose to support and endorse your anger. While on the outside your child may seem supportive and in agreement with your hostility, it is a fact that on the inside your angry words and actions against their other parent are breaking your child’s heart. As if children of divorce don’t have enough to deal with, these inappropriate actions towards the other parent known as “alienating behaviors” causes children additional unnecessary stress. Just as a train without brakes picks up momentum, alienating behaviors pick up steam and escalate if the brakes are not put on. Sadly, alienating behaviors gone out of control ultimately lead to lifelong emotional and relationship issues for the children who are unfairly put “in the middle” of parents with unresolved and misdirected anger. Studies show that children put into this situation often suffer from anxiety, depression, substance abuse, self-harm and thoughts of suicide.
To not engage in alienating behaviors, separated or divorced parents must learn how to interact in a healthy way under the circumstances of no longer being in the same household. This is known as co-parenting. We must be realistic that this can be easier said than done at times so it’s important to utilize tools to help us navigate through the anger without making our children casualties of our adult issues.
Fortunately, there are tools and resources available to specifically help in this area. A few tools and resources that can help are as follows…
- Counseling or therapy with a licensed professional. Recognize that if you are unable to stop yourself from exposing your children to any alienating behaviors due to your anger, YOU need help! Again, it is understandable to feel anger when a relationship ends especially if you feel betrayed. There is no shame in needing help to deal with and get through such a painful time in your life. Take an honest look at your behaviors and do what you need to do improve your emotional health for the sake of your children.
- Co-parenting classes. Due to recent awareness of the damaging effects of alienating behaviors on children, co-parenting classes are readily available. Co-parenting classes can be found through community centers, counseling offices, life coaches and other resources. Classes can be taken in person or online. Obviously, it takes both parents to commit to properly co-parenting. It might be difficult or sometimes impossible to get the other parent to commit to co-parenting. If you are still going through the divorce process, ask your attorney to have co-parenting classes court ordered to be completed by both parents before the divorce is finalized. One example of co-parenting classes can be found at http://www.childreninthemiddle.com/.
- Co-parenting communication tools. Establishing and following proper boundaries is the key to co-parenting. To properly co-parent is to “stick to the business of parenting” and to not cross the new boundaries put into place by divorce. A co-parenting communication tool such as Our Family Wizard can be invaluable in this regard. Co-parenting communication tools such as Our Family Wizard provides parents with email accounts, calendars, file sharing and other resources tailored to facilitate proper and respectful co-parenting with appropriate boundaries. Children can also be engaged with the use of email accounts and calendars while utilizing filters that prevent the children from being burdened with the adult communications and decisions. Using co-parenting tools such as Our Family Wizard can alleviate a lot of stress and anxiety when trying to establish and honor the boundaries of proper co-parenting. If you’re still going through the divorce process, ask your attorney to have the use of a co-parenting communication tool court ordered in your final divorce decree. A resource such as Our Family Wizard simplifies co-parenting by giving parents the tools needed to “stick to the business of parenting.” For more information about Our Family Wizard, visit http://www.ourfamilywizard.com/ofw/.
Your children love and want a relationship with the other parent even if you no longer love or want a relationship with the other parent. Not only do your children want a relationship with their other parent, they NEED a relationship with their other parent. It is not about you or about your anger towards the other parent. It is about the health and well-being of your children.
The bottom line is you must put your love for your children above your anger towards their other parent. Putting your love for your children above your anger towards their other parent is the greatest gift you will ever give your children and while you might not believe it today, someday you will see it was also one of the greatest gifts you ever gave yourself.
For more information about co-parenting, alienating behaviors and parental alienation please contact Wendy Archer of Parental Alienation Awareness Organization USA at firstname.lastname@example.org. The North Texas Chapter of Parental Alienation Awareness Organization USA holds monthly meetings on the 2nd Wednesday of every month in Southlake Texas. More information can be found by joining the PAAO USA North Texas Chapter facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/paaonorthtexas/.
Your Functional Divorce Coaching Assignment:
How have you inadvertently let your anger about your divorce affect your children? This is a tough question. No one is a perfect parent regardless of whether or not they’re dealing with divorce. The purpose of this question is to allow you to examine where you might be able to improve your parenting. After all, it’s awareness that is the first part of changing for the better.
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If you’re looking for more help on how to navigate the challenges of your life now, read more articles about Life After Divorce.
Have you ever noticed that there’s all kinds of conflicting information “out there” about anger? You’ve probably heard that frequent anger is deadly. Maybe you’ve heard that anger is an important part of getting through your divorce. You might think that anger is bad and you shouldn’t express it. You’ve probably heard that anger needs to be expressed or else it eats away at you. You might have learned that girls and women aren’t supposed to be angry. Maybe you believe that only adults are supposed to be angry. You might have learned that boys and men are allowed to be angry. You might have learned that anger only leads to violence. There are just all kinds of confusing ideas we’re all taught about anger.
There are messages about anger being both good and bad. Then there are messages about anger being OK for only some people to express and not others. It’s just plain confusing!
Let’s clear up some of the confusion about anger and come to a healthy understanding about it – especially as it applies to divorce.
Frequent anger is deadly. FACT.
For people who experience frequent HIGH levels of anger, their anger can be deadly. Those of us who are “chronically angry or hostile adults with no history of heart trouble might be 19% more likely than their more placid peer to develop heart disease” according to WebMD.com (http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/features/how-anger-hurts-your-heart). If you’ve already got heart disease and have an especially angry temperament WebMD.com states that you’re “24% more likely than other heart patients to have a poor prognosis.”
Anger is an important part of getting through your divorce. FACT.
There are two reasons anger is an important part of getting through divorce. First, part of healing from divorce is going through a grieving process and anger is a natural part of the grieving process. Second, anger in divorce is one way you learn to distance yourself emotionally from your former spouse. It helps to break that marriage bond or habit.
Anger is bad and shouldn’t be expressed. MYTH.
Anger is a normal, natural emotion that pops up when you need to know that something needs attention and that action needs to be taken. Last week’s newsletter shared 3 reasons why anger is good.
Anger needs to be expressed or it eats away at you. FACT and MYTH.
Not expressing anger can cause you to feel misunderstood, resentful, and angry! And having these emotions unexpressed for the long term can cause serious health issues. However, just expressing anger by exploding in a rage, screaming, throwing a temper tantrum and the like aren’t helpful for dissipating the emotion. Anger needs to be expressed in constructive ways in order to have it dissipate.
Girls and women aren’t supposed to be angry. MYTH.
Anger is a natural human emotion. All humans can experience anger. We all need to know how to recognize it and express it in constructive ways.
Only adults are supposed to be angry. MYTH.
Children are human too! Since anger is a natural human emotion, kids will experience it. It’s the role of the adults in their lives to help them recognize what anger is and to be able to express it in constructive ways.
Only boys and men are allowed to be angry. MYTH.
Again, anger is a natural human emotion. All of us need to be able to express it appropriately.
Anger only leads to violence. MYTH.
Goodness knows there are plenty of movies out there depicting how anger always leads to violence, but it’s not true that all anger leads to violence. Anger appropriately expressed is rarely violent.
Hopefully, this list of myths and facts about violence has cleared up some of the confusion about the conflicting messages we all get about anger. Perhaps it’s also caused you to think about some of the other things you think about anger.
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
What do you believe about anger? List everything you think about anger. Then, go back through the facts and myths about anger and see if your beliefs are myth or fact.
Do you need more support to constructively express the anger you have about your divorce? I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress and pain of divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And if you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.
© 2013 Karen Finn. All rights reserved under all copyright conventions.
You’ve probably heard recommendations from other experts about how long you need to wait after divorce before you start dating. These other experts recommend that you wait anywhere from just 1 year to 1 year for every 4 years you were married.
I disagree with these one-size-fits-all recommendations. I believe that the only requirement for you to be able to successfully date after divorce is that you’ve finished your time in the Divorce Pits. The Divorce Pits are where you experience the most painful feelings of divorce – grief, anger, guilt and rejection.
I hope you can agree with me that you wouldn’t want to date someone consumed with the Divorce Pits. So, if you’re consumed with them, you’re probably not going to find someone who wants to date you either. (You can find out if you’re still in the Divorce Pits by taking the assessment here.)
Once you’re out of the Pits, you’re cleared to date. There are all kinds of ways you can meet people to date and I’ll save a discussion of that for some other time. The point I want to get to here is that your dating should be helping you to determine what you do and don’t like about yourself and others in a relationship. There are all kinds of things that people do and don’t want in a relationship, but the one thing that EVERYONE WANTS is to be able to trust their partner.
Take It Slowly When You’re Re-Learning How To Trust After Divorce
For many of us post-divorce, our ability to trust another isn’t quite working ideally. That’s why I recommend you build your trust in yourself first (read more here), then build your trust in friendships (read more here), before trusting someone in a committed relationship. The question I always get from my clients about this is how do I know if I can trust someone?
You can feel pretty confident about trusting someone in a committed relationship by using 8 different keys. These keys are things that you need to examine both in the other person and in your ability to give to them.
We’ll start with the first four keys today and save the other four for next week’s article. (Read part 2.)
The first 4 keys to trust in a post-divorce relationship are
- Clarity – Clarity refers to the ability you and your partner have communicating with each other AND in the clarity you each have individually about being in the relationship. Are you both open and clear about what you want from the relationship? Are you both clear about what needs you’d like to have the other meet? Are you both clear about what you are and are not willing to do in the relationship? The important point about each of these questions is that you’re clear individually without any pressure from the other person or fear of losing the relationship and that you’re able to clearly communicate this to each other. (You should also be aware that after divorce we all change a lot, so just because you’re clear about what you want today, next month, next quarter, next year, your needs of the relationship may change and you both need to be willing to continue being clear for the duration of the relationship.)
- Compassion – Compassion refers to the ability you’ve each got to care for the other. Compassion in a healthy relationship MUST be two-way. There are times when one partner may need more compassion than another, but if the flow of compassion is only one-way, the relationship isn’t conducive to building the level of trust necessary for a long-term committed relationship.
- Character – Character is who you each are as individuals and in the relationship. It’s not unusual for people to behave one way in front of others and another way in the privacy of their relationship. If you find that you’re not behaving like yourself in a relationship, that’s not a healthy relationship for you. If you find that you don’t care for the way the person you’re dating regularly behaves, then they’re not the right person for you.
- Competency – Competency can sound like a funny criterion for trust in a dating or love relationship, but it’s really important. Would you want to be in a relationship with someone who is simply incapable of meeting your needs of the relationship? I doubt it. That’s why I believe it’s critical that you get some clarity on what you want in a relationship and what you’re willing to give to a relationship. Once you know that, you’ll have an idea of whether or not you’ve both got the competency to be in a relationship together.
I know that this is only half of the list, but it’s a lot of information! These aren’t necessarily simple keys. They require careful thought and a deep awareness of your feelings. But armed with these first keys, you’ve got a great starting point for figuring out if the person or people you’re dating are right for you to enter into a deeper relationship with.
Your Assignment For Learning How To Trust Someone Again:
Get clear about what you want in your post-divorce relationships. You might be looking for your next great love or you might be looking for someone to hang out with and just have fun. It’s important that you get clear about what you want so you’ll be able to know if dating someone is in your best interest or not. AND so that you’ll be able to have clarity telling the other person what you want.
How might you determine if the other person is compassionate? In my experience, this is one of those keys that takes time to evaluate. You might be able to tell enough about someone’s lack of compassion quickly. However, if it’s not glaringly obvious that the other person isn’t compassionate, then seeing how you both act in stressful situations is probably the quickest way to determine your level of compassion for yourselves and each other.
If you’re in a relationship with someone, do you like who you are when you’re with them? For most of us who divorced, when we take an honest look back at our marriage we can usually find something about ourselves in the marriage that we’ve since changed or are in the process of changing. There was something about what our marriage had become that caused us to be less than ourselves. It’s so very important that you not enter into another relationship that might cause you to not appreciate yourself 100%. So, if you don’t like whom you are when you’re with someone, it’s time to end that relationship. If you do like who you are when you’re with someone, the relationship just might be working and you might be closer to building trust.
Is the person you’re in relationship with capable of meeting your needs? Are you capable of meeting theirs? If your answer is “yes” to both questions, you’ve got another key for building trust in this relationship. If not, then this relationship probably isn’t in your best interest to continue for long.
Don’t worry; you don’t have to go through this alone. I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and advisor. I’ve been divorced and I know what you’re going through. My specialty is helping people just like you who are dealing with the stress, pain and uncertainty of divorce. You can join my anonymous newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.