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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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.
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