Before divorce, I always thought I was a pretty even-tempered woman. I hardly ever “lost it” in an outburst of rage. There were existential things I was angry about like suffering children, oppression and poverty; but I was hardly ever mad enough to lose control in my everyday life. That was before the infidelity and the separation and the divorce anger kicked in!
When I discovered my ex-husband had been lying to my face and sneaking around and sleeping with another woman, it was a pain and sadness and devastation that I had never felt and couldn’t really describe.
For so long I was desperately sad. In time, my after-divorce-angry self came alive … and not in a mature, “I-messages,” controlled kind of way. No! After finding out the awful details, I was angry in a throwing-things-sometimes screaming fury! I crawled from the heart-broken, despairing, inexpressible hurt phase to a full-blown divorce anger stage.
Acknowledge The Anger
Figuring out how to deal with anger towards an ex starts with facing up to the fact that there are things in the world worth being angry about…like betrayal and broken promises. For me, being angry only came after I had cried all of the tears I could, and was exhausted from being so sad about this shocking new divorce I was being forced to accept.
All emotions are given to us for a purpose. Emotions aren’t bad. Anger tells us that one of our boundaries has been crossed, or a personal standard has been violated.
Tony Robbins, the famous motivational speaker, talks about the “Power of Emotions.” He said, “We need to embrace our emotions…not deny them or avoid them or simply endure them. The ‘so-called’ painful emotions (like anger) are our friends. They are action signals to protect us.”
Determine The Source
Often we think anger comes from the actions of our ex. I was angry that he was having an affair that he would not end. But what really was going on in my head were deeper questions like, “How dare you hurt so many of the people I love? How dare you throw away our good, strong family? How dare you lie to my face and betray and disappoint our extended family, our friends, and even put your partners at risk?”
The more I studied the stages of divorce emotions, I figured out that just like I got tired of the sadness, I also got tired of the rage. I started asking myself new questions about divorce anger, resentment and bitterness.
- What is the message I am supposed to get from this anger?
- How can my anger help me cope with this situation?
- What action can I take to feel like I want to feel?
Express The Anger
In the heat of the moment, divorce anger is often expressed in not-so-helpful ways. Since I have been doing this midlife divorce recovery mission, I have heard hundreds of stories about divorce divorce anger management gone bad!
I have mentored women who have done things they never would have done in a normal state of mind. I’ve had professional, capable corporate types throw furniture from a second story deck of the girlfriend’s house, or another vibrant, fun, spiritual woman paint W-H-O-R-E and SLUT on the sides of the girlfriend’s car.
I always tell my RADiCAL women not to do anything that will land them in jail. It’s just not worth it! English playwright, William Congreve had it right when he wrote, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned!” That’s why some judges are a little more lenient when it comes to “crimes of passion!” But still don’t do anything that will get you in legal trouble! And then also our ex can tell other people…“See why I had to get away from her? She’s crazy!”
Talk To Someone
There are appropriate ways to express anger. We cover a lot of this information in the “Getting Strong” section of our MasterPlan Program.
When I was trying to figure out how to stop being angry at my ex, I tried everything. Praying. Riding my bike. Eating. Almost all of the things I tried, helped temporarily. But I think one of the best things we can do is talk to someone who has actually been in that place of anger and knows how your heart is feeling. And doesn’t say, “Just get over it!” (That statement itself started making me really mad after divorce!)
That’s why one of the first things we do in our MasterPlan is get everyone connected with a whole tribe of other women who are also on the divorce recovery road. Other people simply don’t get it. Therapy can be helpful, but talking to others who have done things as stupid as we have when we’re angry after divorce can be such a relief!
They don’t judge us, and usually after sharing divorce anger revenge stories, we can laugh because it’s reassuring to know we haven’t completely gone off the deep end, and other women have done similar crazy things.
Why Is My Ex Angry At Me?
It’s hard to believe that often our spouse is for some reason angry at us during and after divorce. Even though they are the one who want “to find themselves,” or say those heart-stopping words, “I love you, but I’m not in love with you,” they try to angrily make their bad choices somehow our responsibility. Often an angry husband wants divorce, but then they try to become the victim.
We think to ourselves, “Why is my separated husband so angry with me?” Usually, it’s because we found out about their “secret life” and have spoiled their fun. Now they have to explain the lies they told, and the gifts they bought or the trips they took, or the money they spent on the lover. They have to come clean to their children about what really happened. They have to face the consequences of their actions.
How To Deal With An Angry Spouse
Even when an angry spouse wants divorce, he or she often blames us for the situation. They go into overtime usually trying to tell us (and others) about our many flaws. They blame us for turning our children against them, or ruining their careers, or outing the fact that they aren’t the people everyone thought they were. When they take that route of accusing us of punishing them, the best answer is just to say, “I am not punishing you. Everything you’re experiencing is a natural consequence of the actions you have taken.”
How To Stop Being Angry At Your Ex
Often women do the emotional work of a relationship. We often are what Harriet Godhor Lerner, Ph.D. and author of The Dance of Anger, calls “emotionally overfunctioning.” We try to take on all of the emotions of everyone we care about. She continues: “If our anger is not achieving the desired results, it would seem logical to try something different. We have to give up the fantasy that we can change anyone but ourselves.” Our job is to face and deal with our own emotions.
There is nothing merry about the divorce anger merry-go-round. It brings pain and frustration when we try to change or control another person instead of, as Dr. Lerner suggests, “reclaiming our power by taking a new and better action on our own behalf.”
How To Stop Being Angry At Yourself
Whether we know it or not, anger often helps us get a clearer view of ourselves…of who we are and what we deserve in our relationships. Many of us are good about being angry at ourselves for different things during divorce. I tell RADiCAL women all the time that we have to let go of:
- Anything we can’t change
- Anything we can’t control
So instead of being angry at yourself during and after divorce, accept responsibility for mistakes you have made and learn from them and then resolve to do better. If you’re still angry after divorce, figure out the message anger is giving you, and then let it go!
Shift The Focus
Some therapists use what they call the “Stop and Swap” method of dealing with divorce anger. Stop being angry about everything you have lost in your divorce and Swap it out for gratitude at the many many things you still have. Stop obsessing about things you can’t control and instead Swap it out for doing one small concrete thing to move yourself forward. Stop focusing on what caused the anger during divorce and focus on doing something to fix the problem.
Don’t Do Things That Are Harmful
Earlier in this blog I talked about some of the ridiculous (completely unhelpful) things some of us have done in a state of divorce rage. Now I want to talk specifically about things we do in anger that can hurt and harm ourselves and others.
We can hurt our children by not standing up for ourselves in a calm and thoughtful way. And we can hurt everyone, including ourselves, by going out of our way to badmouth our ex (even though they may deserve it!) When we hear ourselves say all the bad things our ex has done, it further imbeds all of those hurtful things in our head. Stop talking about the pain, and start talking about the solutions.
Anger after divorce can also make us take actions that are harmful to ourselves. Doing anything to excess is not good for any of us…shopping, eating, drinking, drugs or anything that numbs us to the situation and keeps us from finding a solution is not good for us or those we love.
Talk to someone in our MDRcommunity or to a friend or a therapist or a counselor if you are worried about hurting yourself. Call this suicide prevention hotline. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
Turn Anger Into Motivation
Anger during and after divorce can motivate us to finally say “No!” to always giving in…to always being the one who backs down or hides our honest feelings to “keep the peace.”
Divorce Anger can also finally help us say “No!” to being defined by someone else or letting someone else destroy our life or our future. In fact, women in our MDRcommunity often gain strength and power by encouraging each other to stand up for ourselves.
I know that it was a huge step forward for me to finally say to myself, “I refuse to let one (selfish, self-centered) person destroy me or define my future!” I decided that I was going to feel my righteous indignation and confidently say what I wanted and needed and deserved!
Think about how you want people to see you when this is all said and done. You want them to see you as a strong, good, gracious woman who will learn from this divorce and create an amazing life that is more true and authentic than it was before divorce. That’s a good thing!
Everything I need to hear
Two of the best phrases I learned which helped me a lot were, “
Every time you think of your spouse is a second out of your life , and you can be sure he is not thinking about you!!!
Don’t say “I don’t deserve this”,say “He doesn’t deserve me!”
these really helped me. I said them every day for a long time.