Don't Let Your Spouse's Anger Define Who You Are

Many divorces are between people who accept that their marriage is no longer a healthy partnership. Though these people are sad to have reached this stage, they come to terms with this reality and make healthy decisions in favor of their children and the need to work together in the future. This requires an ability to see the other side’s needs and compromise when possible. These people are working from a place of reason and acceptance.

Then there are those who approach divorce with a “take no prisoners” attitude and want revenge for the perceived betrayal. They cannot accept that the other person will not stay married to them. If they won’t stay married, then they set out to destroy their spouse. Examples of such behavior include:

Calling the opposing spouse’s employer and allege that the spouse has violated employer policies. Their anger blinds them to the reality that their spouse may have been the primary income earner for the family and the family will have to rely on that income in the future to sustain a comfortable life style.

Accusing the other spouse of infidelity to family friends and the children. Even if this were true, which it frequently is not, children do not want to know about their parent’s sex lives. They do not want to know about such betrayals committed by a parent, even if true. Friends also do not want to know of such behaviors. Friends have their own opinions of people they have known for a long time. When a divorcing spouse reports shockingly unlikely behavior to a friend that does not mesh with that friend’s impression of the accused, they are likely to suspect the accuser has something wrong with them or has his/her own agenda.

Telling the children the details of the divorce and alleged wrongs committed by the other parent. Sometimes, they require the children to show loyalty to the angry parent by cutting off communication with the other parent. Parents who alienate the children or attempt to alienate the children from the other spouse fail to consider the needs of the children to have a healthy relationship with both parents in order to become strong, self-reliant adults. These angry parents also risk having the children realize what is going on and turn on them.

Such extreme anger shown by one spouse truly tears the family apart and makes it extremely difficult for the parents to work together in the future. Usually, the fighting does not stop with the granting of the divorce. Some of these people will continue fighting for decades.

Those people who refuse to accept that there can be a civilized divorce are setting themselves and their families up for expensive legal fees during the divorce and after that limit their ability to care for their children. I have personally seen families whose legal battles cost more than $300,000.

Sometimes, due to mental illness or addiction problems, the angry spouse can not control their anger impulses and consider how this affects the other spouse or the children. If possible, getting that client to appropriate mental health services may help. However, the angry spouse needs to accept that their anger is interfering with having a healthy life. If they continue to blame the other, then improvement is unlikely.

What does not work, is meeting anger with more anger. This is taking a “two wrongs make a right” approach. It only serves to inflame the conflict and make it worse.

It helps the family if the “healthy” spouse can accept the limitations that the other has and help the children accept those limitations too. This requires the healthy spouse to get support from his/her own therapist, build a support network, and stay centered. It also requires the healthy spouse to work with professionals who try to defuse the conflict; not create more conflict. The healthy spouse cannot accept the description placed on them by the angry spouse. Have faith that others; the children, your extended family and friends, see you for the hard-working, healthy person that you are, who is doing your best to get through a difficult period in your life. Try to identify the anger triggers in your spouse and avoid them, when possible. Limit your direct contact with your spouse, when possible, but do not use the children as messengers. There are computer programs through which you can communicate. Email communications where people have the opportunity to see their words before sending the message can reduce the toxicity of words. Communication services such as “Our Family Wizard,” permit court personnel or parenting coordinators to monitor communications between parents. For some parents, it’s useful to know that a judge can literally read your messages to the other parent.

The very angry cases are extremely difficult for everyone involved. There are services from mental health, court and legal professionals that can help. However, the process starts with the healthy spouse who identifies the problem.

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