Getting Past Anger

Most divorces start when one spouse decides that the marriage is no longer meeting his or her needs. The initiating spouse has often spent months, perhaps years pulling away from the relationship and considering his or her options. Often the remaining partner, the one who finds the marriage does meet his or her needs, is aware that the other spouse is no longer as engaged in the marriage, but thinks the marriage will survive. That spouse is frequently surprised and angry when the decision to end the marriage is made.

Divorce is particularly difficult for the spouse who is left behind for a variety of reasons.

  • They feel rejected.
  • They may not have had input or control over such a monumental decision.
  • Their spouse may have stood by when they made decisions that when applied to a divorce scenario places them at a significant disadvantage. For example, they may have decided to take an early retirement, when they cannot now afford to live on this reduced income.
  • They may have wanted to go to counseling with the spouse, but the spouse refused.
  • They may have deferred getting their education or taking a promotion, thinking they served the "couple" and now are disadvantaged.
  • They may have stayed home to parent the children and do not now have the ability to support themselves.

The "left behind spouse" often reacts with a number of strong emotions. The strongest may be anger.

As divorce lawyers we often see this as the most destructive emotion that interferes with that person's ability to adjust to the situation and move on to a productive life. The anger can play out in a number of ways.

  • Refusing to become more independent: find a job, get more education
  • Damaging property that belongs to the spouse
  • Obstructing property division, such as sabotaging the sale of the house.
  • Increasing the family debt
  • Withholding the children from the other spouse
  • In extreme cases, turning the children against the other spouse.

The inability of letting go of anger means you are stuck. You continue to relive the wrongs that the other spouse has perpetrated, instead of looking ahead and accepting that you both have changed and living together as spouses is no longer an option. If your anger extends to your children, you are making it much harder for your children to accept the change that is happening to their lives.

Unfortunately, I see people holding on to anger for years, even decades. I have read petitions filed by people who restate facts from their marriage and their divorces that happened more than 10 years ago, not once but many times. Along with needing to relive their marriage and how it ended, they want revenge from their former spouse. They will spend thousands of dollars trying to get revenge.

Angry people are not happy people. It is very difficult to work with such folks since they find it difficult to accept another version of what went wrong in their marriage, than the story they have developed. However, the real tragedy if they have children, is that they cannot form a positive, working relationship with their former spouse to parent their children. This makes it very difficult for children to navigate between two parents who are not getting along.

An old phrase that I have heard around the court house often is that "it takes two to tangle." Sometimes or sometimes not. Sometimes, it takes one former spouse who cannot let go of his or her anger who looks for opportunities to punish the other former spouse. Even though their life is miserable, they don't mind inflicting that misery on others; their children and their former spouse (not to mention the judge and others who try to help.)

For people who profess to love their children and who wish to build a new life after divorce, it is critical to let go of the anger. If this proves difficult, ask your lawyer for some referrals to good mental health professionals.