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3 Ways to Handle Divorce and Anger, If Things Are Getting Ugly

Divorce and Anger Go Hand in Hand

Love and Marriage, Horse and Carriage … Divorce and Anger obviously go together, too. Right? Well … at the very end of the season finale of #DivorceonHBO we hear the main character Frances, who is divorcing her husband, leave this voicemail for her husband: “I imagine that, somehow, you didn’t bother to think through this imbecilic move – you simply wanted to fuck me at any cost. But you have made a terrible, awful, IRREPARABLE mistake.  And you’ve LOST, Robert. You have lost EVERYTHING now!”

Uh, oh. There it is. It all just went sideways.

Oh, how easy it is to give into anger when you are in the middle of divorce, especially if it’s justified (though don’t get me wrong, it’s just as easy to get caught up in your anger because of things that you perceive to be happening, whether they really are or not.) In Frances’s case, she asked and was granted permission by her husband to swap weekends with him, to take the kids skiing.  He changed his mind at the last minute though, because he was furious with her for getting their assets frozen (which actually her attorney did; Frances didn’t really understand what the attorney was doing) and therefore reported her to the police for kidnapping. Which, of course, completely freaked the kids out. Which, of course, completely ticked off Frances, so she lashed right back out at him, hence the voicemail. See the pattern here?

Listen, if you are getting divorced right now, I know you may be feeling really, really angry. And you probably have every right to be furious. Maybe he cheated and lied about it for years … or perhaps he was a workaholic and ignored you, never noticing how very lonely you were … or maybe he abandoned you emotionally and focused his attention on the kids … or perhaps he simply left you without warning and you never saw it coming. You need to make him pay for this right? Well, I’m telling you right now, letting anger drive the legal process is not going to result in you getting the revenge or justice you seek. It will only result in a longer drawn out ugly divorce.

Divorce and Anger Must Be Untangled

I’m not suggesting you cease feeling angry … you have every right to that feeling. What I’m suggesting is that you cannot afford to let feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness or even primal raw rage dictate how this divorce will unfold. These emotions must be separated, for your sake and for your kid’s sake as well.

Imagine Anger is a monster inside of you. If you feed it, it gets big and strong. If you allow it, that monster will take over your brain and start to think for you. But Anger has no perspective, no intelligence, no problem solving or rational thinking. Like most monsters, it’s just hungry, so it does things to get fed. It feeds on fear and outrage and hatred and will stop at nothing to stir up those feelings to get a meal. It will stir them up in you and it will not stop there – it will convince you to lash out at others too, so it spreads, and your spouse is the most obvious target.

Feeding this monster does two things: (1) It keeps you in a place where you cannot think clearly nor make smart decisions because the monster is in charge and (2) It forces your spouse into the same position. Now we have two adults, neither of who is capable of making responsible decisions, because both are blinded by Anger.

You must stop feeding Anger the Monster.

As said before, I’m not simply telling you to stop feeling this way. Anger isn’t just going to go because you wish him away. You must honor how you feel, while at the same time figure out ways to navigate the divorce and make good decisions for you and your family. I offer you three things to keep in mind, as a start:

3 Ways to Handle Divorce and Your Anger, If Things Are Getting Ugly

  1. Trust yourself, if only a little.  Listen to that little voice that tells you it can’t be what it seems. Investigate the situation before you let it ignite you. Did he really say that? Would he really do that? Maybe not. Try to give him the benefit of the doubt if you think there is the smallest chance you are overreacting.
  2. Find safe ways to vent and process the anger.  Much like a teakettle that’s corked up, your anger will explode if you don’t find ways to vent the steam. Talking with someone you can trust explicitly or writing in your journal may be important ways for you to get out all that negativity in safe ways.
  3. Get perspective from someone objective. This means someone who is not close to the situation, preferably a professional.  A therapist, divorce coach, social worker, or clergy member will have the expertise you need to help you see things through other perspectives and help you make rational decisions. If Anger threatens to take over, it’s imperative you find someone who is trained to deal with these strong feelings and can help you tame that monster.

Frances says to her dad at one point, “Well, neither one of us is being particularly good to the other, but ya know, apparently that’s how these things go, so….” No, Frances, that’s not right.  Things don’t necessarily have to go that way, unless you let them. You can choose not to let your emotions take over in your divorce, and instead find ways to be civil and communicative with your spouse so you avoid those miscommunications and hurt feelings that Anger so thrives on. You must take active measures to starve the monster.  The best way to do that is with a little help from others.

If you are experiencing feelings of rage and bitterness and just don’t know  to reign it in, Liza and I can help. Reach out to us for a free 45-minute consultation and we’ll help you find ways to deal with your strong feelings while helping you make good decisions about your divorce. We look forward to speaking with you soon.

Sara Jessica Parker on Divorce on DBO sitting in a chair

#DivorceHBO: It’s Not “Basically All Law”

As I get caught up on #DivorceonHBO, I’m debating whether I like it because I work with women going through divorce or because I went through my own divorce… or if I’d like it even if neither of those were true. I’d be curious to know what you think. Do you like the show? I know it’s a little bleak at times, but doesn’t that make it ring true?  Isn’t life a little raw and bleak sometimes?

I think I like the show because it’s grappling with things that my clients grapple with… and those things are not easy nor sexy nor simple. Here’s what’s happened in the last three episodes that mirrors what I see in my practice …

How #DivorceonHBO rings true

Episode 5: “Basically, It’s All Law.”  Though Frances and Robert started off in mediation, Robert is (poorly) advised by a friend that he’ll get taken to the cleaners if he goes that route, so he thinks he’d better get his own lawyer. The first one he goes to see reassures him that while he mostly does trusts and estates, “Basically, it’s all law.”  Nope! Abort! Abort, Robert!  It’s most definitely NOT just all law.

Matrimonial law is very specific, complicated, and nuanced. You absolutely want to hire an attorney who ONLY does family law and has a good amount of experience.  Never hire an attorney simply because he is the cheapest or because someone gave you her name.  Do interview several attorneys, ask questions, and select the one that you feel the most comfortable with.  Find out how well he/she knows the judges they will be dealing with in your case…it’s important that they are familiar with the rules and proclivities of each judge.

Episode 6: The Elephant in the Room. Robert is surprised to learn that Frances has yet to tell her parents. She has lots of excuses (she hasn’t had time…she wants to tell them in person) so in an effort to save face, the family plans to show up for Christmas as if nothing has happened. Yeah, probably no one will notice that elephant you have in tow…

Clients often ask me, when do I have to tell people? How do I tell people? Is it by going to everyone, one by one?  Is it sending a mass email? Changing my Facebook status? They dread the reactions, the questions…the pity.  It is a difficult thing to navigate and there really is no one right answer. It helps to tell one person first (a trusted friend who can keep your confidence or a divorce coach, for example) and ask them to brainstorm with you… what can you do to let loved ones know, in a way you are comfortable with?  Brainstorm a statement you can use to let them know you really don’t welcome a million questions. Try something like, “I appreciate your concern.  I’m working through everything.  I’ll reach out when I’m ready to talk.”

Episode 7: We’re Broke? In this episode, Frances is very unpleasantly surprised (ummm, understatement) to find out from her attorney that they are deep, deep in debt.  Turns out Robert has been making poor business decisions, taking out loans, and remortgaging their home without her knowledge, while she is the sole breadwinner.  Ouch.

One of the most excruciating and yet absolutely necessary parts of divorce is examining your finances. It can also be scary if you haven’t been the one keeping an eye on things. (And yeah, sometimes you uncover awful surprises. When I went through my divorce, I found out my ex had racked up $40,000 in credit card debt with a card in my name.) Often your impulse is to ignore, delay, stall. Don’t. The longer you do that, the bigger the problem will seem and your imagination will fill in the blanks about what you don’t know or understand. Get informed. Gather up as many statements and documents as you can and take them to a professional to help you make sense of it all.  Divorce coaches and/or CDFA’s (Certified Divorce Financial Advisors) are trained to help you get organized if you are considering or preparing for divorce.  Even if the news is less than ideal, understanding your financial realities and forming a plan to address them will still feel better than living in the dark.

I’ll keep tuning into #DivorceonHBO because I’m pretty sure there are more lessons to learn here. It’s likely to get worse for Frances before it gets better.  But if Frances were here, I would impress upon her that it WILL get better.  This WILL end and there IS life after divorce, I promise.

If you’d like to talk with me (or my partner Liza) about your own situation, we’d be happy to connect with you. Or if you aren’t ready, that’s ok too. We invite you to keep reading.

Until next time.