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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dealing with the Intense Anger of Divorce


Can I tell you something funny?  A friend of mine passed a copy of my first book to someone he knew might benefit from some of the things in it.  Apparently, when she got it, she went straight to the topical index, and then asked him how come I didn’t have anything listed in the topic of rage!  When he told me about it, I mentioned that she will find relevant discussions under the topic of anger, however, do you sense what she was saying?  I did.  As a result, the second book has rage as one of the topics listed in the index (mainly because, as I recall, I chose to go back and write a devotion specifically on that topic)!

Now, granted, the index was never intended to be exhaustive, and there are lots of topics addressed that may not be listed under one name or another in the index, but I think her point highlights something profound about the divorce experience. 

If there is one word that describes the emotions of divorce, the word would be “intensity.” 

There is an intensity to the anger that comes, resulting in that woman’s search for the word “rage.”  But it is not only in anger, for there is also a profound loneliness, a deep sorrow and sense of loss, an aching sense of hurt or betrayal, a dramatic uncertainty about the future…the list is almost endless, but for many, they are not merely emotional responses to the experience, they are incredibly strong emotional responses.  But for many, anger is one of the most difficult, because it can turn so destructive and make one feel so very ugly and unlovable.  So I wanted to follow up with one more post about anger.

I have noticed far too many times in the news, stories about suicide/murder crime scenes, in which an individual kills the spouse and children, and then themselves, frequently a male being the perpetrator.  And in recent years, there have been several stories of mothers who have attempted to kill their children along with themselves in the midst of their emotional trauma.  More than once I have heard people absolutely stunned with disbelief that anybody could do something like that.  But for those of us who have been through the divorce process, while we may be repulsed by the choices they made, we tend to be more able to relate to the intense emotions that led to their choices.  And, I hope, are grateful that we never got to that point ourselves!  (You know, the old “but for the grace of God, there go I” sort of thing.)  

This intensity is what is often missed in the misrepresentations of divorce we see portrayed so often, and even the most caring of friends and family will never fully appreciate how difficult it truly is.  Every once in a while it peeks out, as you may recall hearing when, for example, the media was playing the intended-to-be-private tirade of Alec Baldwin toward his daughter a few years ago.  Regardless of what other issues contributed to that situation, it is a clear reflection of the intensity of emotion aroused by divorce and its aftermath.

I would like to offer a few ideas to help with that intensity of anger (though some will apply to other emotions, as well). 

1)      Recognize that it is transitional.  The divorce process is very much an in-between sort of time of life.  You aren’t yet out of a previous marriage, but not yet single, either.  The old life is still in the process of separation, while the new life cannot be fully embraced until court issues are settled.

2)    Realize that healing takes time.  The intensity of the anger will subside (unless you nurture it), but it does not subside overnight.  Just as burning your hand on the stove hurts intensely at first, and continues to hurt intensely for a while in the healing process, so the anger does not instantly stop as your heart heals.

3)    Create appropriate buffers.  This can mean having a disinterested party read over the email you are about to send.  It can mean that when certain emotional signals arise (such as despair for those who might be suicidal), you have contracted with yourself to seek the outside help of a counselor or pastor immediately.  Another place it can arise is to choose to communicate indirectly, though responsibly, so as to not stir up additional anger in yourself or your ex (such as writing instead of face to face, or sending needed information through the attorney).

4)    Make wise choices about your emotions.  If you are feeling extremely lonely, it is wiser to go spend time with friends or family than to sit in isolation and feed that emotion.  The same is true with rage and anger.  One of the ways I find helpful is to think about the choice in terms of whether I will be able to look myself in the mirror afterwards, if I make a certain choice.  Another is to seek wise counsel, maybe a friend, maybe the attorney, maybe someone who has gone through it before, and be willing to listen to their advice.

5)    Never act out of the anger without first delaying that action at least 24 hours.  Somehow, simply the time to let the feelings settle a bit helps add to one’s perspective.  This is especially true in communications you might initiate…better to sit on it a while first.

6)    Establish a guiding principle or two for yourself, such as, “if I am going to err in my decisions, I want to err in the direction of being too kind, rather than too harsh, or having done more than I had to, rather than not as much as I should have.”   Or perhaps, “I will never act based on anger without first having gotten at least two outside opinions from people who are not mere “yes” people in my life.”

7)    Take some reflective time to consider the real source of your anger.  Often the intensity of the anger is directly related to the intensity of the hurt, or the sense of unlovability because of the betrayal.  Maybe the anger is a result of fear, whether fear of the future or fear of being alone for the first time. 

8)    When your anger moves up to rage, don’t try to handle it all alone.  Develop a confidante with whom you can share who will allow you to vent, and can offer some perspective and balance in a helpful way.

9)    If you and your ex have children, NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER forget that the ex is still the mother or father that your children love, and that is as it should be.  Do not let YOUR anger (or try to use your anger to) infect the hearts and minds of your children.  Teach them to be better people than that.

10) ALWAYS take time to talk with God about your anger…even if your anger is directed toward God!  Don’t merely talk TO God about it, allow God to speak to you as well.  Pay attention to the words of the music at church or the Christian radio, seek God’s voice in the pastor’s message, and be diligent about time spent reading your Bible (there are lots of lessons about anger in it!). 

Well, those are some thoughts.  Maybe one of them can make a difference for you or for a friend. There will be mistakes made, none of us is perfect.  But you can minimize the regret you have later, by being wise during this tumultuous, though temporary, time of life.


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