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|Managing the Anger of Divorce
"If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow."
- Chinese proverb
By Mari J. Frank
It's a fact: escalating anger causes much of the sorrow of divorce. You have the right to be upset -- but how can you deal effectively with the ire in divorce? First, it's important to realize that anger is a natural emotion, like an alarm meant to protect you from further hurt. Even the most agreeable people have legitimate feelings of hostility in divorce. Why? Because your expectations, dreams, and hopes about your life with your spouse are dissolving with the divorce, and that is painful. Your wrath grows out of the feelings of disappointment of perceived wrongs by your "worse" half.
Since anger is really unresolved hurt without an outlet for healthy expression, repressed hostility causes an escalation of conflict. As a result, the legitimate suffering that both parties experience in marital discord often transforms into a stressful, expensive, "bloody" courtroom battle. The litigated divorce provides a costly forum for acting out destructive animosity.
Mediation, a dynamic alternative to litigation, is a facilitated negotiation. Successful mediation de-escalates the hostility, focusing on problem solving instead of arguing positions. The mediator sifts out blame and helps the parties discover mutually acceptable solutions. Due to the intensity of the emotions -- and the complexity of the legal issues -- during divorce, the parties need a qualified neutral attorney/mediator to educate them about family-law issues. This process empowers both parties to make informed decisions about their children and their finances.
The expert mediator facilitates the transformation of conflict into "solutioneering" and teaches the parties how to manage their own anger. It's a process that builds trust and guarantees satisfying results. Handling your own anger effectively is a challenge at any time, but it is an especially important accomplishment during the heat of divorce.
Whether you are in litigation or mediation, it will be to your financial and emotional advantage to understand how to control your frustrations. You can achieve greater financial benefits, save yourself from stress, and "win" more of what you want if you can communicate effectively with your spouse.
For a long time, you and your spouse have pushed each other's "buttons" and reacted to conflict by fighting, fleeing, submitting, or freezing. When you repress anger, you feel diminished, yet if you meet hostility with aggression, it fans the flame, which may lead to violence. There are better options.
Our goal is to consciously respond -- not instinctively react. If your spouse gets you mad, you have lost control of yourself. As Elizabeth Kenny once said, "He who angers you, conquers you."
When we allow our anger to rule our reasoning, we lose our ability to make reliable decisions. We lose our sense of self, our thinking becomes impaired, and we "lose it." That's when we make "the greatest speeches we'll ever regret!" We voluntarily give away our power when we delegate the authority to anger to rule our reason.
Try the following proven strategy anytime your spouse (or children, boss, or anyone else) attacks your ideas, actions, or beliefs. To help you remember this 10-step strategy, you may find the acronym HARD LOVING helpful and apropos.
Anger is a tough feeling to understand, but it's important to remember that you are not alone. Sometimes, you may believe you are furious at your spouse, but the problem is similar to an issue that you had with a parent when you were a child. Our emotions of challenging relationships need to be analyzed so we can learn important life lessons. Emotional counseling during divorce is a helpful way to clarify which issues belong to you and which are really dilemmas for your spouse. You are only responsible for 50% of the problems in your marriage -- no more, no less.
Seek quality individual therapy for yourself and, if you and your spouse are in agreement, try marital counseling to work on your joint issues. If you are beyond the point of marriage therapy, interview qualified attorney/mediators who have the skills to help you to resolve the legal issues of the divorce and decrease the hostility between you. With an innovative, holistic approach, you'll be able to "heal" the conflict so that you both can release the hurt, forgive one another, and move on with your lives, productively, to find new, healthy relationships.
Mari Frank is an attorney-mediator in Laguna Niguel, CA who has successfully mediated hundreds of divorces. A certified trainer for the State Bar of California, she has taught negotiation and mediation as a professor of law. Mari has appeared on dozens of national television shows and more than 100 radio shows. She has also been featured in newspapers and magazines across the nation. She can be reached at (949) 364-1511. View her website and Divorce Magazine profile here.
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