When do you get a chance to face your anger and express it, and who is it appropriate to express it to? "A tremendous amount of anger builds as a marriage dissolves," Littman says, "yet it's not wise to express that anger in front of your children or to your spouse. In fact, being in touch with all the anger might even be dangerous for you. Nonetheless, this high level of anger is inside you and often gets turned inward in the form of self-blame."
In Matt's case, for instance, his wife had clearly been unfaithful. Yet she blamed the situation on his deficits, and this, in turn, overwhelmed him with self-doubt. Didn't he deserve this treatment? Wasn't he disgusting? Hadn't he aspired for more than he deserved?
Matt was lucky, at least in one sense. Already seeing a therapist, he explored his anger and his self-esteem issues before venturing out for romance again. He came to understand that he was shouldering more than his fair share of the blame, and, without fear of repercussion in the therapist's office, expressed his inner rage.
"Directing your anger at the perpetrator rather than yourself is the first step toward recovery," Littman states. "Many people are frightened by the intensity of their rage and feel that it is in some way unacceptable. They need to know that rage is an acceptable response when the very moorings of your life have been shaken, and you have very little control over the destruction."
By purging his anger and examining the constraints Ursula had imposed on him, Matt was able to move on. A year after the day he'd been "kicked out," he was fathering his children as he never had when he lived at home. Able to return to a looser style far more natural to him, he often kept the kids up late — by Ursula's standards anyway — on weekend sleepovers, watching movies and playing games. Now, when he was with his children, he was really with them, not blitzed out on classical music and a drink.
For the next couple of years, Matt, now 40, was on a mission: Part excavation and part exploration, he pieced together a self he never could have been with Ursula in tow. He joined the Sierra Club and took hikes into the mountains; he reconnected with his family and his friends from the old 'hood. (Happily, he discovered that many of these so-called "classless characters" had become major success stories — in business as well as the arts.) And he joined a community theater group, becoming a member of the chorus in a series of musicals.
Says Littman: "The goal is creation of a new identity based on wisdom gained from the journey. This new identity should embrace your unique set of gifts."
There is a postscript to this story: Matt remarried and, unfortunately, divorced yet again. But the second time around, he never relinquished his new sense of self, and through it all, he sustained an ever-stronger relationship with his children. As for Ursula, she moved the piano teacher into the house she once shared with Matt, still playing classical in the den and serving cocktails each night at 7.
This article was excerpted with permission from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Surviving Divorce — 3rd edition, by Pamela Weintraub and Terry Hillman.