Divorce can stir up a wide range of complicated emotions, some of which include sadness, anger, hurt, and fear.
Most people would say they are not their best selves during a divorce. Out of all the emotions that can arise between exes during divorce, perhaps the hardest one to deal with is anger, and what can be even more frustrating is figuring out just how to handle an angry ex.
What can you do if you are trying to co-parent with your ex and he or she is still angry about the divorce?
Here’s how to handle an angry ex.
Start with empathy
It’s important to remember that anger is a secondary emotion. Behind anger is often sadness and grief. It is not uncommon for one person to push for a divorce leaving the other spouse to catch up to those feelings. The person who wanted to save the marriage is usually slower to complete divorce tasks and can struggle during and even after the divorce to come to terms with the fact that the marriage has ended.
That struggle can lead to anger. Time can be helpful. As the person starts to get his/her life back on track, the anger may diminish and your co-parenting relationship may stabilize. While maintaining empathy won’t erase your ex’s anger, it can help de-escalate tense interactions.
Focus on communication
When dealing with difficult people, keep communications brief, informative, friendly, and firm (Bill Eddy’s method with high-conflict couples). You want to ensure that communications are to-the-point, focused on the issue at hand, and have a clear request.
Don’t engage in topics that may elicit unnecessary emotion such as why the marriage fell apart – stick to the matter at hand (like figuring out sick childcare or soccer schedules). Look over texts and emails before you send them and ask yourself if you would send it to a coworker. This lens will help you frame your communication in a productive way.
Maintain clear boundaries
If someone is lashing out at you, you are allowed to set a limit. It’s perfectly appropriate to say something like “I will not communicate with you when you are yelling at me. I will be available to talk about this later when you have calmed down.”
Make sure your kids don’t get stuck in the middle trying to facilitate communication or make everyone happy. Keep such discussions between you and your co-parent. You can also set limits on topics you are willing to discuss: “I will not talk with you about my personal life, but we can talk about anything related to our kids.”
Get professional help
If you try these steps and still can’t figure out how to handle an angry ex – or even your own anger – seek professional help. Working with a therapist who can help you establish respectful, effective communication will be worth it in the long run.
You and your ex-spouse will be lifelong co-parents, so learning new ways to communicate will benefit everyone. In very high-conflict cases, couples can utilize a professional parenting coordinator to navigate the parenting conversations, but this is a much more extreme intervention.
The above tools are designed for dealing with a person who is angry, but still in control. If there is any history of domestic violence or other violent behavior, your first step needs to be towards both professional legal and mental health advice. Safety – for yourself and your children – is the primary concern.
Anger is Common During Divorce
It is normal for couples going through divorce to struggle with how to handle an angry ex. Anger is a common feeling during divorce and people often do and say things they regret when they are angry. If you lash out at your ex-spouse, apologize and try to get things back on track.
If he/she frequently lashes out at you, use the previously mentioned tips to manage the interactions and try to keep the communication productive. Having a respectful working relationship with your co-parent will benefit you and your kids moving forward, so it is worth addressing even if it is difficult.