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Divorce, Grief and Anger - Part 2
Why is Anger so commonly recognized as the primary emotion in divorce?
The previous emotions mentioned are not always understood to be directly associated with grief, and the divorce process is often the most stressful event one or both partners have endured as adults. If someone does not have a history of resolving another significant loss, then their divorce may be the first time they have been shocked to this extent.
Most people do recognize anger when general negativity is prevalent, because everybody gets there at some point. Other manifestations include loud speech, sometimes even incoherent ranting, or aggression, especially in males, and are considered rage when stopping the behavior is deemed out of the person's control. While crying may also originate out of anger as well as sadness, angry tears are usually present with higher energy and action, as opposed to the depressive affect of lying in bed and weeping. Extreme silence is considered psychological warfare as well and may be one of the most aggressive forms of non-communication. Stonewalling creates an impasse and can be more frustrating to others trying to make progress.
It is not necessary to camp out until resentment takes hold, but it is also extremely uncommon for divorcing couples to report that they did not experience anger during their first year of separation. Indications of high functioning spouses are the ability to acknowledge and accept the presence of anger in the process without allowing themselves to act on one another when it does surface. Asking for privacy, space, and respect are reasonable ways to create some distance between oneself and triggers; other personal limits such as avoiding the use of threats, ultimatums, or and NOT enacting major changes without the other party's knowledge - especially while feeling very upset - will defray the regrets one carry with oneself into the coming years.
Anger is a natural by-product of living with a stressful circumstance which is beyond one's control, and dealing with this means running into our own limitations. When energy and options run out, people usually try to protect both themselves and those people or things they feel strongly about defending. It is a power emotion and can generate the motivation to move to action.
After a period of latency, apathy, or depressive immobility, anger is a normal reaction to the extreme self-control seen in the first two stages, or the immobility that the later stages of grief expose, and often exhibits itself in an explosive step-forward or backwards - and may be followed by more extreme behaviors such as yelling or absolute silence. The feeling of this stage is widely recognized and usually described by extremes: temperamental language, hot flashes, fits of rage, or, the other extreme, cold-blooded, remorseless affect, other comparisons to ice, stone, or hardness of heart, silence, all of which require heightened energy.
Strategies for surviving Anger?
These extremes are energy users, and most people cannot sustain the chemical outlay it requires to fuel anger for an extended period of time. This is good news for all concerned. While it is normal to feel angry when the situational changes do not match one's expectations, or when basic needs are simply not met, this emotion usually rides on the coattails of adrenaline and leaves just as quickly. Recognizing that it is normal, really strong, but transient, can all enhance self-awareness so that this is not the emotion driving the car, or dialing the phone, or even typing a midnight email. Take a walk or jog it off, distract with something soothing like a warm shower, or a cold drink, or a funny movie. When feelings are under control again, revisit the circumstances surrounding the surge of emotions. If tempers flared and those involved still avoided a reactive situation, pat everyone on the back! If someone lost their cool, said or wrote something they wish they could take back, or did something that they regret, the time to own up to it is before the other party retaliates. Apologize and simply state that anger got the upper hand and that it does not excuse the behavior and that all will fail forward and avoid repeating the offending behavior.
Trying to see the other person's state of mind can help to boost empathy. People often feel angry & defensive when approached with anger or contempt. Instead of letting an initial reaction be led by the first words heard, consider that the offending party's level of energy is already drained, from the extra effort required to focus on the job, assuage the children, or learn a new task, such as balancing the checkbook or grocery shopping, and a surge of anger may simply boost them long enough to defend their space and ask for a break. Instead of joining them in their rage, try asking if they need something specific from the other person, or if they are just angry. They may need a moment or two to process the question, so ask slowly and give them that moment, or two. Anger clouds thinking and pulls us away from rational thought. Testing the really upset person by asking a caring question that is both factual and neutral can lend them a task that employs the higher circuitry in the brain and requires them to slow down. By simply thinking about small facts: "Did you eat (Lunch/Dinner) yet?" or "What time did the kids get home from school?" or "Are you working tomorrow?" or "Are we late for something?" or "Can I write the (time/date/phone #/anything) down for you?" and eventually, as they begin to acknowledge these questions, "Can I help with something?"
It is so important to step away from the heat of the moment and not get sucked into the battle. If only one person remains in control at any given time, the damage is usually contained.
IF both parties catch the wave and let anger take over them because one person said, did or 'failed to do' X-Y-Z, these are the conditions that lead to the "knock-down, drag-out" fighting that wakes the children, disturbs the neighbors, and may even get the local police department involved. No one feels better the morning after one of these episodes. Reminding each other that no one wants to go there, promising that in spite of the emotions, both parties will respect one another, perhaps like never before. If either party says,"I am too upset to talk right now" respond by simply answering, "I can respect that. Let me know when you are ready."
Texas requires that divorcing spouses try mediation before going to trial. Spouses can request a jury trial, but generally a judge decides the trial rather than a jury. Mediation is an ideal way to prevent the element of surprise that comes with taking a divorce case to trial. Many judges will tell you that a divorce trial has no winners, because the outcome is rarely in favor of just one party.
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