When a marriage ends, and usually for some time after, one or both of the partners may feel a lot of anger. Generally the anger is related to how each person feels about the other (disappointments, betrayals, hurtful words and actions, etc.). It can be very reminiscent of their marital dynamic.
Anger is often expressed when we feel attacked or disrespected. But in a divorce scenario, holding onto anger has another unpleasant function: it maintains a hostile connection with the former partner who is also the other primary caretaker of the children.
It is important to disconnect from the hostility. But many parents find it difficult to do so and instead continue to maintain the anger connection. For example, some parents go back and forth with multiple texts or emails arguing over a minor shift in a transition time. This maintains the hostile connection and perpetuates conflict. By the way, they might not have the same response with the parent of one of the children’s friends who needed to change the time of a pickup.
Parents who recognize that anger, and the expression of anger, are not going to improve things are on the right track! They understand and remember that anger is not going to change the other person. We virtually never hear after an angry exchange someone saying, “Thanks for sharing all of that with me and telling me how awful I am. You’re right, and I really agree, and now I’m going to do things better.”
Anger has its place in the process, but is best expressed in personal therapy rather than directly to the former spouse. Expressing it to the former spouse most often just makes the important role of being co-parents more difficult.
Instead, it can be far more effective to communicate expressions of love for the children, exemplified by the following types of statements:
- “Look at how our daughter is growing up!”;
- “See how he rode his bicycle?!”; or
- “I’m so excited to tell you how [child] did on the math test this week!”.
Expressions of love shift the interaction and focus to the love that the parents have for their children.
With time, the type of information shared can change and grow to potentially include more personal stories about what is happening inside each home. For example, one parent might say, “You know, last night, I was looking at our daughter asleep, and she looked so precious. It brought back the memory of the day she was born, and I just wanted to share it with you.”
This type of communication sets the tone for a very different (and far more pleasant and healthier) kind of interaction—even if the other parent doesn’t respond accordingly.
With a focus on the love for the children and their growth and development, parents can choose love instead of anger.
Contact us today for more information.
My Divorce Recovery
Jeffrey Zimmerman, Ph.D., ABPP
Lauren Behrman, Ph.D.