Why do we choose anger over kindness after divorce?
As a society, we’ve normalized nastiness after divorce. Anger and conflict have become the default response to going through a divorce.
But that is no surprise, look at Trump on Twitter using words like, “clown, dummy dope, low-class slob, loser, fat phony. It would seem that nastiness is being normalized in all walks of life.
Shouldn’t our goal, once divorced, be to learn lessons and heal patterns and deal with unresolved issues so we can get off the hamster wheel of dysfunctional relationships? Why then, are most of us choosing to ignore the opportunity to do better after divorce and instead choosing to prolong the conflict?
I read a comment the other day by a divorced mother who had purchased her teen daughter a car. Her ex had refused help with the purchase price nor the monthly insurance payments. That didn’t sit well with this mother AND she was determined one way or another, he would pay.
How did she make him pay? By refusing to allow her teen daughter to drive the car to her ex’s home for visitation or, for that matter, to not allow her daughter to use the car in anyway that might benefit her ex.
Talk about unresolved issues! Instead of quietly reflecting on her anger and whether or not it would benefit her and her daughter to respond in such a way, this mother went willy-nilly off on a “I’ll show him,” course of destruction which puts her daughter in the middle of her anger at her ex and only does further harm to all involved.
Being nice to someone you’re angry with doesn’t make you a “doormat.” It makes you the bigger person. So what if your ex is an asshole? That doesn’t mean you have to be one too. Some hang on to that need to return nasty with nasty and when they do, it’s very telling. It says more about them than the asshole they are trying to punish.
Why do some of us hold onto the anger and conflict after divorce?
1. We hold onto the hurt, the anger, and the resentment because we fear that if we let it go, then whoever caused our pain in the first place, would be getting away with it. Our default response to emotional pain isn’t to heal and feel better, it’s to slap out at the person who hurt us.
2. It helps us feel safe. Our anger saves us from having to admit we are hurt. That would make us feel vulnerable, unsafe.
3. Anger gives us a sense of identity. With our anger intact, we know who we are—a person who was “wronged.” As much as we don’t like it, there also exists a kind of rightness and strength in this identity. We have something that defines us—our anger and victimhood—which gives us a sense of solidness and purpose. We have definition and a grievance that carries weight. That’s comfortable!
4. We have expectations that are too high. Many of us have high expectations for others and when they don’t deliver we become insulted, disappointed, or disenchanted. If the Mom above had lowered her expectations about her ex’s involvement in buying the daughter a car, she wouldn’t be so angry.
5. We want to be angry. If being angry with people for a long time has become our pattern and we’re able to manipulate the situation until we get what we want it must be working for us! Why change anything? If you’re holding onto anger it’s because it’s working for you in some way.
Instead of being angry over whatever harm was done to you during or after your marriage, why not view it as an interesting time in your history and use the experience to learn more about what it means to be human and humble?
Being willing to do so, to let go of the anger and stop returning nasty with nasty is the only way we’re going to change our default response to divorce with nastiness to healing, civility, and a rewarding new life.