By Jane Nahirny
Posted by Michelle May O’Neil
Rose was so mad she could hardly see straight. She and her husband, Jim, were six months into their "trial separation" when she discovered that he had been dating someone else. Reeling from the impact of the painful news, she sped over to his new apartment, intent on learning every last detail about the new woman in his life. Her heart pounded and terrifying questions flashed through her mind as she drove: "How could he have lied to me? Who was this other woman? Was she attractive?" And, perhaps worst of all, "What was I thinking when I suggested that we should separate?"
Anger is a very familiar emotion for all of us. And in healthy relationships, it can be an overwhelmingly positive force in our lives. "Anger is a very healthy emotion," says Chet Mirman, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and director of The Center for Divorce Recovery. "Healthy anger can tell us if there’s something wrong — something painful and threatening that we need to take care of. It helps us protect ourselves, and to know when people are crossing our boundaries."
But for couples who are going through separation or divorce, anger is often anything but healthy. In her informative book The Good Divorce (Harper Perennial, 1995), Dr. Constance Ahrons defines divorce-related anger as "an extreme rage, vindictiveness, and over-powering bitterness that is felt when a love relationship is ending. It is a special kind of anger that usually hasn’t been experienced before."
When anger is coupled with divorce, it’s often used as a misguided means of hanging on to a failed marriage. After all, for many people, a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all. Divorce anger allows people to punish their ex as often as possible, all while maintaining an ongoing (bitter) relationship with him/her. It’s a situation that leaves both partners in divorce limbo — a perilous situation that obstructs growth and self-awareness.
Some people hold onto their anger so tightly — stoking the fires on a daily basis — that their rage takes over their whole lives, coloring and informing all their thoughts and actions. They weigh every action to see how much emotional or physical harm it will inflict on their ex-spouse — even simply being a nuisance will do in a pinch — without seeing the injuries they may be inflicting on innocent victims.
Look for next week’s continued discussion on divorce-related anger.
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