By Sonia Brill, LCSW, CAMF
During a divorce process, he emphatically yells, “She won’t tell me the kids’ schedule with baseball practice!” She indignantly says, “He wants to control me.”
Going through a divorce is never easy. But high-conflict divorce is “hellish.” Unfortunately, many families are left in emotional and financial peril as a result of high-conflict divorce. Two individuals, who at one time came together, suddenly find themselves in polarized positions.
Often, in an attempt to end the pain of the terminal relationship, you may find yourself completely unprepared in facing the conflicting challenges of beginning a new relationship; no longer as husband and wife, but instead, now known as the “ex’s.” Separating, sorting through parenting time, and dividing property are just a few of the elements that begin the terms of the new relationship with your old spouse. The process you and your spouse take to iron out the new challenges, new boundaries, and expectations with each other will set a stage for many years to come as children are transitioned between two households.
Boundaries and Anger
Frustration and unresolved conflict give rise to anger. Often, unresolved anger can affect judgment and perception so that you are unable to make rational decisions. Once perception and judgment are clouded, people react intensely, often unable to shift into a positive solution-oriented frame of mind. Even fundamental agreements that you and your spouse adhered to may now pose a threat in terms of how that would be handled in the new structure. For instance, if both parents agreed during the marriage that 10-year-old Janie should not be able to watch TV until her homework was done, this could become a point of battle during the negotiations for parenting time. Discipline that was once delivered together now may come to the foreground as one of the elements of scrutiny regarding child rearing within the scope of parenting time issues.
Respecting new boundaries as different households are established, while simultaneously resolving conflict, are imperative in order for negotiations to continue most productively. This is no easy task. You may be leaving the marriage to “get away” as quickly as possible. You may be wanting the years of unhappiness to end. More than likely, you may find yourself facing battles and emotions that were completely unexpected — unfortunately, the last things you may be wanting now. In order to be better prepared, shield yourself from the “tension building” within yourself that ultimately can lead to an internal fallout.
Stages of Tension Building
Tension builds as the dissolving family members have to sort through their feelings of hurt, sadness, grief, and anger while still managing their daily work and their children’s schedules. You may feel sad one day, followed by intense anger the next day. At this point, your range of emotions may leave you feeling weary.
Taking the time to recognize and honoring your feeling can be a huge step in taking care of your needs while also showing your children the value of feelings.
The ties that once may have kept the family together, such as commitment and compromise, may be frail at this point. This begins a process of increased stress and conflict. It becomes more difficult to be clear about your intentions, as feelings of confusion and unresolved conflict begin to build. Small requests and wishes may not get honored as resentment becomes more pronounced, especially in higher conflict situations.
Take the time and slow down to discover what may be getting in the way of letting some things go.
Tension also builds successively as you talk about your spouse with your family and friends. Even in the best of circumstance, family and friends often set up respective camps, forming opinions based on the seemingly one-sided conversations. The once-adored husband may appear now as the “enemy.” In efforts to remain supportive to the biological family member, the soon-to-be ex-in-law may begin to get “cut off” from extended family and may be seen as the “bad” one.
Find a way to stay focused on the positive aspects of your new life.
Divorce is frequently a byproduct of incessant fighting. Many couples may have expectations that were not met, leaving one feeling lonely and disconnected. In the height of the separation, these unmet feelings and needs rise to the surface as complaints about the other person’s inadequacy reach the forefront.
Recognizing your thoughts and deep disappointments and taking time to sort them out can begin a healing process.
Conflict and Anger
Tension leads to anger. Anger is generally an adaptive response to threats — it conjures powerful feelings and behaviors, which allow us to fight and to defend ourselves when we are attacked. On the other hand, some people lash out at every person or object that irritates or annoys them.
Recognize and honor your feelings of anger appropriately. Know that unexpressed anger can create its own problems. It can lead to expressions of anger, such as retaliating without telling someone why. Or rather than being direct, you may take other actions to emphasize your point. During divorce, you can develop a personality that seems perpetually cynical, irritable, or hostile. You might start constantly criticizing others and making negative comments. Learning to express anger positively is not only appropriate, but also necessary to survive and thrive after a divorce.
2.Recognize stalled negotiations result because of unclear expectations, conflict, and anger.
3.Be clear about your expectations with yourself.
4.Attempt to clarify the expectations and intentions of your spouse.
5.Anger can be a fuel of unresolved emotions from the failed marriage.
6.Recognize that anger is a secondary emotion. As such, if primary feelings are unidentified and not effectively resolved and communicated appropriately, then there are longer battles and strife that is emotionally and financially costly.
7.Part of managing the divorce process is taking the time to figure out your needs and staying focused on the best interest of your children.
8.Get clear with yourself about what you and your spouse agree on.
9.List your wishes for yourself in your new life and for your children.
10.If you can, ascertain if your spouse has the same desires.
11.Try to “let go” of the things that you can.
12.Know that you deserve the time to heal.
Written by Sonia Brill, LCSW, CAMF, of SB Consulting (formally Anger X change), which offers a specialized program called Conflict to Communication© to help divorcing couples stop the high-conflict battling so they can move on with their lives.