Divorce Anger is Normal But Sometimes Hard To Shake

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Two examples of divorce anger:


Example #1: She leaves him.

His side: “I came home one day and my wife told me she didn’t want to be married anymore. I was completely shocked and upset. I can’t believe she would just turn on me like that.”

Her side: “I tried to talk to my husband about how unhappy I/we were for years. I begged him to go to therapy. We tried it once and he was completely closed off and not interested in continuing. I felt like I was living alone for 5 years, so I moved on.”

What typically happens in this scenario? The woman calls an attorney and starts proceeding with the divorce. She’s a doer, she wants out and she’s going to make that happen. She starts acting nicer to the husband because she feels a certain amount of guilt, even though her decision was a long, thought out process, and maybe even took years to arrive at. She tries to help him accept that it’s over and even logistically might try to assist him in moving on, finding a place, etc. etc.


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The guy, on the other hand, gets angry. All of a sudden, he’s so pissed off, he can’t even breathe. How dare that bitch do this to me! He’s thinking. F her. So, he begins to act angry all the time, he’s rude to her (including in front of the kids), he’s hostile, quick-tempered, and says mean, horrible things (one woman told me her ex-husband told her “I hope you drop dead today,” at the bus stop in front of their three kids.)

Example #2: He leaves her.

Her side: I thought I was a good wife, I tried to do everything right. I tried to make him happy. One day, he comes home and tells me he met someone else and he’s leaving. How can he do this to me? I’m now in my late forties and I haven’t worked in 15 years. I now have to go back to work because some bimbo is clouding his mind with good sex?

His side: My wife was cold and unemotional to me for years. She never wanted to have sex. She never wanted to do anything fun. I was lonely. I tried to talk to her. She wouldn’t discuss it. Said everything was fine. I was lonely. A man needs sex. It’s a physical need.



What typically happens? The guy moves onto his new girlfriend, maybe has more kids, while the wife tries to pick up the pieces, continue raising her kids, and try to figure out her new life as a middle-aged single woman. And yes, she becomes angry, too. She hates his guts, possibly tells that to the kids, refuses to ever acknowledge the girlfriend (except when talking about the woman who stole her husband) and basically becomes bitter when his name even comes up.  I actually know a woman whose husband left her for another woman 40 years ago, and she’s still bitter and angry about it.

I hear so many divorce stories from people, and here’s what I find regardless of who leaves who. In EVERY case, either both people have divorce anger, or one person is the angry one, the one who is ready to battle at all times, who will never forget or let go as long as they live and who will hate the person forever.

The thing about divorce anger is, I think it is completely normal and understandable (and even healthy), especially at the beginning of a separation. Anger could stem from years of resentment or the fury of the shock if you thought you had a good marriage and suddenly your spouse took that away by leaving.


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Divorce anger needs to be processed and that takes time. During the time when someone is grieving a divorce, anger is usually present. But as time goes by, what hopefully happens is that the person begins to accept the present, and come to peace with what happened. They accept their new life. It isn’t easy, but they begin to focus more on themselves and what they want. And that’s when divorce anger should start to fade.

But, there are those who hold onto anger for much much longer than they should. They decide to let it define them. I feel so sorry for these perpetually angry people for a few reasons.

First, they usually end up alone and with no friends, because after a couple years, no one wants to be around them because all they do is talk angrily about the ex. Also, a person might suffer in business or in their job because of their inability to let their divorce anger go. I know a woman who had a thriving antique store. Life was great. Then, her husband cheated on her and left. She talked about it with all of her customers non-stop for years, and guess what? They stopped going into her store because they couldn’t take hearing it anymore. When I drove by and saw a “for rent” sign in the window of her store, her merchandise all cleared out, I felt awful.

Being angry takes so much energy; energy that the person could be using to do productive things. And anger hinders any kind of life success and/or true happiness. I’ve known people who get remarried and they still hate their ex. Why?? I ask. Can’t you just accept it? I’m not saying to forgive. That’s a different subject. The decision to forgive an ex (or anyone) is a personal decision. But there’s a difference between not forgiving and being perpetually angry.

Some people thrive on being angry. We all know who those people are. I bet everyone who just read this is thinking of a certain person right now, that person who has road rage beyond belief, the person who just seems pissed off all the time about little things that don’t really matter, a person who makes a huge issue out of nothing and works themselves up about it just because anger fuels them and defines their persona. They guy who gets pissed at a bad waitress, the girl who gives someone the finger for cutting her off while driving. People, what’s the big deal? I want to tell these people that they are killing themselves. They need to go to a therapist and figure out why they’re so angry at life.

Another thing anger does is, it affects children. If a child sees their parent angry all the time, they are probably going to think that’s normal behavior.

A woman I know whose husband left her after 20 years of marriage (for another woman) recently said to me, “After 5 years, I’m still really angry with him. I don’t want to be, but I can’t help it. I don’t know what to do to get rid of the anger.” My response to her was, “I think it’s really healthy that at least you recognize it. At least you see it. That’s probably the biggest step forward to begin healing. You don’t have to forgive him, but is being so angry really worth expending that much negative energy? No.”

Here’s another thing. Ask any divorce attorney, and they will tell you, anger means big bucks in their pocket. Do you know how many people take legal action purely because they are angry? And what ends up happening is, when the people’s anger subsides (temporarily, that is), they end up reaching the settlement they could have reached, without the $20,000+ lawyer bill. Trust me, anger cost me a lot of money in my own divorce.

Again, I’m not saying no one should get angry. But how long is long enough when it comes to holding a grudge? The woman who has held it for 40 years has had a pretty bad life, and it’s her own fault. Had she let the anger go, life might have gone differently for her. She will never know.

Divorce anger is normal. Holding onto it is toxic. Acceptance, grace, patience and inner peace is what leads to a good post-divorce life.

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Collaborative Law Institute of Illinois

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