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Managing Anger and Betrayal in Divorce

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Anger is one of the most common emotions when going through a divorce.  The person may not be aware that he is angry or even deny that anger exists, but other people can see anger in words and behaviour.  The people closest to them are often at the receiving end of their anger.  This could be their ex-spouses, their children/parents, perhaps also the door.

Anger can be manifested in many forms in a divorcing couple, ranging from passive to outright aggression. On the milder spectrum, anger can manifest itself as giving the cold treatment in the form of missed calls, blue-ticked messages with no response or refusal to update each other on their child’s development. On the other end, anger can also be exhibited in quarrels, physical fights and allegations in divorce affidavits. Anger can be very costly when the divorce drags on in the legal process, not just in a monetary sense but also in terms of strained co-parenting and parent-child relationships.

Frank and Mary (not their real names) were happily married and have several children from their marriage. They both complimented each other in their parenting duties, with Mary taking care of the children’s daily needs and Frank their social and recreational needs. The family was close-knit. Mary filed for divorce when she found out about Frank’s long-term affair. The betrayal that she felt resulted in much anger and resentment towards Frank. Believing that her anger was justified, Mary kept the children from Frank and tried to hinder father-children relationships. She called the police on him when he went to the house and refused to negotiate on ancillary matters. After several years of legal tussles and counselling support for the parents and children, Mary understood that her anger was fuelled by her feelings of injustice and unfairness from the betrayal, and of being lied to for many years. When she finally accepted that she could not undo what was done, she let go of her feelings of shame and grief, and this helped her to be free from anger. Fast forward to today, both of them re-established communication and have become equally involved in the children’s lives.

In large measure, our thoughts and feelings affect our behaviour.  To effectively manage anger, it is worth taking the time to reflect on what is fuelling it.  Anger is a secondary feeling. Beneath anger, there is a whole myriad of emotions that power anger.  This could be fear, anxiety, guilt, shame, betrayal, jealousy, sadness, hurt and worry.  For instance, you may get angry at your ex-spouse when he fails to return your child promptly after access, and in turn you impose restrictions on future access arrangements. Punctuality may not be the most important virtue to you, but what being late conveys – the lack of respect for your time or the feeling of being slighted when he disregards your schedule.

Anger lingers on when the primary feelings remain unresolved.  Learning to manage the primary feelings then becomes important to managing anger and, in turn, our behaviour.  If disrespect is the primary issue, what can one do to be respected by an ex-spouse.  One could certainly request for common courtesy as would be accorded any other person.  Or one could think about the respect your child would give you if you showed graciousness to your ex-spouse.  Perhaps it is also the self-respect you gain when you control your own words and behaviours and not lash out at another person.

The next time you get angry, have a little conversation with yourself and ask yourself.

  • Why am I angry?

  • What is the behaviour other people see of me?

  • What are the primary feelings affecting me beneath the anger, and where do those feelings come from?

  • What can I do to manage these feelings?

The more you understand your anger and the cause of it, the better your chances at managing it.

If you are going through a divorce and would like emotional support for yourself or your children, reach out to us via [email protected] or call us at 62355229. We provide counselling and support group programmes for divorcing families.  If you would like to join an online support group, we welcome you to register your interest at go.fycs.org/transcendingdivorce

Our centre also facilitates Pre-Action Mediation service (PAM). It helps couples who have decided to embark on divorce and are unable to agree on the reason for divorce and/or ancillary matters. During PAM, a professional mediator will guide discussions to support couples in reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. It could potentially reduce animosity between the couple and arrive at better outcomes- speedier settlement and reduced cost. Contact us at [email protected] or 62355229 for further details.

Written by: June Leo, Senior Social Worker, Fei Yue Community Services