As women initiate most divorces, men frequently find themselves in the unpleasant role of being left. Feeling “dumped” brings with it a lot of unpleasant emotions, including grief and loneliness. Anger eventually emerges, as well. There are usually intense feelings underlying anger, like rejection, fear of what the future may hold, and the frustration that can come from feeling a lack of control in such an important relationship. Sometimes it feels safer to experience anger than these other emotions directly. The magnitude of any emotions can be heightened if a wife’s decision to leave felt sudden.
While being angry feels terrible, it does play an important role in healing after a divorce. Early on it helps people build emotional distance from the ex-spouse and also fosters a needed sense of independence. It’s an emotion that must be resolved to heal and create a new life after a divorce. The sooner it is addressed, the better.
The first step to dealing with anger is recognizing it, which can be delayed if a husband is trying to convince his wife not to leave the marriage. When resentful feelings are suppressed they turn in to depression, making it difficult to move past the lost love relationship. Unacknowledged resentment can also manifest in psychosomatic symptoms, like headaches, muscle tension, skin rashes and stomach problems.
Once it is acknowledged anger needs healthy outlets. Talking your feelings out with a mental health professional can allow for negative feelings to be expressed without impacting other relationships and areas of your life. Exercising is also a healthy and effective way to process anger, which is a source of physical energy. Some men also find that writing a letter to their ex and then burning or shredding it can be helpful. It allows bitter feelings to be voiced and then symbolically destroyed. Remember, aggression is not the same as anger; it is an unhealthy display of anger. Passive-aggressive measures toward an ex are also unhealthy, especially those that might involve using children as a form of punishment. Get help from a mental health professional if you are struggling with aggressive feelings or passive-aggression tendencies.
To move beyond anger and complete the healing process, men who have been left need to forgive ex-wives. This happens over time, with the realization and acceptance that both parties contributed to the marital dissolution. As Bruce Fisher states in his book "Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends," “Those who have worked on their rebuilding enough to have dealt with the anger begin to realize that failure, blame and responsibility are two-way streets. What happened was part of a complicated interaction that did not work, rather than the fault of one person.” Reaching this point requires taking responsibility for your own actions in the marriage. Once you can forgive yourself for your role in its demise you will also be able to forgive your ex-wife, finally letting go of your anger and being fully free to move on with your life.
Dr. Tom Rogat earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology from the California School of Professional Psychology. He lives in Cleveland where he is a clinical psychologist in private practice. Dr. Rogat can be reached at www.drtomrogat.com