There are a lot of terms for having a low-conflict divorce - a good divorce, conscious uncoupling or a healthy divorce. People going through a divorce understand why a healthy divorce is better for children and finances. But, here's a question you probably haven't considered..Could a healthy divorce also be better for your former spouse? Why should you care? If you, as adults are going to work to let go of the anger during the divorce process, how is that helpful to your own emotional well-being and growth?
Constructive vs. Destructive Anger
As a therapist, I have seen clients express both constructive anger and destructive anger. Constructive anger helps people see that their needs aren’t being met and assert themselves. Destructive anger causes people to over-focus on past hurts and keep fighting unwinnable battles. People hold onto anger because a very primitive part of their brain thinks this protects them. But this anger just leaves people in the marriage long after it has ended. In continuing to feel angry, people leave themselves open to unnecessary and unresolvable negative emotions. Many of my clients have talked about this. Several agreed to share their stories, with names and identifying details changed.
Protect Yourself but, Don't Escalate the Situation
One client, Samantha, 48, is currently going through a very angry divorce with extensive legal proceedings. She has been accused of an addiction, been separated from her daughter and step-son. Samantha works hard to protect herself but not unnecessarily escalate the conflict, despite opportunities to do so. Her point was that “the revenge would be hollow” and “I wanted a pro-me approach, if I get revenge, the focus is on revenge…. I still have to live with me after the revenge.”
To stay optimistic during divorce, try to see this difficult time as a personal commitment to building a better life. -Ruth Feinblum, Therapist, Philadelphia
High Conflict isn't Worth the High Pricetag
Another client, Ernest, 35, talks about a past divorce that cost him over $125,000 in legal fees. He felt that the legal process bred anxiety and stress and was not worth it. He strongly advises couples against high conflict legal processes and wishes he had known of another alternative when he was divorcing. And after this highly charged legal process, these parents currently get along very well and co-parent effectively.
"I don’t want to embrace the evil, vindictive side of me. I’m trying to be an adult. She can be nasty but that’s not who I am.” Bob, 41
Unnecessary Anger = Unnecessary Hurt
Bob, 41, who is divorcing a partner with substance abuse issues, is still determined to have the healthiest divorce possible. Of course, the safety of the couple’s two children has to be addressed, but beyond that “I don’t have the energy to be mad.” He continues “we had a good run and it didn’t work out, I’d like to move on.” He is clear that bringing unnecessary anger to the divorce process only prolongs the hurt. “I don’t want to embrace the evil, vindictive side of me. I’m trying to be an adult. She can be nasty but that’s not who I am.” Bob emphasizes that she would also like to come through the divorce process feeling good about how he handled himself.
"I wanted a pro-me approach. If I get revenge, the focus in on revenge. I still have to live with me after." Samantha, 48
A Healthier Divorce Leads to a Healthier You
Overall, in my time as a therapist I have met few people that feel an aggressive or angry divorce left them emotionally happier in the long run. Whereas a certain amount of constructive anger is understandable in a divorce, when the anger becomes destructive it ends up leaving people feeling stuck in unproductive behaviors and unpleasant emotions. Pursuing a healthy divorce helps the children and it is better for finances, but ultimately the person it is best for is you.