The anger bubbled to the surface, blistering under the broiler that was the financial mess my first husband gifted to me in the divorce. Every month, as I made payments I struggled to afford towards debt that he had accrued, my body would respond with a vicious energy and my mind would rail against the unfairness of it all.
That anger was poison roiling inside me, its caustic nature wearing away at me, in some ways causing even more damage than he had done with his reckless spending and deliberate betrayals.
Whenever somebody pointed out that my anger was only hurting me, I grew defensive and, yes, angry. “I’m justified to feel this way!” I would insist. “He did these things and left me to clean up his mess. It’s not fair!”
And I was right.
But so were they.
He may have initiated my anger through his actions, but it was now my responsibility to eradicate my own rage.
Here are the questions I asked myself along with the answers I arrived at that finally allowed me to release my anger:
Why do I feel angry?
I feel foolish.
We all like to think of ourselves as smart, as aware. When we hear about incidents befalling others, we find comfort in the idea that it couldn’t happen to us because we’re too perceptive. So when it does happen to us, we feel like a chump.
Maybe you’re embarrassed about your mate selection, only now realizing how poorly you picked. Perhaps you were betrayed and you didn’t pick up on the signs of the infidelity. Or now you believe you married too young, or didn’t heed the red flags or made choices that led to the derailment of your marriage.
There’s a reason that public embarrassment provides the spark for many grade school fights – we don’t like the vulnerability and shame that feeling foolish provokes, so we respond by turning the tables and attacking back.
It’s not fair.
“After all that I did for him, this is how he repays me???”
But there are no scorecards in life, no playground monitors ensuring that everybody gets their turn or Hollywood directors carefully crafting an ending. And so most things don’t fall into our vision of “fair.”
The anger here comes from the disconnect between our expectations (that if we do good, good should come back) and reality (both good and bad happen to us all).
I wasted my time.
When a marriage ends, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that all of the time and energy that went into the relationship was a waste, thrown out like milk turned sour.
And that is time that you can never recoup. Opportunities that were passed by that may never come around again.
When my ex left, I found myself questioning all of the major decisions I made while we were together and blaming him for all of my choices. Choices I would have made differently if I had known the end result.
Why did they act this way?
He acted to protect himself rather than to try to wound me.
This realization was probably the single most important factor in my ability to finally let go of the anger. I had been envisioning him as some sort of malevolent conductor, carefully orchestrating my undoing.
It took time for me to depersonalize it all and to see it from his perspective. He was acting to try to alleviate his own pain and in turn, carelessly caused mine.
But not a targeted attack.
He was too cowardly to face things.
I certainly would have preferred a sit down talk about the state of our finances and marriage to abandonment and embezzlement, but he wasn’t capable of that kind of honesty at that point.
It takes courage to face hard truths and to have difficult conversations. Often when people behave poorly in a marriage, they lack that courage and instead express themselves in a more passive-aggressive (and often more destructive) manner.
He was damaged and may have been coping the best he knew how.
I started to see him as a scared and wounded child, putting together the pieces I knew of his past and his family. I saw the shame that drove him deeper into the shadows. I learned of the depth of the addictions that drove his lies. I saw the overwhelming darkness that he became lost in, choking on the very cloak he tried to hide behind.
And I softened towards him. It didn’t excuse his actions, they were still unpardonable and it didn’t lessen the damage he caused. But it did help to take away some of the sting that stirred the anger.
How can I release the anger?
With every payment I made towards the debt he amassed, I wrote down one thing I was grateful for in my current life. At the beginning, this exercise was a challenge, sometimes requiring more than an hour for one positive entry to cross my mind.
But in time, it became easy. Faced with that tangible list of positives every month, I could see my new and better life growing in front of my eyes. It was still a high price to pay, but I was determined to make sure the payments weren’t going to be made in vain.
Compose a letter.
I started journaling the week my ex left, the pages a silent receptacle for the pain and anger welling up inside me. At the same time, I composed letters to him, alternately screaming and crying. I sent two of those, the rest I kept.
The purging felt good. Necessary.
But it didn’t alleviate the anger.
Until I wrote a very particular one – the letter that I wanted to receive from him.
As you can imagine, it felt strange at first writing this. But soon, the awkwardness faded and the tears came. Healing tears, tears of mourning and yet acceptance.
I read that letter frequently the first year, the words feeling real. And isn’t that what matters?
Work to right the wrongs.
Anger demands action.
I identified the primary sources of my anger towards the situation and actively worked to address each in turn.
I felt foolish, so I decided to counteract that embarrassment by sharing my story and helping others know that they were not alone.
I felt like it was unfair, so I found ways to earn money out of the experience and used those resources to help pay for the debt he incurred.
I felt angry about the time spent with him and the decisions I made with the marriage in mind, so I focused on celebrating the positives that came out of those times and choices.
I was justified in my anger.
But that didn’t mean I needed to keep it.