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Specialty tag(s): High Conflict Divorce

Divorcing the Angry, Raging Spouse

Kristen A. Algert | September 9, 2019

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Most divorces include some amount of anger. Divorce mixed with anger, especially intense anger or rage, is emotionally draining for the participants, results in higher legal fees, and often causes the divorce process to drag on unnecessarily. The anger may be justified, like when infidelity, dishonesty, or neglect is part of the story. The anger may not be justified but may exist nonetheless due to mental health problems or because someone experiencing intense fear and/or anxiety only knows how to express those feelings as anger.

Anger and/or rage may or may not have been part of the marital experience but often can arise in a divorce. In Texas, when one spouse wants a divorce then a divorce will occur, and the other spouse who may not want a divorce has no way to stop it. This loss of control over one’s life and future can be unbearable leading to intense anger and rage. Remember, divorce can result in losses–lost financial stability, lost friends, lost social status, lost family structure and allocation of responsibilities of parenting, loss of time with the children–and these losses can send someone over the edge.

If you are married to an intensely angry and rageful spouse or are experiencing this person in a divorce, you may think it is best to just give-in. Experience shows though that giving in all of the time does not normally dampen the anger and rage; in some ways, giving-in has the opposite effect because it is “rewarding” the anger and rage. Always giving in teaches the angry spouse that intense anger is the surest avenue for getting what they want.

Although challenging, negotiating a divorce settlement with an angry spouse is possible. You increase the chances of success if you adhere to the following recommendations:

  1. Find a good therapist. A good therapist will assist you with feedback and tools for communicating more productively with an angry spouse.
  2. Find a good lawyer. There are lawyers that fuel the fear and anxiety and there are lawyers that seek to minimize it. A good lawyer will explain all possible options for moving forward with a divorce case including the collaborative divorce process (where all of the professionals, including your angry spouse’s lawyer, strive to minimize anxiety, fear and surprises and to maximize productive problem-solving).
  3. Stay calm. Do not take the bait and try to go tit-for-tat with the angry person. This escalates the conflict and prevents everyone from focusing on the actual issues requiring negotiation.
  4. Be patient. The anger and rage will not disappear overnight and may never disappear. Negotiating with an angry person will require patience and persistence. The divorce may take longer than you want but you will finish. Also, you may have to say “no” many times to get to an agreement acceptable to you.
  5. Forget logic. You will never convince your spouse that their anger and rage is unjustified. Accept that they are angry and stay focused on the point being negotiated, not their anger. Look for ways to present desired solutions in the most objective way possible.
  6. Pick and choose your battles. Of importance is the ability to focus on the finish-line and to let go of small things that do not move you toward the finish and in the long-run do not affect your life. You only know the identity of the small things if you have spent time thinking about your primary interests or goals and then ranked those in order of importance.
  7. “Give in” strategically. Strategically giving up small things, at the right time in the negotiation, is different than just giving in. This is giving in with a purpose allowing you to receive something that may be important to you and to move toward that all important finish line.

With the right knowledge, awareness, and advice, it is possible to divorce a very angry spouse by reaching an acceptable agreement.

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