Moving Past Divorce: Anger, Bitterness, And Resentment

by Kristin M. Davin PSY.D.

Even when it’s over, it ain’t over.

Especially with divorce.

Divorce is a major life transition and is anything but easy – even with a “good divorce.” So, it should come as no surprise that despite the time that has elapsed from the final stroke of a signature on the divorce papers (months to years) people waver in their ability to manage the emotional ups and downs often inherent in a divorce.

The positive emotions that evolve post divorce are often easier to embrace than the negative emotions. It’s those pesky, annoying negative emotions that often hang around way past their expiration date and cause the most havoc. They easily and instantaneously rise to the top, cloud your view, and quickly change the lens on how you perceive a situation.

Anger, Resentment, and Bitterness.

When you sit and think about it, why would anyone want to hang on to negative emotions? What purpose do they actually serve? Well, to take a cue from Facebook – its complicated. The answers are made more challenging when you have to continue to have a relationship with your ex spouse – which serves as a constant reminder of how things have changed and how different your lives have become.

Although an upside to anger is that it can be a motivating force to encourage change, its also very destructive if not contained. Resentment, jealousy, and bitterness are equally toxic and unhealthy. Despite wanting to eradicate themselves from the negative emotions, a few reasons why this is difficult is because:

1) They do not know how to get “unstuck” (think stuck in mud) and move on;
2) Intellectually they know they “should” move on and away from their negative feelings, but are emotionally stuck. Doing that is easier said than done. Their feelings get the better of them.
3) They know what to do but are not ready to actively engage and implement the necessary steps – consistently – to create a healthier life.
4) Their anger and resentment has become a “friend”, albeit a toxic one. Its hard to let go of feelings that in some way provides a blanket of security that prevents them from getting to the root of their true feelings.

Scenario #1

Even though my first marriage ended five years ago and I’m happily remarried, I’m struggling over the fact that my ex and his new wife have suffered none of the financial hardships of the divorce that I have. They have a big house, a pool, and frequently travel. Meanwhile, I have had to drastically downsize to a two-bedroom rental and live paycheck to paycheck. I know these are only material things and shouldn’t matter—but I also can’t seem to let go of the fact that he’s living this comfortable life while I continue to struggle. How can I let go of this anger for good?

Scenario #2

My marriage ended over two years ago, but my ex husband is still predominately a non-participatory parent. Through the whole divorce process (and much like our marriage), he was and is not invested in the time or energy that it takes to raise our children. I continue to feel I have to be the person who continues to do all the heavy lifting in our co-parenting. He seldom adjusts his schedule, parties, and spends minimal time with our children. I admit that I struggled to set boundaries and hold him accountable during our marriage, and find that at times, I am still guilty of doing this mainly because I don’t want our children to suffer. How can I let go of this anger and resentment for good?

But, there IS hope.

How To Move Past Your Negative Emotions Post Divorce

There are several strategies that can help people move past their negative feelings post divorce.

1.Mindfulness. This is a big one. Mindfulness is an approach that teaches you how to be mindful, acknowledge, and accept how you feel in the moment (even the bad feelings) without passing judgment on yourself. When you actively engage in this, you are able to move on much quicker from your negative feelings.

Engaging in the practice of Mindfulness teaches you how to no longer give intrusive thoughts and feelings energy by recycling the story over and over again in your mind. All that does is create a deeper groove of the same negative stuff. Remember, a thought is just a thought. We give it energy. Don’t do this!

2.Create a checklist. What are your accomplishments post divorce? What is good in your life? Make a list and focus on them. Continue to set goals so you can add to the list.

3.Being Present in the Present. You can accomplish this by asking and answering some important questions. What is the purpose of hanging on to the negative emotions? What purpose do they serve? Can you put a time limit on your negative feelings? What would this look like? Reminding yourself that your negative emotions should be limited, not limitless. Harboring these negative feelings keeps you in the past and uses your time and energy for situations that cannot be changed.

4.Set Boundaries. Although setting boundaries can be difficult, they are necessary. Doing this helps both parents move on with their new lives and feel invested and responsible for raising their children together as co-parents. Holding your ex-spouse to new standards, regardless of what was done in the marriage, will demonstrate that new boundaries have been set. Honor agreements already made by setting and following through. Not just saying you are going to adhere to agreements, but doing.

5.Self – Acceptance. Accept that you may never “fully” get over your negative feelings but you have learned how to not only decrease their intensity and manage them more effectively but have lived how to live with them.

6.The Miracle Question. To create a new path and imagine a future that is more aligned with how you want it to be, simply ask yourself The Miracle Question.

7.Forgiveness. Key. Find a way to forgive, move on, and dislodge yourself from the negative emotions. Forgiveness is a productive way to detach from the past and let go of lingering hurts and slights, move forward to the present so that you can experience a healthier and more promising future on your terms. Forgiveness is a conscious decision, a decision that is made with concerted effort.

Ultimately, you are the captain of your ship. You are the only one that can change your course and make necessary changes to create a healthier future!

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