Anger and co-parenting are a natural pair. While it can be rare to see one without the other, neither does the other one good. Sometimes, it helps to understand anger so we know best how to handle it. After years of reading about anger, experiencing many types of anger, and helping to mediate anger in others - here’s what I’ve learned.
Anger always, always, always comes from a place of fear. For some co-parents, it’s fear of the other parent being right. For others it’s fear that they will lose their children (and let’s be honest, in divorce and co-parenting, isn’t that always a fear?). The trick to understand your anger is to ask yourself, “What am I afraid of here?” When it’s your co-parent showing anger, work to empathize, what could they be afraid of?
Anger is only permanent if you allow it to be. This is one of those times where many of you are thinking, “My co-parent needs to let go of their anger” and you may be right. My co-parent and I were in mediation to update our parenting plan and the mediator actually told him several times that he needs to let go of his anger - and it’s been 10 years. That doesn’t mean I get to blame him and the anger he’s decided to hold onto for everything that’s gone wrong. I can control me. That’s it. I can let go of any anger I feel, and guess what, after 10 years I still get angry from time to time. It’s a choice to let the anger stay or to let it wash over you and move on.
You get to decide what side of you to show to your co-parent and to your children. Anger is there. It’s going to happen with many people in your life. What are you going to show them? Do you want them to see your anger so they know how they affected you? Or would you rather they saw that you got angry, you managed the anger, and you moved on? Which is the better example for both your co-parent and your children? Again, this is your decision and you can only control you. Your co-parent may make a different choice.
You may be the cause of anger in others. This is a tough one. If you’re still in the anger stage after divorce, you may think it’s good to create anger in your co-parent. (That’ll show them!) It always comes back, though. You know the quote from Mark Twain, “Anger is an acid which can do more damage to the vessel in which it’s stored than on anything on which it is poured.” Even if you’ve temporarily let go of your anger by creating it in someone else, how do you think they’re going to handle it? It creates, what I call the “angry cycle”. One person gets angry, takes it out on another who then feels they need to get back at the first person and the cycle goes on and on. You are the only one to stop the cycle. Sometimes you are creating anger in someone because you will not allow the angry cycle to continue, and that’s ok! Keep doing your part to prevent it.
By now you know that the way you communicate, your intentions, and the example you set are ways to prevent the angry cycle from continuing, but what about managing your own anger? First, know where it’s coming from. What are the real, underlying fears you have that create anger in you? Then do what you can to manage those fears. Be the example of who you hope your co-parent is.