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The Angry Ex: Tips for Self-Respect, Fairness, and Insight

(Originally posted on

Often, when I’m counseling an individual who is in the process of going through a divorce, I find that the person is – understandably – angry. The client typically started the marriage feeling loved, loving, and full of hope. Over time, things went wrong, the spouses hurt and disappointed each other, and hope faded. Pain, betrayal, fear of the unknown, and jealousy combined to create a particular brand of rage – The rage of the divorcing spousse.

Many times, clients report to me that they’ve done things they never would have imagined doing and behaved in ways that didn’t fit with their typical personalities during the divorce process. I’ve been told stories by clients who described keying cars, stalking their spouse’s new love interests, burning the spouse’s belongings, breaking or destroying property, threatening bodily harm, and emailing a spouse’s boss with embarrassing personal information. The clients are baffled by their own behavior and then – almost without exception – they explain their behavior away by saying, “I had to do these terrible things because I was trying to regain my self-respect.”–Or, “He deserved it.” -Or, “Now she knows what she has done to me.”

It sounds crazy at first: Clients believe that they can regain self-respect, balance the fairness scales, or provide insight to their ex-spouses by engaging in acts of aggression, violence, or humiliation. On a level, however, it’s somewhat understandable. Their self-respect has been lost, crushed, or discarded and there is a sense of desperation in regard to recovering it. That desperation can lead to rash, impulsive behavior. The problem is – it doesn’t work. Here are three truths to remember:

1. You will never regain self-respect by being mean, aggressive, abusive, or violent.

2. You will never be able to create fairness and equity by being unduly harsh.

3. You will never be able to inspire insight in an ex-spouse by shining a spotlight on your ownworst traits and meanest actions.

If you find yourself fantasizing about punishing your ex-spouse, perpetrating violence, destroying property, or degrading someone publicly, then you would be wise to call a counselor before you do anything else. Talk with a professional about the pain you feel and discuss healthier ways to cope. Licensed Professional Counselors at Fit Therapy in Stone Oak can help your through your process.

Here are some things to keep in mind about the above-mentioned issues:

1. You can always regain self-respect by behaving in ways that make you feel proud.

2. You can always create a launch-pad for fairness by being fair and reasonable even when the other person has not offered you that same kindness yet.

3. You can always inspire insight in yourself.

Imagine thhe satisfaction of looking back years later at your behavior now and having nothing to regret, no cringe-worthy moments, and no path of destruction in your wake. Envision yourself in this moment ready to rebuild your self-respect, behave fairly, and gain insight into your own motivations, responsibilities, and possibilities. That’s how you can embark on a healthier, friendlier divorce and a brighter, happier future.

Pamela Milam is an author and former therapist living in New York. She is an executive member of the Women’s National Book Association and serves on the selection committee for Great Group Reads. She is a frequent contributor to and the author of numerous online articles and essays.

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