Fear and Anger – “Kissing Cousins”

May 21, 2020

For many, the ending of a marriage is filled with a range of emotions that may be as broad as the menu at a good diner. In my divorce mediation and collaborative divorce practice, I observe this variety of feelings by one or both spouses. Most often, I see fear and anger.
A typical client consultation will include this statement: “I/we have never done this (divorce) before.” For the unwilling spouse, whose world has been rocked, a commitment to a lifetime of marriage is on the verge of dissolving. For both spouses, there is often an underlying current of uncertainty. The uncertainty about living on their own, questions about future resources, and concerns about parental roles and access can create a deep sense of fear.

The spouse who “did not sign up for this divorce” often expresses anger. Even when there is acceptance of the inevitable, there is often a deeply held grudge.

Yet, on another level, it’s clear that anger is a part of the process and to be expected during such a major life transition as divorce. In fact, anger is a manifestation of underlying uncertainty and fear.

Most of my clients who come into mediation or collaborative divorce feeling angry or afraid seem less consumed by these emotions at the end of the process. While the passage of time may be a factor, to a larger extent the mediation or collaborative divorce process gives the couple the ability to come to their own shared decisions on parenting, division of assets and debts, and financial support. This clears the fog of uncertainty regarding these key elements.

As the uncertainty about the future is reduced, there is less reason to be afraid. If there is less reason to be afraid, one of the underlying causes for anger is neutralized. By recognizing that fear and anger are “kissing cousins,” we can use the mediation process to help open a dialogue and move through these feelings into a more certain future.