Bitter Divorces Are Destructive

Acrimonious divorces can bring you down to your knees financially, and destroy your health. Worse, they will emotionally injure your children.

The difference between a bitter and a healthy divorce depends on the choices you and your ex-partner make. A divorce involves a couple, not individuals. One or both of you can choose to have a bitter divorce. Conversely, both of you can choose to have an amicable one.

Most separations start with civility. However, one of the many causes or outcomes of divorce involves issues that developed during the marriage, such as resentment or an injury to self that can no longer be healed throught talking and repairs attempts. Divorce allows a partner to express their hurt and anger by opposing their former mate through the legal processs.

The fight might involve manipulation, generally about the children, the finances, or any form of social pressure. As one party throws allegations, the other feels a need to protect themselves and to respond in kind. An inexorable, escalating spiral of tit-for-tat retaliation takes place.

Characteristics of acrimonious divorces. They:

  • Lead to litigated adversarial stances.
  • Make it difficult for you not to counter if the other is warring against you.
  • Create bad feelings and anger that cannot be kept under control, and usually include  attempts to vindicate the past (e.g., he was unfaithful, she was a neglectful mother)
  • Involve mutual self-defeat.
  • Cause the children to suffer emotionally, as negative emotions cripple the parents
  • Mess up your health  during the process, which could last several months if not years. It could ruin any opportunity to rebuild a better life and relationship.
  • Are costly. Your economic resources could be used for your and your children’s’ benefit instead of being squandered.
  • You all lose.

Characteristics of healthy divorces:

  • They are civil, cooperative, and sometimes even amicable. Animosity and battling are kept to a minimum.
  • The reasons making a divorce go bad are fully understood and avoided (see next paragraph).
  • Have legal, economic and emotional objectives: they end the marriage within a reasonable timeframe without massive legal and other fees, distribute assets and income fairly, economic sacrifices are equally shared, both partners are allowed to grieve the end of the marriage and each can move on to new relationships without baggage.
  • They foster a sense of economic justice and basic trust as the other is not demonized. Communication remains effective, with mutual goodwill.
  • They achieve legitimate and positive goals for yourselves and your children.
  • Settlement agreements are negotiated before going to court. Economic issues such as child and spousal support are resolved, the property is equitably divided, and mutual rights and responsibilities as parents are spelled out in a fair custody agreement.
  • They minimize emotional impact on children and help them adjust to a new situation.
  • They transition to a new life for your all.

Reasons divorces go sour:

  • Though separating, you are still married. No matter how much distrust, pain and anger you feel, and the need for vindication or revenge, you are still emotionally connected. Fighting through a divorce is a means to ‘stay together’ for the duration of the proceedings.
  • There is no economic justice, such as an enormous financial disparity between the partners, where one feels victimized by the other.
  • There is no trust: one has demonized the other and has not given the benefit of the doubt when disputes arise.
  • No communication skills: communications are uneffective and their style is not conducive to future cooperative parenting.
  • There is no goodwill. Each expartner wishes ill upon the other and does not support the children in accepting the other’s new mate or lifestyle.
  • The nature of the legal system is adversarial and based on opposition instead of cooperation.
  • One or both partners’ behavior is abusive, stemming from a need for control or revenge, anger, flaring emotions, and because all that was disliked in the other and messed the relationship up is  now resurfacing during divorce: years of managed dysfunctions will now explode in the space of a few weeks. Tactics will include:
    – Contesting parental fitness (invoking drug abuse or various addictions, irresponsible, neglectful or abusive parenting, mental instability, reckless spending, etc.)
    – Endless spats of grounded or groundless allegations, some designed to drag the divorce and cause financial harm.
    – Intimidation and scare tactics, with threats  such as “I’ll get custody of the kids”, “I won’t pay”, etc.
    – Hiding assets well ahead of requesting for divorce or during the divorce, or failing to account accurately for one’s possessions.
  • The impossibility to reconcile emotions and rationality. On one hand, one must fight against the fear of becoming economically destitute, to protect self against the new ‘enemy’, or worry that the children might be stolen or their mind  poisoned by the other. On the other hand, there is the memory that there  was love once and the knowledge that the expartner is the key to the children’s emotional and psychological health.
  • If settlement agreements are unfair and unworkable or incomplete,  the feelings of bitterness and injustice that emanate from them lead to regrettable actions, such as defaulting on child support obligations or not adequately meeting the children’s economic needs. When flawed, the settlement will need to be reworked in court.
  • Negative feelings interfere with readjustment, growth, and new relationships.
  • Social circles are broken as family, friends and acquaintances take side, and sometimes even interfere with the divorce process.
  • Fears about custody arrangements and alienation from the children.

You can take measures to protect yourself and the children, and to  ensure a reasonable divorce or at least,  contain the effects of a bad one:

  • Minimize stressors in your life. Allegations and fights may be part of your divorce process. Each time you are accused of whatever fault by your partner’s lawyer , you will be emotionally flooded. Flooding impedes rational thinking and you could make a mistake in defending yourself as you create doomsday scenarios in your head and succumb to panic.
  • Whenever an allegation is thrown at you, sleep if off. Do not answer immediately. Allow your feeling of  injustice or rage to wither before you formulate an answer.
  • Be prepared. Anticipate your worst case scenario, such as losing significant parts of your assets, losing visitation or shared custody of the children, not getting enough financial support, etc. Plan accordingly. Follow up with a best case scenario and a realistic scenario will emerge.
  • Answer allegations one at a time. One at a time. Sort and address each issue separately when several are raised all at once. Collect whatever evidence you have, text messages, documents, statements, pictures, videos, any recorded media, and organize them in a folder, one for each allegation. Give that folder to your lawyer. Keep adding to it. Whether you ex partner’s allegation is correct or baseless, you need to collect mitigating evidence or evidence to the contrary. If you make an allegation, be prepared to stack supporting evidence.
    – Was he a big spender who imperiled family finances? Was she a gambler? Back it up. Get the receipts and credit card statements, match them against your documented income by way of bank or other statements.
    – Did he abuse the children? Back it up. Get records from doctors and counselors or ask for psych evaluations of the children. If you have photographs or texts exchanged after such incidents, print them out. If you are the accused, and you are certain that she purports such allegations so to deprive you of your custody rights, then appoint third parties to do the discovery for you. As paid and impartial professionals, they’ll bring their findings to the table.
    – Does he say that you are preventing access to the children? Keep a record of calls and visits. Stop attempting to minimize visits if no visible abuse has taken place.
    – Does he say that you are a drunk….. and you are? Mitigate. Show proof that you are seeking help for your alcoholism.
    – Does she say that you have some mental issues, and you do? Show evidence that you are undergoing therapy, taking medication, and seeking help.
    – What if you are not an alcoholic, you are not suffering from mental issues? Get a report from a GP and a specialist, then get a psych assessment.
    – Does he say that you are unwilling to compromise and you make unreasonable demands? Call a mediator, and show proof that you attempted conciliation on whatever issue he accused you of stalling.
  • Concentrate on the big issues. Petty ‘he says-she says’ fights  get expensive when handled by lawyers. Get third parties to help you, understanding that you, and you alone can keep your agents in check.
  • Do not attack the character of your ex-partner, especially to the children.  This could be construed as an attempt to alienate the children.Concentrate on managing your partner’s behaviors instead.
  • Keep it business-like. Don’t add fuel to the fire. If answering emails or texts is too emotionally taxing and risk a scathing reply, then have someone else handle it, or wait to read them.

Note: I  worked for the State of Colorado district courts as an investigator,  and as advocate in cases involving  custody of children caught in domestic disputes, separations and divorce. I was appointed to act in the best interest of the child. As such I am very familiar with acrimonious domestic and divorce cases, and I am fully trained to assess  impacts on the children caught in such situations.

Emotional Blackmail or Real Call for Help? When your partner threatens to commit suicide.

“Come back. I’ll kill myself if you don’t.”

Emilia was very distressed when she arrived at my office. She had moved in with her boyfriend recently, and after their first ever argument, she had suggested she would take a break and spend a few days at a friend’s place. He threatened to jump off the building’s roof if she was to leave him. They had then spent the rest of the evening and night discussing and patching up things. She was shaking when she narrated the event, and was wondering how strong was her partner’s love that he would want to do this if she left.

The media and our culture reinforce that we must believe in Romantic Love, promoting the idea that we cannot live without the other as natural and desirable. Our culture elevates this to the apex of any expression of true love and emotional achievement. How many times have we heard or said things like “How could I live without you?”.

This feeling is natural in the early stages of a relationship when we fall head over heels in love with our new partner. Nature has wired us that way, it is a necessary step in ensuring we survive by reproducing. That feeling implies a high, a surge of passion that is so powerful that indeed for a while, we feel we can’t live without the other, and we express it. We’re addicted. But the media and culture get it wrong, when they try to convince us that this is the only way to be in love and that such feeling must endure and is sustained….forever. In reality, the stage of love intoxication lasts only anywhere between 2 months and 2 years.

After that, we go through many stages of love, until stability is reached or we leave the relationship instead. But whatever the point in a relationship, there is a difference between saying “I can’t live without you” and “I’ll kill myself if you leave me”.

The first sentence is stating that we’re intoxicated by the other, and hence the statement is naturally very emphatic. This stage will pass. The second statement implies that if we exercise our free will (to leave or stay), then we control our partner’s destiny (to kill oneself or not) and they, in return, need to use coercion to impose their desire for togetherness upon us.

This second statement is not love. It is an attempt by one partner to control the other, because things are not going their way in the relationship, by making them responsible for one’s feelings and behaviors. It is emotional abuse.

This form of control may stem out of mental illness, such as your partner being borderline, bipolar or very severely depressed. If your partner is ill, s/he might have every intent to follow through with that threat, in which case you need to take it seriously and immediately call a doctor, mental health practitioner or the emergency services. These partners are using this form of control out of necessity, like a desperate cry for help.

But more often this kind of control is not caused by a momentary romantic love high or by mental illness. It is a particular strategy for coercing you to do as is demanded of you or to scare you out of a personal choice. The person’s decision to live or die becomes conditional on your response. It generally happens when the coercive partner fears or hunches that you might leave the relationship. It is a manipulation of your care or feelings of love and a pressure meant to provoke fear. You would then give in to the coercive partner’s demands to avoid a tragedy. Over time, the coercive partner will repeat the threats because they have learned that the manipulation worked.

If you are thus threatened, you might go through stages of fear, feelings of responsibility, anger, resentment, grief, guilt, and exhaustion. It might traumatize you. All those symptoms are identical to those felt by battered partners in an abusive relationship.

There is only one way to handle a partner who threatens to kill themselves if you leave them: stick to your boundaries and decisions. If you intend to severe the relationship, do it, regardless of what they might say.

If your partner is mentally ill, do the same, but call emergency or other services as well.

Sticking to one’s limits does not imply callousness, it means delivering your message in assertive yet respectful ways and using a behavior that matches your words.

One might feel guilty about doing this. But we need to remember that a personal choice remains a personal decision, even if it concerns choosing to live or die. They make the decision, not you. A partner’s choice to use suicide threats, that is to be abusive, is their choice, their strategy, not yours. As such, you need to let them be responsible and accountable for their choices.

The threat of suicide is one of the most violent psychological aggression one can be subjected to. It can traumatize. Unless the threatening partner is ill, it implies that this person does not respect you enough to care about your feelings and does not know how to handle relationships healthily. They will keep on using this same threat over, and over again. Do you want this?

Here are some tips for asserting your boundaries:

Do not argue nor fight. Once your partner uses words such words as “you make me want to die”, do not protest nor rationalize. This includes confronting them and saying things like “you are manipulating me”. Do not get embroiled in a power struggle. Only warn that you must take the threat seriously and call for help. Then please, do it.

Do not give into the threat, and stand firm. Instead, take precautions. Call emergency services, suicide watch services, friends and family of your partner, ask them to keep an eye on him/her, warn them of impending crisis. But do not stay nor yield to emotional blackmail.

State your boundaries and decisions, while expressing your care and concern for the person. Then call for help and walk away.

Get over your feelings of responsibility. You are not responsible for anyone’s choices and decisions, unless for yourself and for your young children. What an adult person does or not is not dependant on you. If you give in to blackmail tactics you are reinforcing the blackmailing behaviour. You will remain hostage of your partner’s behavior.

If the person threatens to self harm or to kill themselves over the phone. Hung up and switch off the phone. Possibly tell them first that you will not yield to threat. Then call for help. Notify police or a relative.

How do I help and support my friend when I see them in a bad relationship?

You know that your friend’s partner is bad influence and that s/he is not the type of person you would want to mingle with if s/he wasn’t your friend’s dearest. You have also noticed that your friend is no longer his or her usual self and has progressively become more despondent, has lost those wonderful qualities that made you like them and want their friendship in the first place. They are getting somewhat depressed and lifeless, and you know that it has nothing to do with the job or with health concerns. You’ve heard him or her make statements about how their bf or gf has odd behaviors, ones that are both puzzling and painful to them. These comments have increased overtime and are becoming more desperate . Does she tell you that she has to tell him hour by hour where she goes? Does he tell you about sudden mood shifts that make him walk on eggshells?

Sometimes you meet for coffee or lunch, and they spend the whole outing dissecting what their partner does, and they seem to be running in a loop, caught in the same thoughts, trying to understand what is going on? You feel they are stuck in some kind of obsessive monologue, which they can’t escape.

Your thought is “it’s time to tell him or her to get the hell out of this relationship”, but you don’t do it.   You know your friend might challenge what you say, they might even get so angry and pained by your words, that you might lose their friendship. They need you to listen to them, not give unrequited advice, and besides, should you get involved, without risking to impose your thoughts upon them, and be perceived as judgmental or controlling?

Here’s a map to navigate a possibly explosive situation: getting involved and sharing your concerns without being too abrupt about it. Give your friend the gift of your (clearer) observations about their current state of well-being, and about their partner, without appearing to tell them what to do.

First, ask yourself what is your motive in ‘helping’. Is the partner a real asshole who is hurting your friend, or are you trying to get rid of competition?

If you conclude that your motive is clear, and you can impeccably articulate that your friend truly is no longer the wholesome self they once were, that their relationship is not enhancing them nor allowing them tap a new potential, but instead is dulling and distressing them to the point that they are at the most miserable and vulnerable you have known them to ever be, then you are probably right in wanting to help them steer away from a destructive path.

Please understand that blurting out the obvious truth is more destructive than helpful. Your friend got in a relationship for various reasons, but mainly for what s/he thought to be love. They had a dream. We all want our dreams to hold true. As the reality was somewhat different, your friend worked hard to keep the dream alive, very hard indeed. The investment was and remains huge and they want to see it through.  In the process of expanding energy in kindling their relationship, they have become accustomed to ‘different’ ways of interacting. Some of these ways arouse various strong feelings, some good, elation and bliss, others bad, sadness and loss. This different way of interacting, for them, has become, over a period of months or years, a new normal situation. Your friend is not only accustomed to it, expecting it, even if hurtful beyond belief, s/he now craves it and is no longer detached from it.   And here you are, wondering how this happened. Time did it, through progressive adaptation.

It happened because your friend’s brain and whole being strove for consistency. So s/he adapted to bizarre circumstances, slowly, step by step, and now they can’t see the forest for the tree, which you do, for the simple fact that you are removed from the situation: you are not bogged in the quicksand. But they are.

How do you now realign your friend’s fogged lenses back to the reality of their situation?

As stated above, your blurting out why the partner is a d**** won’t work.  What you can do, when your friend tells you about their partner’s bad behavior, is to not jump and say “yes I know and this is…..”, but instead suggest to him or her an alternative example of more reasonable and loving behaviors.  You could also say “what??? Tell me more…” then refer them to an online resource about relationships you just happen to have read. Do this, every time your friend narrates a new incident, mention having heard/read about something similar. Cite the story as you perhaps read it or heard it from a media source or from a third party, and suggest the online link you have read.

Nothing more. I repeat, nothing more. Whatever awakening they come to, they must always walk that walk on their own. Only provide sign posts. Give them some information, but never your opinion.

Meanwhile, remain neutral. Show your feeling of sympathy for their angst. However, if their obsessive talk about their partner is spoiling your meeting with them, direct them to talk about some fun things and simply point out to them that this time is about you two, not about the partner.

Here are some resources:

If the discussion centers on those first moments when they met their partner and some uneasy feelings about it, they can check this site:

If you and your friend are discussing current behaviors and patterns, these sites might help:

If you are now discussing the partner’s unsettling personality traits, this site might help:

And if you believe that a threshold of spiraling abuse, possibly leading to violence is about to be crossed, suggest this:

All those sources are in the popular domain. They are conversational and high level, in the dating advice rubrics of any magazine. Some are published by advocacy organizations.

If you strongly believe that your friend is currently in a relationship involving a cycle of abuse and dynamics of violence, it is no longer appropriate to be soft spoken about it. Rather than say “leave”, say,” here’s the contact of… a crisis advocate, organization, etc, perhaps you could call them and have them assess your situation”, or “Do you want me to call them for you?” If you believe that crisis is imminent, then forget about all of  the above, and tell them “get out, leave, run” and be the one to call 911 or if you have to, drive them to safety.

Good luck.

We broke up: the worst case scenarios

As I explore the  various steps of  separation and divorce (see my blog “We broke up: now what?)in order to  better understand the dynamics involved in a break-up, here is what I find the most notable as a worst-case scenario for both roles, that of the dumper ( the one who leaves ),and that of the ‘dumpee’ ( the one who’s left behind).

Separation is painful even when both parties behave and stick to  good dumper’ and ‘good dumpee’ roles.

However, when a bad-dumpee is also a bad-dumper (roles alternate in some separations) all hell can break loose.  S/he wants out of the relationship but does not have the strength nor courage to be the dumper. S/he will make life miserable for their partner to force them to become the one who leaves. This is a form of abuse as the one who wants to make the relationship work finds themselves cornered into doing what they wanted to pre-empt.

At that point, the bad-dumpee not only enacts the rejection they provoked in the first place, but they also become a bad-dumper.  A bad-dumper is like a runaway kid.  They see the grass greener on the other side of the fence, and all that is needed for them to be happy is to get out of the relationship. There’s often a new love partner conveniently lined up. The bad-dumper avoids dealing with feelings, actions and attitudes that need to be changed and s/he does not provide closure to the dumpee; this is another form of abuse.

The ‘bad dumpee turned bad dumper’ is the partner most  likely to enact the anger that naturally follows  initial  feelings of guilt (dumper) and rejection (dumpee) as these feelings are strongly felt during the separation.

It is therefore essential, if you find yourself pushed into the role of reluctant dumper, that you take self-protective steps, by first carefully assessing the risk of abuse before doing so, and then ensuring your safety well before walking out. For instance, start describing the situation to relatives, friends and professionals and start collecting documentary and photographic evidence before you leave. You could well need it!

The following stories illustrate worst case scenarios involving a bad-dumpee who is also a bad-dumper.

A client discovered her partner’s series of infidelities and took time out after discussing with him her reasons for doing so; their daughter found him and his assistant in their bed a couple of days later. When she confronted him about it, he threatened to leave her penniless if they were to divorce. She filed a week later after breaking down, and was physically threatened soon after, with a gun no less.

Another person found himself denied access to his children until the courts produced an order. He didn’t see his children for 18 months.  He says, she asked him to leave and then changed her mind a few weeks later, after he’d moved out. He did not agree to a reconciliation. She felt dumped and she retaliated using access to the children as leverage.

Another person had counter-filing against her, when she reported to police that her broken arm was the consequence of him getting into a rage when she told him she wanted to separate. He did not like being the one left. He told her “then get out of my house” in no uncertain terms after shoving her . He had to now become the dumper, regain control, and did so by breaking her arm .  He had the economic power, and could afford to bring the matter to court. She spent much needed money defending herself.

Another person found all his clothes cut to pieces and his CD collection destroyed after telling her he wanted out. He succumbed to anger as a result, and smashed her vintage car in return.

And finally, one client walked out on her partner, and was threatened to be ‘ruined in court’ by him if she refused to sign a potentially reputation ruining blackmail letter – his reputation more than hers!!! – in exchange for monies he owed to her. The letter was squarely putting the responsibility of the breakup on her victimising him. She refused to sign the letter and cried wolf publicly. He retaliated by destroying her property and writing to acquaintances that “she was both mentally unstable and a thief, and he had to break off the relationship to distance himself from such a dangerous person.”

And so it goes. The rule of thumb is: beware of what you thought you knew about your mate. If you believe that you are placed in the role of the dumper, be cautious.  Separation may start well, but, just as there is a “honeymoon period” in any new relationship, there’s something called “a separation honeymoon” in a break up. Don’t trust it, because no matter how well behaved you are or you believe s/he will behave, once your ex-partner’s feelings of dumper guilt and dumpee rejection are exhausted, and the ‘deal is done’, anger will invariably follow, and may be enacted in devastating ways.

Will you or will your partner destroy property, blackmail,  threaten, break arms, produce a  gun, defame, refuse access to children?  Or instead, will you take time out with no contact for as long as it takes to exhaust the post break up rage?

Realise too that when a bad dumpee/dumper aggresses you, you have every right to ‘retaliate’ as you feel necessary to protect yourself, and that sometimes, rather than fight fire with water, it is best to fight fire with greater fire… A good lawyer should do.

And please, if you have lived through scenarios similar to the any of those described, it is possible that you have experienced trauma, even if you are not yet aware of it. In that case, it’s time to get professional help.


Emotional Pornography : Neither visual nor physical, but that of the mind and heart

Stories of romance pervade our culture—in films and television shows, books and magazines, and even in the advertisements and billboards all around us. They are often lovely and exciting. But all too often these pervasive images and concepts are translated into unrealistic emotional and relational expectations in our real lives. Does that kind of romantic love actually exist? Do these romantic fantasies lead us to expect that our marriages and long-term relationships can really be based on and sustain those kinds of momentary emotional highs?

We crave the fantasy of enduring romantic ecstasy. Many of us live for our wedding day––“the most important day of our lives”. We say to our mates: “you complete me”…or at least you ought to!

There is such a thing as love, and there are beautiful moments. But love is about life, and life is not about isolated moments but rather the long haul.

The romantic myth can be traced to the onset of the Industrial Revolution. Before that, there was no expectation of division of labour within the family unit. In modern times, however, a family structure and ideal evolved with the man assigned the role of breadwinner, while the woman is responsible for providing emotional and practical support. The female role in this model revolves entirely around managing and delivering family support.

An image of male/female interaction was born. The man fights and works, and in return an appreciative, saintly wife takes care of his needs––a whore in the bedroom, a kitten other times, a dedicated mother and homemaker––and looks oh so good on his arm in public. The fantasy is of boundless, joyful female compliance, where she is so totally in sync with his needs that “the things which give him pleasure, also happen to drive her wild as well”.

As Terrence Real puts it, “The sexual mother image of abundant Goddesses such a Mae West is emotional pornography.”  The man dreams of receiving perfect nurturance and limitless giving from his woman, while she sees him as the perfect lover and husband––her Prince Charming.

Many men are raised to believe that a good woman…a real woman… is happy to take care of her breadwinning guy. This service gives her so much pleasure that she needs and demands nothing in return. Men have been taught to expect that once they’ve fought and worked to get the girl of their dreams, they will be gratified by their trophy ever after.

But of course over time, in real life and real relationships, this fantasy simply doesn’t work.

The media rarely celebrates the image of a woman who puts her job first, criticizes her lover, is assertive with him, and tells him she wants something different from him. Our popular relationship mythology does not include the realities of argument, conflict, vigorous negotiations of differences, and loneliness at times.

Real relationships are not just romantic. Real relationships include the acknowledgment of pain and the ability and willingness to hear out the other’s feelings, including their insecurities and worries. Real relationships do involve expectations of some devotion and attention––but not all flowing in one direction. Real relationships today involve an expectation of MUTUALITY.

As women now redefine gender roles through their work outside the home, their economic freedom and different expectations, newer generations are rejecting the model they inherited from their mothers, where women are barred from confrontation. Women do not want to be their partner’s ‘manager’. They don’t want to use their mothers’ tools for managing the men: being indirect, manipulative, alternatively silent and passive or screaming and resentful. They are unwilling to accept being ignored, punished, and wounded if they dare to speak out within the couple/family unit.

More often that not, although it is the man who needs to acquire skills, it is the woman who does the brunt of the work, since common wisdom says that women are the emotional extroverts. Men are of course just as emotionally capable (and vulnerable) as women, but acknowledging this is very difficult for many of them.

The best first step a woman can take is to learn to express herself assertively and state her needs. In many male/female relationships, this will upset the balance and call for a review of the status quo. There is a 50/50 chance this approach will work. These odds may seem discouraging, but they are far more attractive than the 80/20 chance of separation that results from the frustrated resignation of both men and women to the current status quo.

Note: this post borrows heavily from Terrence Real (1997) and words extracted verbatim from his book are when possible distinguished by quotes.

BOOK reference:
Real, Terrence, 1997: “I don’t want to talk about it: overcoming the secret legacy of male depression”, Scribner Paperback, Simon & Schuster, New York (pp 304-311)

The Anger that drives them away

You love him/her deeply and so they do love you. And yet, you are unhappy, maybe you are considering leaving them. It is not the lack of care that makes you think that way, but the sheer despair at having to once again experience one of their anger flares. The pain of it is now exceeding the happiness of the sum of all the good moments you have with your partner.

Anger is natural, and if  expressed within bounds, is an enriching experience for all involved. Natural anger is rightful: it is the one that directly relates to someone’s questionable action, and you  express that anger at them. It will call for expressing the feeling, taking time out to calm down, resolving the flare up by talking it through and then forgiving and letting go, by closing and never revisiting the matter again. These steps allow both of you to positively handle anger and use it as a vehicle of growth and greater emotional maturity and sharing.

I am referring to another kind of anger in this article. One that is not rightfully expressed,   one that hurts you and the people around you when expressed impulsively and explosively; anger that is:

  • expressed out of context, at the wrong target or recipient, generally the closest people around you
  • expressed as pent-up release of inner frustrations and dilemma, such as fear of failure, rejection, abandonment, not being in control, shame, guilt, etc.
  • stored up over time and released by over-reacting to something your partner just did, and is not much related to the original cause for anger
  • related to untreated depression and blowing up suddenly as tension release
  • learned to be an effective means to bring people in line through creating fear or other strong emotions in them, such as intimidation.

That kind of anger destroys reputations out of a single action enacted in a raging, out of control  moment; it kills relationships, as trust is replaced by fear.

As the impulsive actions of anger are expressed, and the angry one goes at war with the persons he/she loves most, love and respect disappear and are replaced by anxiety and confusion in the loved ones.

Some causes of angry blow ups:

  • unresolved past issues, triggered by memories, stress and tiredness
  • getting struck in a current situation  that reminisces of a past negative experience
  • lack of assertiveness toward the rightful recipient of the anger (e.g., the boss, because of power relationships) and deflecting the anger to the next available or safe person, generally a family member.
  • Frustrations just past ( e.g.,  being caught in a queue or traffic jam earlier in the day) deflected to close ones
  • Misunderstandings with a person, and interpreting their actions
  • Bottling up feelings, building tension and needing to release in safe settings (the home)
  • Anger about the anger, not feeling able to express it. This is especially true if expressions of anger were strongly punished by adults, in your family of origin
  • Fears about relationships, involving insecurities, jealousy, abandonment issues.

Do you recognize yourself in the following situations?

When you are not the angry one:

  • Your partner comes home and screams at you for no clear reason – chances are he is angry at someone at work, or something that happened just before he came in the house, as you may learn later.
  • You no longer feel as relaxed as you used to be around him or her, and you feel you must walk on eggshells to avoid triggering all his/her known buttons
  • You are exhausted, for being so careful and second guessing all the time, avoiding any action of your own, that you know will risk triggering an anger impulse
  • You feel you are becoming resentful and angry, as you feel your partner does not allow you to express yourself in safety
  • You catch yourself adopting some of his /her behaviours, which you do not like, and you know you did not have them in the past
  • You say something you think innocuous, and the anger lash back is out of proportion with what you expressed or did.  You feel over punished and over victimized through critical words, silent treatment, violent words or actions, raised voice, etc.
  • You can no longer talk about the anger bouts without feeling fear or being threatened
  • You are getting depressed.

When you are the angry one:

  • You feel unwell and don’t quite know why, and before you know it, you scream at your partner or child in total frustration because the light switch is on
  • You feel intense guilt afterward and can’t cope with it
  • You try to make up with gift or by saying sorry after it
  • You rationalize that they made you angry and it is their fault
  • You think they deliberately created those feelings in you and deliberately pushed your buttons
  • You get angry at being angry
  • You are upset that they can’t take it after all you do for them
  • You feel the urge to punish and retaliate for the wrong they’ve done

Things you can do to manage the anger

If you are the angry one:

  • understand anger is an emotion, not an action. Action follows and derives from emotions. The stronger the emotion, the more the resulting action can harm.
  • Anger is addictive. It gives you the feeling that you are, for that moment, in control and you’ll seek that high more and more.
  • Anger does not make you a bad person. It makes you behave badly if not destructively.
  • Your close ones will be too afraid possibly to tell you how your anger makes them feel and how it hurts them. After all, they don’t want to provoke more anger and more pain. Don’t blame them for avoiding.
  • You can learn to manage your anger. Standard courses of 8 sessions in counseling and anger management are highly effective.
  • Learn to protect your close ones as you learn the skills to handle the anger. Walk out when you feel the urge.
  • Possibly seek the cause for the anger through therapy. If not willing, learn the techniques to diffuse it.
  • Develop compassion for your partner who has to cope with the effect of your angry actions, their own grief and mixed feelings and the explosion of your emotions, which can be highly traumatic to them.
  • Know your triggers; work at identifying your hot buttons.
  • Learn to calm your physiological responses.
  • Broaden your repertoire of responses in a variety of situations, find other ways to deal with a situation (e.g., take time out)
  • Identify what feelings underlie the anger (fear of hurt, rejection, or real threat)
  • Take the time to listen to your partner, about why angry behaviour is not acceptable in this relationship, even if it was so in your family of origin.
  • Understand that you learned anger in your family and that which was acceptable to your siblings and parents, may not be acceptable to your partner, friends and colleagues.

If your partner is the angry one – beginning of a relationship:

  • Know that if you let your partner get away with such anger, it will repeat, growing in intensity and frequency. Address the problem immediately. Once one situation of conflict is established, it is immediate and lasts forever unless you correct it. Use any of the techniques listed below as in an established relationship.

If your partner is the angry one – established relationship:

  • Don’t ask yourself why he/she is angry. Don’t try to appease. Don’t assume responsibility for the anger and blame yourself.
  • Leave them where they are at,  and,
    learn to walk out and not stay in the situation of anger as it happens. Come back later, give them space.
  • Take this incident as time off to look after yourself.
  • Don’t force them to talk about it immediately but….
  • Do not brush the anger event under the carpet, hoping it will not repeat. Because it will and may lead to abuse. Discuss it as soon as possible. Give yourself a chance to discuss, resolve, forgive and let go. Express how you felt when you had the anger directed at you. Not doing this will result unavoidably in resentment and retaliation, in loss of self-esteem, fear and/or depression over time.
  • If your partner refuses to engage in that talk, and brushes you off when you try to discuss this topic, consider seriously where your relationship is going.
  • Try not to retaliate nor make him/her feel guilty. It will make the situation worse.
  • Take a class in assertiveness skills if you feel you have difficulties implementing any of the above tips or go for counseling
  • As you change the way you handle the situation, expect more anger blow up for a while: your partner may be confused by the way you now change your responses.

The Sins of a Relationship

You are in a relationship which you think you want to exit, or have serious doubts about, or, you have broken up with your partner and you consider possibly moving back in with him/her.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before you do anything:

First, do you see yourself with this person in 5 years time?

If yes, what is it exactly that makes you want to be with this person?

Or, what is it that makes you want to leave this person, or has led to the break up?

Are those issues recoverable?

If your answers include any of these issues below, do not consider a reconciliation unless, your (ex) mate gets some serious counseling and mends their ways. Here are the main sins of a relationship:

Trying to change you

I refer here to extreme make overs, when your clothes, your habits, your demeanor, job, etc, are no longer acceptable to your partner.
You came as a package, and this is who was so enticing to him/her in the first place.

Unless your behavior was adapted to the other person and not your own in the first place, and you are now reverting to old ways of which your partner was unaware, then your partner has no place trying to change you, past a minimal amount of behaviors which may be uncomfortable to him/her. In this case, take the time to discuss it, and either agree to disagree about it, or simply compromise, or change.  In any case, any request to change should amount to a suggestion, a gentle criticism, but never be conveyed as a demand, an ultimatum, or though use of coercive devices such as silent treatment, blame, or acting differently without notification and discussion between the partners before-hand.

Lack of trust and/or respect (though both go hand in hand)

Whatever happens in private with your partner remains between you two. You may call on trusted friends or family members to help if you find that a matter cannot be resolved with your partner without guidance or you need talk over a memory or a feeling. This implies that you have first given the skinny to your partner, and discussed or tried solving the matter with him/her as the situation requires.  It also means that whatever advice or support you get from other parties, you will still refer back to your partner.

On the other hand, releasing juicy tit bits of information  to a wider circle of acquaintances, whether or not you have separated or argued, after the event, is one of the deepest form of betrayal of trust, and a lack of respect for both yourself and your partner.  It is damaging. Ideally, talk / experience the situation with  your partner first; attempt to resolve or accept; if this is not working, confide in trusted ones; and no matter what, go no further, whether the relationship is alive or not.

If your partner is personality disordered and/or  some of those ‘secrets’ involve abuse, then disregard the guidance above and TALK about it to whomever can help you. Do not, in such circumstances, keep it a secret. Do so with measure and all things considered, because, there will be a backlash.

Cheating (serial infidelity)

Interestingly, infidelity is recoverable from, when there is willingness to forgive and start afresh on both sides. However, if infidelity persists despite a first promise to not repeat it and mutual agreements on boundaries, seriously consider getting out, unless you believe you can live with it and are prepared to turn a blind eye. Once the infidelity has been acknowledged, once a solution or course of action is mutually decided, e.g., another try, never, ever bring this matter back in future disagreements… Ever! Ensure that once you make a decision to forgive and move on, make sure that there is no unfinished business with your decision. Forgive, move on, and do not recall the matter at a later time in what constitutes below the belt hits from your partner’s perspective.


The golden rule in a relationship is honesty. No white lies. No lies. The truth as you experience it. Delivered as gently as possible, with respect. But, never lie. Once something is hidden, it piles up and grows out of control. If asked something, respond as truthfully as you can. Do not delay. If you ask something to your partner, expect the same. It amounts to mutual respect. If you feel a dissonance, clarify and challenge, gently. But do not rest on partial answers, or lies. It is your right to state to a person that you feel they are not telling you the truth, whether they have something to hide or want to protect your feelings. Bottom line: here’s the very person on whom you can rest, rely and whom you cherish. Honesty is required.


This comes in many forms and is implied to be physical. Not so. Neglect and refusal to spend time with you is abuse. Ignoring you is abuse. Silent treatment is abuse. Not allowing you to express yourself is abuse. Blaming you is abuse. Direct criticism is abuse. Off sided jokes is abuse. Raging at you is abuse. Refusal to show tenderness or withdrawing sex is abuse.

There is a huge amount of literature available on line about what constitute emotional, psychological and mental abuse. It does not have to be overt, nor obvious to be called ‘abuse’.  If you suspect your partner to be abusive,  tell him/her or write it if you don’t feel safe to speak, and be specific, one issue at a time. Don’t let it spiral out of control, since abuse is documented to increase with time.  If your partner doesn’t acknowledge at least, or at best make an effort to change, do not tolerate it.  Talk about it to persons who can support you. The issue of abuse is far too often kept silent by the ones who experience it.

Sustained resentment

This is accompanied with pain and unhappiness, when it takes all your energy which you can no longer use to fight for and sustain the relationship. It is time to consider a break or time to go.

Unmet Needs

When you have mentioned your needs, which are reasonable, but your partner refuses to respond to them, and disregard them, it is akin to abuse. Don’t let it happen, we’re all reasonable, but we’re not Mother Theresa. Once you run out of patience, after having tried talking through the issue, go.

The sadness is greater than the happiness in your relationship

If you feel this, it is time to go.

Relationships are meant to be joyful at best, calm or sustained at last. They can be stressful and flat at times. They may have periods of ‘non-love’, boredom, questioning, and bring experiences of cat and dog fights and arguments and also anger, even jealousy, even infidelity. That’s real life.

But they do not include any of the following:  sustained mental anguish, fear, pain, hurt, resentment, betrayal, lack of trust, disrespect, loss of self esteem, insecurity, and/or dishonesty.