Family Law Recap: How to Handle an Angry Spouse
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Those are the five stages of grief, as identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her landmark book On Death and Dying. Although Kübler-Ross was writing about patients with terminal illnesses, her conclusions ring true for people undergoing all kinds of experiences of grief.
That includes divorce. After all, the dissolution of a partnership is certainly something to grieve. And the feelings associated with the Kübler-Ross model—commonly referred to as “DABDA”—are normal expressions of grief for ex-spouses, their children, and any party impacted by a divorce.
Ordinary as they may be, however, these emotions aren’t always easy to deal with. Specifically, that “A”—anger—can cause all manner of problems. No one likes dealing with an angry ex during negotiations over co-parenting and child custody, discussions about division of assets, or other legal proceedings. Angry comments, rude outbursts, and displays of aggression and resentment only worsen an already fraught and heated situation.
By the same token, a person’s own “A” feelings can cloud their judgment and warp their arguments. Angry people often work against their own interests.
How can someone in the middle of divorce successfully navigate the A-hole, so to speak? Here are a few tips:
- Communicate—and communicate carefully. Mindful, purpose-driven communication is the key to de-escalating a heated conversation. As much as you can, approach all interactions with your ex with productive intentions. Experts recommend using the “BIFF” model—keeping communication brief, informative, friendly, and firm.
- Try to see things from the other person’s perspective. An angry person is often suffering on the inside. They’re processing their grief, and they need time to do it. Keep in mind that they probably don’t like their anger either, and may feel ashamed or out-of-control. The better you can show them you understand their feelings, the easier the next interaction will be.
- Talk to a therapist. When things become too difficult to handle alone, talk to a mental health professional. A therapist or counselor can give you valuable tools for understanding and relieving negative emotions. This is especially important for people who have suffered through abusive and/or violent relationships. Regardless of their situation, anyone in a divorce can benefit from seeking professional help.
Professional help includes not just therapists, but lawyers as well. An experienced family law attorney can assist you in managing difficult emotions while guiding you through what may be the most stressful period in your life. Learn how Offit Kurman’s team can help you.
ABOUT CHERYL L. HEPFER
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Cheryl Hepfer is a highly-regarded attorney who has practiced family law for more than 40 years. She has been rated by her peers and is listed in Best Lawyers in America and as a top lawyer in the Washingtonian, Bethesda Magazine, and Super Lawyers. She is past president of both the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the International Academy of Family Lawyers.
ABOUT SANDRA A. BROOKS
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As a family law attorney, Sandra (Sandy) Brooks’ practice focuses on a wide range of aspects in regards to family law. She dedicates her time to assisting clients in domestic law matters including divorce, child custody and visitation, family mediation, spousal and child support, property division, and division of retirement benefits. Other matters that fall under her jurisdiction as a family law attorney include tax consequences of divorce, mediation, prenuptial and post-nuptial agreements, negotiating and drafting of separation agreements, domestic litigation, and post-judgment proceedings.
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