Why Good People Go So Bad During Divorce

Going through a divorce changes people.

Angry couple going through divorce skynesher | Canva

I once found myself winging the remote control across the room at my husband’s face. I was so blinded by rage that I literally could not see straight; I just hurled it in the general direction of his infuriating voice and cruel words. I must admit it, I had a brief moment of satisfaction. That moment was quickly followed by a whole lot of remorse, though. What was I turning into? Who was this bitter, angry, raving woman? That’s not me, that’s not who I am, or so I thought. I hardly recognized myself in the time just before my divorce.


When I think back to how I behaved toward the end of my marriage, it makes heat creep up my neck and I feel a little ill. Screaming, breaking things, spitting out insults I had never behaved that way toward anyone before, so why now? What was it about divorce that was making me into a crazy person? Now as a divorce coach, I see it over and over again in my clients. The hatred, the bitterness, and the fury just take over and make us behave in ways that we’d never tell our kids are okay. Why does divorce bring out the worst in us? Well, let’s start with the fact that it’s painful. And enormous. Your very well-being and stability are being threatened, and that’s extremely scary. As if that isn’t enough, some specific unique factors in divorce can trigger ugly emotions that you never even realized you had.


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Why good people go so bad during divorce, and how to not let it happen to you:

1. Money is involved

How do you de-emotionalize money and take it out of the equation that is fueling your anger? Anytime money is involved, it gets tricky. Women, especially, tend to emotionalize money, so we become attached to it in unhealthy and unwise ways in divorce. But we realize, this is not just a sum of money, this is your entire financial future we are talking about. So yes, that complicates things and puts you on edge. You must think about that part of the divorce as a business transaction. Remember that it is vital to keep a cool head in business. You are negotiating a deal here. Don’t attach feelings one way or another to it. Your financial advisor, your attorney,                          or your divorce coach can help you strategize the right settlement for you based on your situation, and your divorce coach, in particular, can give you tools for keeping cool.

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2. It feels like a win vs. lose situation

It isn’t, it’s a compromise. But that is not how divorce feels. It feels like a failure, like things are broken and ruined. It feels like a fight over stuff and money and kids and as we all know, there are winners and losers in a fight. If you can bring yourself around to stop thinking about it like a contest, you have a better chance of getting through your divorce more healthily. This is not about a broken home. It’s not broken, but it’s not working the way it is. You must fix it by taking it apart and putting it back together in a better way for everyone involved.  


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3. Divorce is fueled by stress

The amount of stress generated by a straightforward, amicable, and uncomplicated divorce is immense, let alone one that is fraught with lies, tempers, and complicated financial or family situations. Stress makes everything feel magnified and dramatic, which in turn has us reacting in ways that may be over the top. Stress sabotages our ability to think clearly, to react properly, to take in information, and in general, to keep calm. It’s important — no, imperative — that you find ways to lessen and manage your stress during your divorce. You need healthy outlets in which to vent (therapy, your coach, a support group) and ongoing ways to take care of yourself (like, say, remembering to eat.)

RELATED: The 10 Emotional Stages Of Divorce (So You Can Know When You're Finally Done)


4. Everyone has an opinion (and they aren’t always helpful)

If you had talked to me 8 years ago, mid-divorce, I would have ranted and told you stories about my husband and the legal process that would have given you nightmares. I once met a woman who was telling me about her divorce and she was so clearly scorched and bitter that I assumed it was fairly recent, but it turns out it was 15 years ago. No matter whom you meet, they’ll have an opinion and I just want to warn you, most of them aren’t helpful to you. Choose whom you confide in carefully and make sure it’s someone who will listen more than talk. Someone who seems to have survived divorce and come out okay, even better than before, is the ideal. You may have several friends going through this, too, but tread lightly when talking with them … every divorce is very different and they do not yet have the gift of perspective.  

5. Technology is a nosy woman

Check out Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit and I guarantee you’ll see someone online trashing their EX or soon-to-be. It’s ever-so-tempting, because hey, you have instant gratification when people react and offer up support. Who doesn’t love a good scandal? “He did WHAT?” But the nasty secret is they are feeding on your drama and all it does is feed your anger. You must starve it, not give it sustenance. Social media is not only the worst place ever to talk about your relationship, but it could do you harm. Do you want your husband’s attorney to hand a copy of that post to the judge?  

How, then, do you either free yourself from the she-devil you have become or avoid it before you get there? Seek support from a coach or therapist or someone who can hold up the mirror for you. Learn to break the cycle of anger, it’s only hurting you. That fury you are lugging around is like a poison you keep drinking … but you expect your ex to keel over. It’s not going to happen. Stop drinking the poison. Forgive yourself for any that you can and find a way to think about things in a new light.

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Liza Caldwell runs SAS for Women, a boutique firm that specializes in helping women free themselves from dysfunctional and unhappy relationships.