Dealing With Anger After An Affair

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy.  BUT to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – this is not easy.”  Aristotle

Anger is an emotion, but did you know that it is a secondary emotion? Anger hides or camouflages a primary emotion such as pain or fear. Anger in and of itself is not bad. It is an appropriate emotional response to injustice or unfairness.

According to Alistair Moes of Moose Anger Management, (www.angerman.ca) some of the psychological reactions to anger include:

– Seeing yourself as a victim
– Feeling discounted or ignored
– Feeling powerless
– Looking for justice and revenge

SO! How do you deal with Anger?

Step #1 to Dealing With Anger After An Affair – Admit Your Anger

First of all don’t judge yourself for feeling angry. Being angry is not wrong. It’s what you DO when you’re angry that can be wrong. When you’ve experienced the injustice of a spouse’s unfaithfulness anger is an appropriate emotional response. Observe that you are feeling angry and admit your anger. From early childhood many people have been taught that to be angry is a sin. When this is the case, they tend to call their anger something else. “I’m not angry, I’m just hurt.” “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed.” “I’m not angry, I’m just sad.” If you’re angry just admit it, “I’m angry.”

Now ask yourself why you feel angry – write down the answer.

Example:  I am so mad that “Sam” has been having an affair. Why do I feel angry about that?  Because he/she promised they would never hurt me (primary feeling of hurt). Because now I will be alone and a single parent (primary feeling of fear).

The problem we often make is to assume that anger is the correct emotion to have in a certain situation and not exploring our true feelings further.  By asking WHY we feel angry we get a BECAUSE answer, and therein lies the truth and the road to dissolving the anger and moving forward.

Step #2 of Dealing With Anger After An Affair – Restrain Your Immediate Response

Recognize that you have many choices as to how to deal with and express the anger you are feeling – you do NOT have to DO anything immediately. In fact it is better to merely observe that you are feeling anger or rage, e.g. “I feel REALLY angry right now,” and then wait for the emotion to subside somewhat before doing or saying anything.

When we respond in the initial emotion of the moment, we usually say and do things we later regret. Once our heart rate moves beyond 110 beats per minute, nothing productive is going to be accomplished. Most of us have a natural desire to punish our spouse in some way for their affair, or to punish the 3rd party, but if our “punishment” is delivered with the exclusive motive of hurting our offender, we find ourselves not feeling one bit better, and since two wrongs don’t make a right, we end up with more problems, not less.

To restrain your immediate response, you might try taking a walk around the block before responding.

Step #3 of Dealing With Anger After An Affair – Locate the Focus of Your Anger

It is often very helpful to put your feelings down on paper in order to “get them out” – this also allows you to go back later when you are calmer and try to figure out what the primary emotion was and what triggered it.

Anger can be expressed in four different ways – passive, aggressive, manipulative or assertive. You may have used all of these at one time or another or may use one method more regularly than another. Your response may depend on the person or situation involved. The most healthy and productive expression of anger is an assertive one which uses respect, honesty and clear communication.

There are two types of anger; definitive anger and distorted anger. Definitive anger is when we have been truly wronged. Distorted anger is when no actual wrong has been committed, however we perceive an injustice and therefore feel angry. We get angry when our sense of right has been violated.

Step #4 of Dealing With Anger After An Affair – Analyze Your Options

Once you’ve located the focus of your anger you can begin to analyze your options. What constructive action can you take? Does your response have the potential for improving your situation in the future? Will your response be good for the other person as well? Sometimes we just want to hurt the other person back for the wrong they’ve done, but in the end this attitude rarely satisfies. If we hurt the other person, we rarely feel better, usually worse, because now we’ve lowered ourselves to their level instead of acting with dignity. The ideal response is a win/win response, where both our life and the other person’s life are improved as a result.

Step #5 of Dealing With Anger After An Affair – Take Constructive Action

The purpose of anger is to motivate us to take constructive action. The organization MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) is a wonderful example where their rightful anger has been turned into positive social reform. All great social reform is born out of anger.

Possible constructive actions include punishing those who do wrong, correcting the situation, announcing your disapproval over what’s been done, and most of all setting strong boundaries that will provoke the offending person to correct their behavior (assuming we’re dealing with difinitive anger, and not distorted anger).

Even with the wisest constructive responses to a partner’s affair, not every unfaithful spouse will choose to change their ways. We want to maximize the chances for positive change, by ensuring the offender faces appropriate consequences for what they’ve done, and that we are in no way enabling a person to continue to mistreat us. Sometimes removing ourselves from the relationship is necessary to avoid continued hurt and abuse. Other times, the offending party may already have reached both a place of remorse for what they’ve done, and a genuine change of their ways at disclosure, (although this is rare). But if this is the case their emotional support while we heal, willingness to do things to proactively improve our relationship (like reading books, attending seminars or counseling) and ongoing openness and honesty (plus flowers) may be consequences enough.

Anger serves a purpose and expressing it appropriately is an important part of healing from affairs. They key with anger is not to stay there. You need to move through the PROCESS of admitting it, identifying its primary root, analyzing options, taking constructive action and in the end releasing it.

Written by Suzanne Stewart & Anne Bercht
References: The Other Side of Love: Handling Anger in a Godly Way

Great quotes by affair survivors:

“We were in marriage counseling for years, and in some weird way it became a crutch. The ‘knowing’ didn’t cut it. It’s only the application of the knowledge that can result in a loving marriage.” – Hollis, Idaho

©Copyright 2005 Anne and Brian Bercht. All rights reserved.

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