I could see her choking down her hurt. He was determined not to let her see him wince across the table set for depositions. I observed a mixture of emotion fill up the space, even when words were silent. They occasionally glanced at each other when recalling details of their twenty-two year marriage. They were answering questions in front of each other about the contributions they each made to their marriage, about how their children had been successful or not, and what they each thought would be a fair way to divide their lives.
They were afraid to smile at or acknowledge the good parts of their history together. They were even more afraid to show tears when recalling the decline in their relationship. Stoic and strong was the collective focus. Then the bitterness seeped in through a defensive response to a veiled accusation about an old wound. Bitterness came with a bite and the easier, less complicated emotion of anger came crashing into the room.
I have seen this dynamic play out in hundreds of depositions, settlement conferences, and trial testimonies. As a lawyer, I immediately know my role is to diffuse and calm the feelings. I know that if I can get underneath the anger and behind the bitter, I can usually find the source of hurt, fear, and vulnerability that if validated properly can move forward to healing.
I can think of a handful of relationships I have had in the past that ended on a downward spiral. Work relationships, romantic interests, tired friendships, and last and hardest – my marriage. Relationships that ended without hearts resolved. That ended with forgiveness unexpressed. That ended on regretted last words uttered without apology.
The bitter burden is not an easy one. Eventually anger subsides. Sadness, regret, and remorse take its place. The ideal solution in this sentimental space is to mend the proverbial fence. To reach out to the person and acknowledge the sorry you now feel. However in most post-divorce situations this is rare.
Another alternative after the anger has waned is to find the source of your bitterness. What are you most hurt about? What would you most need to hear from that person? Can you think of a time or experience with that person where they authentically demonstrated the feeling you now most want from them?
Focus on forgiveness – for your sake. Focus on how you would want to be in their presence if it were their last moment of life. Dramatic? Maybe. But it is with the focus on finality that we find our own choice about how we want to show up. The sooner you can get to a place where bitter is behind you, the sooner you will find it harder to recall the hurt. You will see that you no longer suffer. The bitterness will dissipate and with it, the relief of resolution will release the harmful resentments holding you back from being a better version of you.