Anger is a natural and inevitable emotion. It is not in and of itself a ‘bad’ or ‘destructive’ emotion. It tends to get a bad rap when in fact it can be very beneficial, when used thoughtfully. It is particularly challenging to express anger with care when we’re leaving or ending a relationship with a spouse or partner. And we all know how much better we feel about ourselves when we are able to do just that!

Anger is just anger. It isn’t good. It isn’t bad. It just is. What you do with it is what matters. It’s like anything else. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice.

― Jim Butcher

If we can understand that anger is, as Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. asserts in her book Daring Greatly, a secondary emotion, then we can be more aware of what anger might be signalling. What other emotions do we need to identify and express?

Anger can be a “cover emotion” for other more painful and difficult to express emotions like hurt, sadness, disappointment, humiliation, shame or fear. It is equally as important to figure out all of the emotions and underlying needs that you may not have been able to express.

Let’s use *Dawn’s experience as an example. Dawn was the one who chose to leave her husband. She felt so relieved when she finally did. She also found herself caught up in anger at him. She could not believe what he had done *this time*. She told her friend’s stories about him and his antics, and she expressed disgust about his behaviours. While at first this was satisfying, a relief to finally speak about what he was really like and to see him more clearly, it was not everything.

Dawn soon discovered that she felt stuck. Stuck in this pattern of telling negative stories, that, as it turned out, was only hurting her. And so she decided to talk to someone. She began to understand that her outward anger at her husband was masking her inner sadness and pain. Sadness that she had stayed so long in a *loveless marriage*. Soon self-doubt followed and she wondered what was it about her that made her pick this guy in the first place. With help, Dawn’s self-awareness grew and she understood the old patterns and dynamics that had kept her stuck in that relationship. She began to forgive herself and, eventually, her ex-husband.

Dawn began to risk being vulnerable. To feel is to be vulnerable…vulnerability defined as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. (excerpted from Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W.) She started to feel a wide range of emotions. And Dawn noticed she began to share new stories with her friends. She talked about her own growth and all that she was discovering about who she is and what she needs for herself and a healthy, fulfilling relationship. For Dawn this was incredibly liberating.

Here are some thoughts to ponder. How does anger linger when a relationship ends?

  • Anger and blame for not changing when we stuck around and tried so hard to be a good spouse or partner.
  • Anger about being left or abandoned.
  • Anger and resentment for not appreciating all that we did for them or for treating us poorly or disrespectfully.

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.


*For purposes of confidentiality Dawn is a composite of women we know, have worked with and who have attended our workshops.


Amy Greenleaf Brassert MSW RSW  and Judy Grout MSW RSW offer their workshop, Making Sense of Ending Relationships, on April 5th from 7-8:30 pm.

Go to  for more information.

To learn more about Amy and Judy go to


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