Making the decision to divorce is never easy. You swing back and forth between feelings of happiness and being on top of the world, and then to feeling sad and possibly depressed the next moment. In between, you may experience a whole realm of feelings, including anger, shock, disbelief, self-pity, frustration, fear, guilt, betrayal, and even possibly relief. This myriad of feelings is normal. There’s a lot going on around and within you as you are in the process of making some major changes and adjustments in your life. You are learning to live a single life again. This single life may involve being a single parent or it may involve being away from your children and visiting them on what feels like an unnatural schedule. You may be changing residences. Your financial situation may be changing before your very eyes. You want this difficult time to be over with, but life (and your ex) just isn’t cooperating with you right now.
Take a DEEP breath, blow it out, and realize that all of these feelings that are swirling around in your head and gut are normal, and that this, too, shall pass.
Divorce is like a death. When a couple is torn apart, for whatever reason, that relationship dies. Even if bitterness and anger keep you from missing your ex, you will still miss the intimate relationship and perhaps the way of life you once had. Don’t downplay the extent of this grief. When you married, no one expected a divorce. People make vows to stay together forever, happily ever after. It’s a shock when divorce comes. Even if it comes as a creeping realization, and drags on for years, the entire divorce event is a jolt to our hopes, dreams, expectations, and beliefs. In the aftermath, many newly divorced people are literally in shock.
When we talk about divorce, we’re talking about the death of a relationship, the most intimate human relationship. There are many changes in your way of life, and it will take some time to get over it. When a loved one dies, we observe a grieving process. A divorce requires a grieving process as well. Researchers find that the process typically takes at least two years. Healing takes time. So don’t expect your emotions to stabilize right away. Take it step by step, day by day.
Emotions in the recovery process typically go down and then up. You may go through the same five stages and emotional levels that people pass through when they deal with the death of a loved one, these stages are:
Denial: Think back to the first moment you realized your marriage was in trouble. Was it like being hit with a club, was it a slow, steady burn, or would you describe it differently? Denial is natural and necessary for it provides us with the time we need to prepare for what’s coming next. While it would sometimes be easy to stay in denial, you must move through it toward a healthy acceptance of what’s happened. What can keep us in denial? Fear – of what’s going to happen next.
Anger: Once you realize what’s going on in your life, you may be gripped with thoughts such as “what am I going to do?” “What am I going to tell people?”, “How can this be happening to me?”. Who are you angry with? How angry at them are you? Relax, it’s not uncommon for people who have been through what you’ve been through to be upset with everyone. Anger, in itself, is not wrong, but there are both effective (positive) and ineffective (negative) ways to deal with it. We can deal with our anger in negative ways, such as rage or repression, or we can deal with it in positive ways, such as redirection or resolution.
Bargaining: The best way to explain bargaining is that it is like trying to find a simple solution to a complex problem. You want to settle it right now. You sometimes feel desperate for answers. You may hurt so much that you may want to try almost anything to make the pain go away. It is this desperation that sometimes makes people turn to drugs, alcohol, or shallow relationships. Is it wrong to bargain? Not necessarily. It’s a natural way to deal with a crisis, trying to seize control of an out-of-control situation.
Depression: This may happen when we realize that we can’t bargain our way back to the way things once were. You realize all your efforts are futile. You’re totally helpless to change the other person or your own situation. Many times, you can no longer- deny the reality of the impending divorce. Often, you’re left with feeling that nothing you can do will make any difference. You may want to give up on everything, including life. You’re convinced you will never love again, you will never be happy again, and, basically, your life is over. The timing and length of depression varies from person to person. (It should be noted that if you’ve had an extended period of depression or if you’ve had serious suicidal thoughts, or if there’s a family history of depression, you need to talk with a professional counselor as soon as possible.) This depression is also a natural stage is the grieving process. It can be a time of self-examination, a time of reordering of priorities.
Acceptance: It’s easier said than done. Most people claim to be in acceptance long before they actually are. We usually think we’ve arrived, or nearly arrived, when something comes along and starts the whole process over again. One good sign of acceptance is when you finally take responsibility for your own healing. Your attitude changes from- “Look at what he/she did to me” to “Let’s stop lying around and get going doing something.” Some people think they’re “over” their ex-spouses because they hate them. But the hate is a way of holding on. As long as your ex can ruin your day or still “push your buttons,” you’re still working through the matter. Freedom is found in a kind of indifference. Reaching this stage may be especially difficult if you and your ex are sharing custody of children. The children often become weapons or battlegrounds in the continuing struggle between former spouses. But if you’ve reached the point of acceptance, there’s no need to rerun those scenes.
The five stages don’t necessarily occur in the order presented here:-You may even go through all five stages in the same day, or jump from one stage to another. The key to recovery is in making wise decisions now about how you’re going to live and what you’re going to believe about yourself.
People often find it very helpful to talk with a mental health professional during this process. It does not mean that you are weak or sick if you seek the help of a therapist or counselor. This time of your life will be one of the most confusing, frustrating, and most stressful you have ever experienced. A competent therapist can help you sort out some of the feelings, cope with stressors, help you make sense of what you’re experiencing, and help you move forward in life toward a healthier, more fulfilled future.
Sue Denk, Psy. D LCPC
Doctor of Psychology
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor – Certified Family Therapist
1030 S. LaGrange Road, Suite 8
LaGrange, IL 60525
708-352-2597 – 708-995-5058 (Fax)
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