People say that divorce is one of the most painful experiences that a person can go thru. It’s not only your marriage that you’re losing but also yourself.
The death of a marriage is not just a moment in time, but a process that is filled with many different feelings. Grief is not linear! In other words, you cannot just pass through the stages of shock, denial, anger, and acceptance in a well-defined order. Divorce, like grief, is chaotic and circular, with the stages changing daily or moment-to-moment.
It is normal for the initial stage and the first emotion to be one of shock. Psychological shock in response to an event or situation can cause great distress and disruption in our lives. People react differently to shock. Some turn inward and retreat socially, withdrawing from friends and social contacts. “Psychological runners”, as they are called, might have a difficult time acknowledging that this is really happening. Other people might reach out and spend time telling anyone who will listen to every detail of how they have been hurt in their divorce. This becomes the “story” that they use to define them from this point forward while they are grieving. They might increase their social interactions and create even more chaos in order to numb the pain and reality of this experience. Combined with shock comes the denial and anger.
It is normal to experience depression during the initial stages of a divorce. A marriage is a support system that helps define us in the world. With the loss of a marriage, our world is suddenly smaller. We not only lose our partner, but also might find that our social system is shrinking. Loss of family members and friends can force us to redefine our sense of how we identify ourselves in the world. This “letting go” of the world we knew can have a profound influence on our sense of security. The inability to accept these sudden changes can challenge even the most positive individuals.
How long will the sadness last?
Since the grief experience is not linear, and there is no right way to grieve the loss of a marriage it is difficult to know how long the grief will last. I have heard that for every 10 years of marriage, it takes one year to recover. Is this true, perhaps not, we are all different and deal with pain in our own ways.
Change involves letting go, and requires a psychological and physical “movement” to begin the healing process. When this stage occurs, it depends on many factors, such as, who wanted the divorce, was there another party involved in the failed marriage, how much bitterness is there between the couple, are there children and custody issues, who gets the dog, and the legal system.
The worst thing about a divorce is coming home to an empty house at the end of the day. Loneliness can intensify the depression and sadness. Even though most marriages were “broken” long before the time of the divorce, there was still the companionship of having the physical presence of your partner.
7 Action steps moving forward:
- Turn toward a renewed relationship with God, a higher power, or spirituality.
- Find a few friends and family members to form an emotional support system.
- Make a list of your challenges and resources.
- Contact a lawyer if needed to assist you through the legal process.
- Find a counsellor to help you process your feelings.
- Be kind to yourself and set aside time for journaling, deep-breathing exercises, or any practice that allows you to relax and collect your thoughts.
- Remember that there is no right way to grief the loss of a marriage.
Finding a new identity is an important part of the healing process.
Learning to be alone, forming new friendships, and finding a new home can be both frightening and exciting. Some people go through this process quickly and others never make it. If the depression is not lifting and the grief is long lasting, you might be experiencing complicated grief it’s important to seek some professional support.
I work with people at different stages and counselling is enormously helpful to support you through this and out the other side, to come to terms with your new reality. Separating in love for some clients is a goal which is very achievable.