Working Through the Emotions of Divorce
“If your heart is broken, let it be broken open.” –Alan Cohen
With fifty percent of marriages in America today ending in divorce, there will be many companions on your journey. That may make it less lonely, but not necessarily less painful. Psychologists rank divorce as one of life’s most stressful events. The pain that can accompany the death of a marriage is like the grief that follows any life-altering loss.
Feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness, depression, anger, and rage are natural reactions when it seems dramatic changes are in store for the stability of your life circumstances. Knowing that these powerful emotions are normal and natural doesn’t remove them, but it can provide some comfort and help you to trust that they are part of a healing process.
The emotional upheaval that comes with divorce parallels the stages of grief, the feelings that humans face in dealing with loss: shock, denial, anger, and acceptance.
Emotional Stages of Divorce
Marriages do not break down overnight; the breakup is not the result of one incident and it usually isn’t the fault of only one spouse. The emotional breaking up process often extends over several years and varies based on whether you are the initiator of the divorce or the receiver of the decision to break up. The initiator may feel fear, impatience, resentment, doubt and guilt. The partner who has not initiated the divorce may feel shock, betrayal, loss of control, insecurity, and anger.
Psychologists have identified a common sequence of feelings and behaviors, the emotional stages that occur when a relationship is ending:
Becoming Disillusioned – One party begins to feel discontented and distanced from the other.
Expressing Dissatisfaction – The discontent is expressed and the emotional roller coaster ride of guilt, doubt, grief, and sorrow begins.
Deciding to Divorce – Emotional distance is created with anger, resentment, and anxiety for the future.
Beginning the Legal Process of Divorce – Physical and emotional separation begin. The parties go public with the decision. The children find out. Panic, fear, shame, guilt, and blame are added to the emotional mix.
Growing Acceptance – The parties begin to adjust and accept that the marriage wasn’t happy. Each regains a sense of control and begins to plan for the future. Moods are lifted with the prospect of a second chance at life.
Beginning Anew (usually within four years of completing the legal process) – The former partners are able to move beyond blame and anger to forgiveness, with new roles, new insight, and new respect for one another and themselves.
The healing process after divorce will include focusing on the future, taking responsibility for one’s own actions, and acting with integrity. Focusing on the future enables both parties to offer one another the forgiveness and compassion that makes healing possible.
Life Goes On
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross said of mourning that “it usually ends when people realize that they can live again, that they can concentrate their energies on their lives as a whole.” As the healing process continues, you will learn to cope with the challenges, integrate the loss, and begin to rebuild a new life, forgiving what might have been and accepting what is. The resilient human spirit will help you believe again that life is worth living and, despite losses, life goes on.
“When I ‘let go,’ I grow and live for the future, without regrets about the past.” –Louise Hay
This article is reprinted with permission from the Women's Institute for Financial Education (WIFE.org), creator of the Second Saturday Divorce Workshops. Founded in 1988, WIFE is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing financial education for women. Copyright 2019