By Dr. Cara Gardenswartz
Group Therapy Los Angeles
Because divorce and death involve deep loss, they have many things in common. With divorce, there is grieving for the loss of a family unit and the dream of “what was supposed to be”. The feelings that take place with divorce can often times be as complex and sad as feelings surrounding a death.
With divorce, like death, there are various stages of mourning. Traditionally, loss is defined by four stages: denial, anger, sadness and acceptance. Other feelings that you may encounter include dread, hopelessness (will I ever find a mate again?), anger, blame, insecurity, and regret (was this the right decision; will I “mess up” my child?). It can also be hard to let go of the dreams you had about having an “intact family”. If you have children, there is also the loss of your parenting partner – someone you had formerly shared responsibilities, decisions, and passion with regarding your children. Finally, because your partner is alive, you remain connected to him/her long after you part ways (e.g., through children or finances), which can last for a prolonged period of time.
Though there are predictable phases of loss, you will revisit these stages at different points and in different ways many times. Each time it will be an opportunity to reach a deeper level of acceptance. There are times when you unexpectedly might encounter feelings about the divorce- even years later. More expected triggers include the marriage of your child, or a death of a friend or family.
There are various ways to deal with your emotions around separation and divorce. First, it is important to embrace and accept your emotions. Allow yourself to cry or shout, if that is what you need to relieve some of your pain. It is critical to talk about your feelings with friends and family. Ideally, you can get support through peers who have also experienced divorce, or you can join a support group for divorcees. In this kind of setting you will get validation for your feelings, suggestions on how to cope, and ideas of what to expect during this process. Individual therapy can be extremely beneficial during this challenging and possibly depressing time. Finally, you can get involved in activities/hobbies you like- perhaps ones you neglected during marriage. If you are a parent, you might have newfound time for this if you have joint custody.
Even though divorce can be burdensome, sad, and challenging, it can also lead to you becoming stronger and healthier emotionally. It can be the first page on a new chapter in your life.