Divorce and dissolution are legal processes, a severing of a contractual relationship. Anyone who has ever been through it, however, knows it is much more than that. You are untangling your life from your spouse’s, grieving the loss of perhaps your most important relationship. While your spouse was probably the first person you turned to for comfort in previous losses, that source of comfort is suddenly no longer available. Divorce is a one-two punch in that way, and it knocks a lot of people to the mat. Unfortunately, there is no way to make divorce easy from an emotional standpoint. But there are things you can do to minimize the emotional toll and to help yourself recover more quickly. Here are some of our best tips for surviving divorce emotionally.
The Only Way Out is Through
There is a lot to be said for having a positive attitude. As painful as divorce can be, it is good to focus on new beginnings. That said, the grief of divorce is a process, and it cannot be hastened by pretending you are not grieving. Whether your marriage had been limping along for years, or something happened to blow up the marriage, grief is still natural. If nothing else, you are likely grieving the dream of the life you hoped for when you got married.
Feeling grief doesn’t mean the divorce is a mistake, and there’s no need to try to push those feelings away. Grief is a natural and necessary part of letting go. Acknowledging and dealing with it is the only way you will be able to move on to a new life, and new dreams.
You probably know people who have appeared to bounce back from a tragedy or loss much more quickly than expected. You may have suspected that they were putting on a brave front, and you were likely right. There’s nothing wrong with keeping your personal matters private and not “oversharing” with everyone who crosses your path. But there is no hiding from yourself, and if you don’t let the grief out, it will find a (probably messy) way out on its own. Find a small, trusted circle of friends to whom you can vent your feelings and admit your struggles while you work all the steps and stages of grieving, from denial through anger and bargaining, and finally to acceptance.
The Emotions of Divorce are Complicated
As mentioned, you’re probably feeling some degree of grief over the loss of your marriage (even if you are the one who asked for the divorce), but grief isn’t the only emotion that crops up at this time. You may be feeling guilt if you believe you are to blame for the divorce; anger at your spouse; shame at your marriage’s failure; fear and anxiety about the future; worry about your children; or even relief or excitement at escaping a marriage that simply wasn’t working.
These feelings may be present in any combination and in rapid succession. The term “emotional roller coaster” seems like it was coined for divorce and its aftermath. The best thing you can do is allow yourself to feel what you are feeling without judgment. You will need to control your behavior, of course, but not your feelings. The emotions of divorce have also been likened to a pressure cooker: unless appropriately vented, an explosion is almost inevitable.
Vent to the Right People at the Right Time
Venting your emotions to friends can be helpful, as noted above. After all, your friends are on your side, there to offer you support and validation when you need it. It is important to recognize, however, that while your friends will tell you what you want to hear, they may not always tell you what you need to hear.
A prime example is a situation in which your spouse was unfaithful, leading to the end of your marriage. Your friends are likely to be furious on your behalf, and justifiably so. They probably have some choice things to say about your cheating ex-spouse, which may be both true and satisfying to hear.
At some point, however, it becomes unproductive to keep badmouthing your ex. This is especially true if you share children and will have to co-parent with him or her. Continual venting about how bad your ex is not only makes it hard to work together for your kids’ sake, it keeps you stuck in the negative, unable to move forward. This is not to say you need to give your ex a free pass on his or her bad behavior, but keeping misdeeds in the front of your mind limits your ability to remain productive and grow. After all, a divorce likely means you no longer want to have your ex at the forefront of your thoughts or life—don’t give him or her an undeserved place of priority.
Not only will continually badmouthing your ex eventually take a negative toll on you, if there are children involved, they will notice. Your children are people to whom you should never complain about your ex. They are people who are also dealing with a myriad of emotions—after all, divorce affects everyone involved. They are grieving the loss of a family they believed they would have, or they might be relieved that their parents won’t fight all the time anymore. Your children have the right to feel all of their emotions without judgment, just as you do.
Venting about your ex to the children is not respectful to them—they deserve the right to love both parents. Communicating through your children because you can’t stand to talk to one another, or consistently pointing out the patterns of behavior a parent has engaged in is hurtful and damaging. It might feel very satisfying to let your children know just how bad their other parent is, but you MUST resist this temptation. Not only is this information inappropriate for your kids’ ears, you will, sooner or later, feel very bad about being the one to share it.
Consider Professional Help
Sometimes people seek marital counseling to put marriages back together after starting a divorce process, and work together on the problems that brought them to that point. If you have vented to only friends, it is very difficult for those very same friends who were furious and hateful on your behalf to then turn around 180 degrees and support your efforts at reconciliation.
One of the best things you can do to help yourself weather the emotions of divorce is to consult with a professional therapist. Speaking with a counselor allows you to let out your emotions in a truly judgment-free zone, to have those feelings heard and validated, and to get help moving on from them. The decision to see a counselor doesn’t make you seem weak, as you may fear. Instead, it shows that you are mature enough to recognize when you need support and resourceful enough to seek it. A therapist will help you identify and process your emotions so that you will be ready sooner for a healthy, happy life after divorce.
While your divorce attorney’s principal role is not to help you process your emotions, a good divorce attorney understands the emotional ups and downs of divorce and will encourage you to get the help you need so that your emotions don’t negatively affect your legal position. To learn more about preparing for divorce, we invite you to contact our law office. We understand the road you are on, and will walk that road with you.
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