There are few life events more stressful than going through a divorce. For many of you, divorce actually feels almost like a death. In reality, it was the death of your fairy tale. We know the statistics going in, but we all think we are the exception, our love is real, strong enough, the forever kind. Of course, there are always some who foresee trouble and bring out the prenup, but the majority of us believe we will beat the odds. To realize one day that we lost at the table of love is devastating and it affects our brains much like a physical death does. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the Five Stages of Grief as it relates to death. I would like to suggest we experience similar responses when we are first faced with the reality of a divorce.
DENIAL…. It’s not true. It’s just simply not true. “He’s just going through a phase. She’s very stressed at work. They are just bluffing because we had a fight.” We come up with reasons to explain why our partner just dropped the D word on us. This cannot be happening to me/us. Denial is our mind’s way of gradually getting used to the pain. Much like slowly wading into the cold ocean waters. We tiptoe around slowly and tense up as the crashing waves of disbelief wash over us. Denial often shields us from guilt as well. The contributions we have made leading to this outcome may be hard to accept. Refusing to acknowledge the divorce as a reality cushions us from the admission of our mistakes. It is ok to need and request some time to process. It is a life altering decision.
ANGER…. If denial is the first sense of loss and helplessness, floating aimlessly in sadness, then anger is the anchor that starts the healing process. We become furious that they would reject our love and commitment and throw it away like yesterday’s trash. How dare he/she be so cold and callous, selfish and dreadful. Anger gives us focus for the tasks ahead. We should not make lasting decisions in the throes of this anger, but it does move us away from despair and points us to the matters and details we need to protect ourselves, our finances and our future. (A word to the wise; this is where the first huge mistake is made by parents. Do not ever bring your children; regardless of their age and/or maturity, into your divorce battle. They love both of their parents. And it is never cool to ask them to take sides or use them as bargaining chips. They are going through their own stages of grief at the loss of the family unit. I understand you need allies, but you cannot recruit them from the children.) Anger is the catalyst for self-preservation. We cannot allow it to consume us because it will soon turn into bitterness. But we can harness it as an energy resource for challenging days ahead.
BARGAINING….. There is a fine line between compromise and concession. In marriage, a basic staple ingredient is effective compromise. If one or both partners fail to recognize and execute this, the partnership will erode quickly. If your spouse has asked you time and again to help with a chore, be more respectful, show more affection, whatever the complaint, and you have dodged and refused for years, it is now too late to show up with a mop, roses or dressed in lingerie, pleading for another chance. I believe in doing your best while you are in the relationship, but if someone truly wants out, I do not agree with begging. You cannot force someone to love or stay with you. You can learn from the experience but never resort to emotional manipulation. It will backfire and still have the same end result.
DEPRESSION….. This is one we are all too familiar with, and the hardest stage to conquer. We hide under the covers, lay in the dark, won’t get out of bed and if we do, it’s to go to the freezer and pull out ice cream to eat directly from the carton. Some people watch sappy love movies. (Why…. is totally beyond me.) Some people call their mother, best friend or the Pizza Hut delivery person. Others lose themselves in work or working out. A few hit the road or hit the bottle. We all react to depression differently, but we all agree on one thing. IT HURTS! There isn’t an Advil for heartache. Very little can be done except to wait it out. If you did not want a divorce, when the reality starts to settle in, the sadness will come. Possibly you will relive the good moments, the fun adventures, the great intimacy and the thought that the ride is ending makes it hard to breathe. Even if you wanted the divorce, or believed it was the best route to take, there will still be a feeling of regret, wasted time and loss. Every single one of these emotions and reactions is normal and understandable. I cannot tell you the right way for you to process your pain. I can point out some wrong ways.
Do not retreat away from the rest of the world; at least not for more than a day or two. There is no salvation to be found in your La-Z-Boy. Do not begin a smear campaign against your Ex. Not to anyone. It is not classy and will only make you look bitter. Maybe you are bitter, but the rest of the world doesn’t need to see it. Do not, and I repeat, do not begin to abuse alcohol or any type of drug; prescription or otherwise. Numbing the pain seems like a good idea, but it isn’t. It will still be waiting when you resurface into consciousness. With that being said obviously if you are currently on medication for anxiety and depression, by all means, stay on it. I am talking the reckless use and intake of substances with the sole intent to drown your sorrows. There can be no drowning today.
What does work? Don’t shoot me for saying it, but time. Prayer. Talking to people who love you, or even talking to a professional. I will not promise the pain will ever completely dissipate. But I will promise that you will feel better, peaceful, even joyful again. Soon. Do you know how I know this? Because if you are reading this, you are fully engaged in your life and you want to be the best, most fantastic version of you. That motivation alone will drive you past the depression and down the road to your new future.
ACCEPTANCE….. We’ve denied it, railed against it, tried to negotiate out of it and cried about it. Enough is enough. We are divorced. You are divorced. And you will be ok. Accept it. This is the last stage of grief and the first step in the right direction. There are still decisions to be made and obstacles to encounter, but with a clear mind and determination, those will be handled as they arise. I talk to people all the time who have even managed to become friends or at least civil with their ex. This is especially helpful if there are children involved. And of course, there are in-laws and extended family that you may still love and want to stay in touch with. Unless the circumstances are severe, try to maintain those connections at least for a while. They may fade away with time, but there is no reason why everyone else has to be cut off immediately.
After acceptance comes the healing process. There is no pre-designated time for this to take place. Everyone has to heal at their own pace. Do not let friends or family, however well-intentioned, attempt to rush you through. They want to see you happy again, as do I, but understand it looks different for everyone. However, it does take work and responsibility on your part to achieve.
In reality, there are way more steps than just 5. This is an ongoing one-step-in-front-of-the-other process that will have many hills and valleys. The death of a marriage is truly a sad thing, but it does not define your journey. My hope for you is to make good decisions, keep a cool head and never close off your heart.
Hope With Abandon