When entering into marital bliss, nobody plans to get divorced. In fact, it's the farthest thing from mind. The union is meant to be forever - through sickness and health, better or worse, sicker or poorer. Until death do we part… Or do we?
The decision to get a divorce is a difficult and life changing one. It often comes after years of unhappiness and unending conflict. When a couple finally resigns to the idea of going separate ways, it hurts. And, it only takes one to decide it’s over.
Divorce is a death of sorts, and can initiate a ripple effect beginning with the married couple, travelling their children and families. How does one cope with the massive loss and minimize the collateral damage caused by the parting of the ways? Use these tips to recognize the emotional components of divorce; then consider developing a plan to get yourself to a better place.
Grief: Divorce can feel so sad it hurts.
It's not what you planned for yourself, nor your family. You've lost the future you were counting on and the person you thought would share it with you. This experience deserves time and attention to allow a natural, healthy grief process to unfold. Recognize your pain and work on it. Find time to cry, but also make room for your normal responsibilities. Grief counts, like a tsunami of unhappiness, but it passes and routine still demands. Children, a job, exercise and even the dog, require attention. Grief is part of life, but it need not take over your life.
"… a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness." – Carl Jung
Anger: It is a natural to feel anger as part of grief and loss.
You might feel angry at your spouse for all the reasons the marriage didn't work out. You might even want revenge. Sometimes "getting even" or "punishing" the spouse plays out in the fight over assets or child custody. Acknowledge your anger but find a way to avoid destructive behaviors. Spending excessive time and energy on it can cause more pain and negatively affect you and your family. Identify the source of the anger and adjust your semantics or expectations to make room for acceptance.
"Change your thoughts and you change your world." – Norman Vincent Peale
Fear: Uncertainty is unnerving.
There's probably a myriad of questions swirling in your head about your future. Talk to a mediator or a divorce attorney to gain the information you need to protect yourself and your children. Sometimes an ex spouse can be difficult or worse. Knowledge is empowering. Remember that things usually get better. This is not only an ending. It's a new beginning. Divorce is a difficult transition that leads to better days and happier times. It's your opportunity to create the life you want with new-found wisdom and strength. Search for what you have learned and how you have grown.
"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." – Alan Watts
Develop a Plan: Try planning your new life with everyone's best interests at heart.
Reach out to professionals with the tools and training required to help you make the best decisions possible. Mediators can be hired to create an "alternative dispute resolution" and help negotiate a settlement. Divorce attorneys can be hired to answer questions and legally execute details about assets and custody issues. Carefully consider your options.
"The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time." – Abraham Lincoln
Self Care: Continue to take care of precious cargo - You.
You need all the same rest, nutrition, exercise, and pampering as always! Go to the gym or take a yoga class. Eat healthy foods. Meet friends for lunch or after work. It's crucial to feel good in order to continue managing all your normal responsibilities. Make an extra effort to carve out "me" time. Lean on your friends and family. It's okay to ask for support and feedback about your changing life situation. If you need more support than they can provide - seek out a therapist, counselor, or coach.
Children First: If you have children, pay special attention to their emotions and needs.
Sometimes children feel responsible for the break up. Reassure them the divorce or separationis not their fault and that both parents love them very much. Don't talk negatively with or about your spouse in front of them. Spend time playing and having fun with them. Their highest priorities are love and safety. And they need to see that you are safe and happy, too!
In the words of Muhammad Ali,
"Inside of a ring or out, ain't nothing wrong with going down. It's staying down that's wrong."
Take Home Message:
Although it seems your life has been turned upside down, now it's more important than ever to take good care of yourself and your children. Find a healthy way to grieve so that you can attend to the normal responsibilities beckoning you. Find support, lean on friends, family, and professionals that can provide you with what's needed to get through these tough times.
Yet, each day that passes gets you closer to the life you want to live. Imagine the long term positive outcomes that will result from your resilience during this transition. And, continue being the best you can be! Recapture your dignity. Your children will notice...and you will feel better.
Heather Edwards, MA, LMHC is a therapist and life coach located in New York City. She can be reached for consultation at:
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