A divorce can be very emotionally painful. The problem is that divorce and grief are rarely talked about in the same sentence. When a couple chooses to end their relationship by divorcing, it is normally because they have found that the problems in the marriage are such that they have decided divorce is the best solution. Those that provide them with their emotional support often look at the divorce as a way of eliminating the grief the marriage brought into their lives. Those outsiders sometimes fail to see that the act of divorce, and the impact it has on the couple, can lead to additional grief. That is the focus of this article.
There are many reasons that couples might choose to end their relationship. It may be a mutual decision, based on the erosion of the bond that held the couple together, or the choice of one that blindsides the other. It might be a result of financial issues, infidelity, addictive behavior, or temperament. There are innumerable reasons why a couple might end their marriage, but the ultimate reality is that it happened. The divorce may have resulted in dramatic changes in lifestyle, financial, and living conditions. Now the challenge is to deal with those feelings of grief that are often a hidden part of the aftermath.
When something is mislabeled, it often is not properly treated.
Most people associate the word grief with a death. This is a familiar association. In reality, grief and loss, in one form or another, is part of our lives on a daily basis.
Every change in our lives can bring with it feelings of grief. We do not always identify the impact as grief, but no matter the label given, it is grief. When a favorite store shutters its doors, or the road we take to work each day is closed for repairs, we might call it an annoyance. In truth, what we are calling an annoyance is really an issue of grief. The impact of that grief might be relatively minor, but it is still grief.
When a relationship ends in divorce, it brings an enormous change to our daily routine, and often to our financial and social interactions as well. There may be elements of relief, but there will surely be elements of grief. Dealing with that grief, however, can be a challenge.
Most of us receive little education on how to deal with loss in our lives. We are taught how to accumulate things, rather than how to let go of them. Often, the advice we are given includes:
- Replace The Loss
- Grieve Alone
- Grief Takes Time
- Be Strong
- Keep Busy
In reality, it is not uncommon for a newly divorced person to feel bad on some level. This is just one of the many feelings you might experience. These feelings can be intensified when others say something like, “I am surprised it lasted as long as it did!” At that point you may wonder why they did not talk to you about it sooner. You may also find yourself starting to question every action you took in the past concerning your marriage, and wonder why you stayed together as long as you did. This will certainly add to the variety of feelings you are experiencing. Just because someone gives you seemingly logical reasons why you should not be feeling whatever you are experiencing, on an emotional level, does not keep those feelings from impacting you. Grief, and the many conflicting feelings you may be experiencing, is emotional, not logical.
The concept of replacing the loss is one that is often thrust upon the newly divorced. Friends will frequently advise a newly single person that the best way to “get over it” is to start a new relationship. Even if a new “love” was the cause for the divorce, the reality of things is that it is hard to make a new relationship a success if you are still dealing with the unfinished business in the last one. You may very well find yourself hearing your old partner’s voice in the things this new person says. You may find that an innocent comment takes you back to an argument from your old marriage and you may respond as you did before. As a result, you may find yourself building an emotional wall of protection around your feelings, and share a bit less of yourself in this new relationship. That, in itself, can doom this new relationship before it has a chance to flourish.
Taking grief recovery action for yourself
If you truly want to move on and re-establish yourself as a strong individual, separate of your identity from your past marriage, it is important that you take action. Rather than relying on “short-term fixes”, you need to make a concerted effort to complete the unfinished business related to that past relationship so that it no longer controls you on any level. If you have found that you have sadness, anger, mistrust, or any number of other emotions that come to mind when you think of your former spouse, it is a sign that you have work to do in order to become complete with that which is emotionally unfinished.
There are several ways to take this action. The Grief Recovery Handbook is a step-by-step approach to dealing with unfinished business. It walks you through this process by starting with that “misinformation,” that you may have been using as a means of coping. It then helps you walk through the entire relationship, from the beginning, to identify what is emotionally incomplete for you in that relationship. Ultimately, it gives you an effective way to put voice to those feelings, and let go of that unfinished business, without analysis, criticism, or judgement. This is not something that you do by confronting your former partner, but rather by working with a trusted friend, or with a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist one-on-one or in a group. It will allow you to let go of any pain associated with that former marriage so that it does not become an underlying element of any new relationship. If you are not comfortable with this approach, for whatever reason, then you might want to look at using Moving On. This book walks you through a more independent approach to dealing with your losses. While it relies on the same steps, it allows you to approach it on a private level, rather than bringing in outsiders to help.
Why should you do this?
The reason you need to do this is for your sake! It is about your happiness. Instead of letting the past control your future, it is about giving you the opportunity to move forward with a fresh perspective. It will allow you to better say goodbye to those things that were incomplete for you in that past relationship. It will help you to say goodbye to the hopes and dreams for the future in that old relationship which will not be realized now. It will also help you moving on to say goodbye to getting something on an emotional level from someone who could not, or would not, give that kind of support.
Divorce and Children: The impact of divorce on your children
If you and your former spouse had children, it is essential that you take positive recovery action. You may no longer be married, but you will still be brought together in parenting. The fact that you have taken action to deal with the many feelings you have related to your former spouse will keep you from inadvertently venting to your children about the problems you had with their other parent. It will allow you to put their best interests first.
It will help you build a better relationship with them, rather than reinforcing any perception they might have of coming from a “broken home.” Your marriage might be broken, but there is no reason that your children should feel broken as well.
People rarely enter a marriage with the thought of a divorce looming in the future. (Those that do have already set the wheels in motion for that future divorce.) People marry with the thought in mind of spending the rest of their lives together. When a marriage fails, for whatever reasons, those dreams and expectations for that future that will never happen must be addressed. If you can successfully do this, you will be in a far better situation for entering a new and lasting relationship, if you so choose.
As we mentioned earlier, “being strong” is something that most of us learn at an early age. The best way to truly be strong is to take the best steps possible for our emotional well-being. Perhaps your decision to divorce was the first step for you in this process. The next, and best, step possible is to take action in dealing with the emotionally unfinished business in that relationship. Rather than carrying the baggage of the past will you the rest of your life, you can approach things with a fresh perspective. Ultimately, the choice is yours! You can allow others to control your happiness, or you can take back that power for yourself! If you expect the passage of time to make things better, you will be stuck where you are forever.
A closing note on divorce grief
I have known a large number of people whose exes still had amazing power, on an emotional level, over their happiness. That former spouse could still “push their buttons.” Sometimes this action was intentional. Sometimes it was just because certain comments took them back to a past memory and stirred up old emotional responses. After these people utilized The Grief Recovery Method to deal with the unfinished business in those old relationships, they found freedom from that control. They could see that ex as just another person, rather than as someone who controlled them. They often found themselves better able to enjoy their fond memories of the good things from that relationship that had been buried and forgotten due to the conflicts. They once again took control of their emotional well-being and found happiness.
I want that for you as well!
~ By Stephen Moeller, The Grief Recovery Institute Specialist