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National Domestic Violence Hotline
In America 45-50% of first marriages end in divorce and while divorce is a fairly common occurrence, it is almost never easy. Even if the divorce is one that both partners want and is best for all concerned, involves the death of a dream and a major life change. If the end of a marriage or other primary relationship is contested or involves disputes over money or property, it becomes even more difficult. And if the relationship involves children, and especially if there are issues around child custody, the world might just feel like it’s wobbling on its axis.
Divorce creates complex emotions even if you are the one who wanted it. It is a major loss of a number of things which can explain why this process can be so painful. The types of losses and grief experienced before, during, and after the divorce are challenging under the best of circumstances and include:
- Grief over the loss of a partner and the experiences you had with your partner (even if they weren’t great experiences)
- Loss of support from your partner, be it financial, intellectual, social, or emotional
- Loss of hopes, plans, and dreams you two had shared.
Actually feeling those losses and the pain they cause can be scary and overwhelming. Some people fear that these emotions are far too intense to live with and that they will be stuck in the dark space forever. It’s important to remember that grieving – no matter what – must occur in order to begin healing. The pain of grief is what lets you let go of your relationship and move on. No matter how deeply you grieve, it doesn’t last forever.
Most people dealing with a divorce will experience three stages of emotions:
- Stage 1 – Shock, Denial, Anger, Sadness
- Stage 2 – Adjustment
- Stage 3 – Healing and Growth
Relationships with family and friends can be affected during this process, especially if you and your spouse had mutual friends or if there are many opinions surrounding your relationship. While family and friends should not be counted out entirely when considering your support network, you may want to consider additional resources to aid with the emotional impact that divorce can have on your life, such as a support group or individual therapy. Whether the end of the relationship was approaching over a long period of time or happened suddenly, it is not unusual to experience overwhelming emotions when coping with such a major life change. Professional help can be beneficial when learning new coping and/or life skills.
Ways To Handle The Grief of Divorce:
Don’t fight your feelings – It’s normal to have lots of ups and downs, and feel many conflicting emotions, including anger, resentment, sadness, relief, fear, and confusion. It’s imperative to identify and acknowledge these feelings, no matter how painful. Trying to suppress these feelings will only make the grieving of the loss worse.
Discuss your feelings – It can be a challenge to talk about your feelings with others, but it is extremely important to find a way to do so as you grieve your loss. Letting out your feelings so that another person can make you feel less alone and begin to heal. If you’re having too much trouble talking it out, go ahead and start a journal where you can write down your feelings.
Keep in mind that you’re goal is to move on – Talking about your feelings can free you a but, however it is important not to dwell on the negative feelings or to over-analyze the situation. Getting stuck in the blame game, anger, and resentment will suck your energy and prevent you from moving on.
Look to the future – When you commit to another person, there are many many hopes and dreams for a life together. After a divorce, you have to grieve the loss of those dreams, which is why it’s important to remember that this too, will pass. You may have lost the future you’d dreamed of, but eventually you’ll be okay again. Those dreams will turn into new hopes and dreams that’ll replace your old dreams.
Understand that prolonged grief can turn into depression: Emotions and grief can paralyze you after a divorce, but the sadness does eventually lift and you start moving on – little by little. If you notice that you can’t move on or begin to feel better, your grief may have become Major Depressive Disorder, which can be treated by a psychologist. Please call your doctor for any help with depression.
Why Reaching Out After Divorce is so Important:
It may scare you to reach out to others during the divorce, especially if people have taken sides, but it’s important that you not go through this alone. You may feel alone, but support from other people can ease your pain. Don’t try to do this on your own and don’t try to suppress your feelings to make others “feel better” about your divorce.
It’s NOT your job to make others feel better about the divorce – it’s really easy to put on your Game Face and try to show the world how evolved you are, especially since it puts others at ease. This is not only not your job, but it can impede your ability to try and reach out to other people.
Connect face-to-face with trusted friends and family members – Almost everyone has been through a painful breakup which can make it easier to talk to them. They’ll understand what you’re feeling, why you’re feeling that way, which can validate your feelings. You can look to these people in order to find assurances that life goes on as well as what moving on can be.This is a great opportunity to regain some of the control in your life.
Spend your time wisely – In just about every circle of family and friends, there are a few outliers: people who don’t “get it” or have chosen to take your partner’s side in the divorce. Steer clear of them. Choose wisely. The last thing you need is someone telling you that what you did was “wrong.” Choose people who support, love, and care for you as you need the lightness and positivity in your life.
Don’t feel badly about seeing someone professionally – If you can’t reach out to your friends and loved ones, or you feel as though you have none, there’s nothing wrong with seeing a counselor trained in divorce or joining a support group. You need to be where you feel free to open up. If reaching out to others.
Make new friendships – If you don’t feel as though you have friends that you can turn to, find some other people who do understand you. Write a post for The Band, Volunteer with us, hang out with people from your support group, work, or on social media.
The Divorce Process:
In most cases it’s harder to obtain a divorce than it was the marry in the first place, as legal unions have far-reaching impacts on things like government taxes, power of attorney, and health care decisions and coverage. The longer the union lasted, the more complicated the paperwork and negotiations may be in order to obtain “dissolution.” Most states have a waiting period of at least 6 months before divorces are finalized, as well.
Couples involved in separation and divorce will likely need to make decisions regarding:
- Division of belongings and/or property
- Legal representation
- Living arrangements
- Custody arrangements if you have children
- Communication with your spouse
- Paperwork – how it will be filed, who will begin the process, and changes to legal documents once the divorce is finalized
These decisions can be made independently or with professional help.
Divorces Without Legal Representation
If you and your spouse do not share property or have children, you may qualify for an annulment depending upon your state’s law and the length of the union. The annulment process is sometimes simpler than a divorce, and may cost less, so it is worth investigating your state’s laws.
Whether you choose annulment or dissolution, if the divorce is uncontested by your spouse there are many agencies that will prepare the necessary forms and paperwork for a fee based on information you provide. It is important to find out whether the agency has the forms necessary for your particular state’s laws. You may also want to ask how the agency will handle the situation if the court rejects any paperwork. Not all agencies are created equally.
Mediators: Mediation can be very useful in helping two individuals compromise on decisions regarding the divorce details, parenting plans, and/or custody agreements. Mediators do not provide advice or act as lawyers – they are neutral parties that facilitate communication between spouses. Many individuals may feel more comfortable with a mediator because unlike a lawyer, a mediator does not control paperwork or get involved in court proceedings.
Divorces Requiring Legal Representation: Your divorce may require a lawyer if you and your spouse do not agree on division of property, financial arrangements, child custody, or if there are communication difficulties. Some workplaces provide pre-paid legal services while others have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that will offer a free consultation with a lawyer (contact your Human Resources department for information). If you have financial constraints, it is a good idea to find out ahead of time how the lawyer charges for services (i.e. is there a retainer fee and, if so, how much? will the lawyer work pro bono or for a reduced fee? can the lawyer provide an estimate of overall expense? does the lawyer charge by the hour or by the amount of paperwork, and is there an estimate based on previous experience?) and what his/her caseload is like. Legal fees can quickly add up and contribute to the stress of obtaining a divorce.
Local Divorce Assistance and Information: Your local courthouse may provide a hotline or workshop to aid in finding professional assistance or filling out and filing paperwork. These resources are usually free and can be found on the state, county, or city court’s website under the Family Law section.
Self-Care During and After the Divorce:
It’s imperative that you remember the mantra of the airplane stewards: “Put on your own mask first before you help others.” You can’t help others if you can’t help yourself first. Here are some ideas for self-care before, during, and after a divorce:
Nurture thyself – Make sure to schedule time each day for things you find soothing – go for a walk, listen to music, get a massage, talk to friends, engage in hobbies (always room to develop one)
You have needs – Your needs matter to you and to others. Don’t hesitate to express your needs, no matter how different it may be from what other people want from you. Saying “NO” is okay and shouldn’t make you feel guilty or upset for doing so. Your needs matter.
New Routine – to say “divorce changes everything,” is an understatement. It can lead you to feelings of stress, chaos, and uncertainty. It may seem a little weird to start a new routine, but it does help with your feelings and increase your feelings of normalcy. If you know what your routine is, you always know what comes next.
Take a time out – Your brain may not be quite normal after a divorce, so don’t make any major life decisions for at least a few months following a divorce. You need to be less emotional and have more stability before you decide to move across country, buying a house, or getting married again.
Don’t develop an addiction – During a divorce, you may want to do ANYTHING to make the hurt, pain, and lonlienss go away. We get that. Unfortunately, using drugs, alcohol, or food to escape is not only unhealthy, it prohibits growth and grief, and is a destructive thing to invite into your mind. You’ve got to confront those feelings, not hide from them.
New Hobbies – A divorce is an ending and a beginning. You have a unique chance to start over and be the person you always wanted to be. Start trying new things, things that make you feel good about yourself. Your past is over and moving on means (in part) that you must learn to live in the moment. You’re here now, and while it sucks, you can live in the present.
Using Your Divorce to Learn From Your Mistakes:
One of the most important things you can do after a divorce or breakup is to learn from your mistakes, rather than dwelling on them for the rest of your life. No divorce is one-sided; each partner plays a role. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes before you move on.
Ask yourself (and answer and evaluate yourself honestly):
- In the big picture, how did you contribute to the problems of the relationship?
- Do you repeat the same mistakes?
- Do you consistently choose the wrong person in relationship after relationship?\Could you act in a more constructive way to your stress, conflicts, and insecurities?
- Do you accept people as they are or as you want them to be?
- Are you in control of your feelings or are they controlling you?
Ways To Help Your Kids During a Divorce:
Reassure and listen to them – make sure your kids understand that the divorce was in no way related to them. Tell them you love them always. When they talk to you, make sure you listen and validate their concerns, fears, and pain.
Keep the schedule – If at all possible, try to stabilize the daily and weekly routines for your children
Consistency – When kids spend time with each parent separately, you’re going to have to ensure that the rules for the house are the same; such as bedtime or discipline tactics
Let them rely on you – if you promise your child that you’ll be there, be there. Remember: you shouldn’t confide in your children about your feelings; you have to be the adult to them.
Leave the kids out of conflicts – don’t talk badly about your ex, don’t argue in front of the kids, don’t have them take sides, and don’t use them as spies or messengers.
Additional Divorce Resources:
Divorce Support – provides information on a range of family law topics including divorce and related topics, as well as state-specific legal information
Separated Parenting Access and Resource Center – provides information and resources for non-custodial parents
State Guidelines for Divorce – this website offers much information about divorce as well as state-by-state guidelines for divorce
Page last audited 7/2018