For some, divorce may feel like a liberating new beginning. For most, however, it is not so straightforward. The end of a relationship as important as a marriage brings numerous difficult emotions. Indeed, recovering from a divorce is similar to the grieving process one experiences when a loved one dies. The process typically consists of five stages: shock and denial; anger; ambivalence; depression; and recovery. Not everyone experiences these emotions in the same way or in the same order. You may move in and out of a phase more than once, even experiencing more than one phase at a time. It is a difficult and time-consuming process. Family counselors advise that it may take as long as one or two years to truly recover.
Understanding the process and the feelings you may experience will help you to grieve the relationship. It is important to allow yourself the time you need to recover from the traumatic experience of ending a marriage so that you can move on to the next phase of your life. An experienced family law attorney can provide invaluable advice and support throughout the divorce process.
Shock and Denial
When it finally becomes clear — through legal action or other confirmation — that your marriage is ending, you may experience shock and denial. The enormity of what is happening may seem like more than you can bear, and the upcoming changes may create feelings of anxiety and panic. A typical way to deal with the extreme emotions is to deny the reality of what is happening and cling to familiar routines. There is comfort in the familiar and a sense of security. Denial allows you to protect yourself from the knowledge that life will change dramatically and the feelings of fear associated with that knowledge. Denial can be an effective short-term coping mechanism as long as it does not create other problems in your life.
Feelings of anger characterize the next stage. You may be angry with yourself, your spouse, your parents, your job and everyone else around you. It is a necessary part of the process; unless it is acted out in a destructive way, it can be useful. It is not useful, however, to make the divorce process more adversarial than it needs to be. Allow yourself the time you need to move through your anger. It will help you begin to let go and put emotional distance between you and your spouse. Eventually, you will begin to think of yourself as one person, rather than one half of a couple. Until you are able to do this, it will be difficult to focus on your own needs and begin to build a new life for yourself.
The third stage, ambivalence, is what can make couples break up and get back together. Ambivalence tends to be present during most of the grieving process for people who are suffering the end of a marriage. The divorce process takes people on an emotional rollercoaster ride: depressed, excited for a new life, angry, disappointed and back again. It is normal to feel out of control and uncertain.
Depression is difficult to experience, but it can help you move beyond the past into your new life. If you allow yourself to experience loneliness and confront your role in the end of the relationship, you may then be ready to let go and move on. You may be able to stop placing blame on yourself or your spouse and lose the feelings of anger and ambivalence. Your self-esteem will begin to grow, and you will be ready for the final stage: recovery. It is important to try to maintain your focus; professional counseling has been of great assistance to many during this time.
Once you reach the recovery stage, you are feeling better about yourself. Your self-esteem may still be shaky, but you are ready to build your new life. The first step is to reestablish your social network. You may maintain the friends you enjoyed with your spouse, but often those relationships are based on the shared interests of the married couples. It could be time to find new people whose company you enjoy and who have similar needs in terms of time and activities.
Eventually, you will begin to feel like a single person and actually be comfortable as one. This is a time when you can get to know yourself and build a new identity that will guide you in making positive choices for yourself in the future.
No matter what stage you’re in, the less you have to worry about, the better. Leave the legal maneuvering to an experienced family law attorney who can support you as you evolve throughout the divorce process.