Divorce is said to be one of the most profoundly painful experiences that a human being can survive. It's often tied to a profound fear that the pain will never end. It's been compared to the stages of death because the experience is often one of not only losing your marriage, but also, yourself. It reaches out and changes not only the couple, but also the children, family, friends, business associates, and overall community that make up the interwoven support system of the couple. As a marriage and family therapist and a divorce survivor, this article comes from firsthand personal and professional experience with divorce recovery. Study: Women Gain Weight After Marriage, Men After Divorce
There is no right way to grieve.
According to Fredda Wasserman, Clinical Director of Adult Programs and Education at Our House Grief Support Center, "Absolutely nobody grieves correctly, according to everybody else." Similar to other types of grief experiences, the death of a marriage is not just a moment in time, but a process that is filled with many different feelings. Grief is not linear! In other words, you cannot just pass through the stages of shock, denial, anger, and acceptance in a well-defined order. Divorce, like grief, is chaotic and circular, with the stages changing daily or moment-to-moment.
It is normal for the initial stage and the first emotion to be one of shock. Psychological shock in response to an event or situation can cause great distress and disruption in our lives. People react differently to shock. Some turn inward and retreat socially, withdrawing from friends and social contacts. "Psychological runners" ,as they are called, might have a difficult time acknowledging that this is really happening. Other people might reach out and spend time telling anyone who will listen every detail of how they have been hurt in their divorce. This becomes the "story" that they use to define them from this point forward while they are grieving. They might increase their social interactions and create even more chaos in order to numb the pain and reality of this experience. Interspersed with shock comes the denial and anger.
When my husband left me suddenly during the holiday season, there seemed to be no warning. After the initial shock, my grief experience was one of intense anger woven together with denial, guilt, shame, and a loss of my identity as a wife. It is normal to experience depression during the initial stages of a divorce. A marriage is a support system that helps define us in the world. With the loss of a marriage, our world is suddenly smaller. We not only lose our partner, but also might find that our social system is shrinking. Loss of family members and friends can force us to redefine our sense of how we identify ourselves in the world. This "letting go" of the world we knew can have a profound influence on our sense of security. The inability to accept these sudden changes can challenge even the most positive individuals.
How long will the sadness last?