6 Most Common Emotional Reactions To A Divorce

I went through all of these feelings.

Woman goes through common emotional reactions in divorce. Kaspars Grinvalds, raywoo | Canova

My ex-husband was a big shot in a small-town sort of way. He thrived on the attention he got; I wilted because of it. When I dropped the "d-bomb", his reaction was predictable. And when he remarried it was, as he put it, because he "had to have somebody" in his life. But what about me? How did I feel once I got what I wanted? Read on to learn the lessons I learned and the feelings you should expect if you're going through your own divorce. 


Here are the 6 most common emotional reactions to divorce:

1. Reactive

I'd put it backward: I thought that what I wanted was what I didn't have. I was reactive against the twenty-three years living in my parents' house and ten years living with him. Now I could claim every room, every closet, every wall and window. Mine alone. As the wise man says, "Be careful what you wish for."

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2. Surprise

Did I know what I was getting when I divorced? No. Looking back, I thought that because I knew I was artistic, creative, funny, and irreverent, the world would, too. Wouldn't artsy, witty characters knock on my door, wanting my company? Or even decent, intelligent guys? What lack of neural connections made me think the world automatically bent to my whims and beliefs? I hadn't yet learned that the problem of being unhappy was mine to fix


3. Isolation

Next time you're at a stop light, look who's in the car next to you. It's a couple, right? I suddenly felt that "two" was the number of the world and experienced the isolation of being an odd number. No longer a member of the "couples club," new friends were other singles like me. We talked about commonalities, like how to find a decent partner in the bar scene of men and women on the hunt.

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4. Loneliness

Sundays were the worst. Even if I slept in, too many hours were left to fill by myself. At first, old patterns, like cooking Sunday dinner, kept me company. Then I asked you-know-who to join me and soon I was stopping by the high school practice field where he was a coach, and sometimes Sunday mornings, too. I let my loneliness lead him on and I never returned. Be aware of whether you're missing your ex, or merely feeling lonely.

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5. Fear

Always ashamed of the anxiety at what the world found minuscule or unimportant, I was afraid to really go after what I wanted. The crystal ball I consulted saw disaster in my future, so I never gave my life a decent try. With no one knocking at the door, I found myself acting in my single life how I'd acted in my marriage: I was settling. Oddly, I never felt afraid to be on my own — it was doing something on my own that was the problem. 

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6. Disappointment

What I wanted and what I needed weren't there. You can't be with someone, even yourself, for that long without becoming, well, becoming. I had become a stronger, more assured woman — and more confident about my ability to make it on my own. What I hadn't counted on was things going in different directions than I'd imagined. It was true that my life was different and actually better in many, many ways. Still, the differences didn't shake my world the way I figured. The classy but killer cocktail dresses I got for the new life I'd dreamed about had the tags on them when I'd outgrown them years later. 


It's taken a lot of hindsight to figure out what has always been true: I have to work to get what I want in my life. The responsibility is mine, and externals — divorce, a move, job change — don't make any difference unless my head is in order. The feelings I experienced aren't much different than what anyone going through a life loss goes through. I give myself a lot of credit that I was courageous and autonomous enough to leave my marriage and that, tough as it got, I'd moved past it enough never even tempted to return. Divorce gives us an opportunity, and you can decide to take it or leave it. Like I said, I had the chance to make my life different and better. That's just what divorce is — a chance.  Nothing is guaranteed, so just do your best, and be gentle with yourself as you work through your many emotions. And know that, like just like a marriage, a successful divorce takes work.

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Kathe Skinner, LMFT, MA, is a marriage and family therapist who specializes in communication issues, life transitions, self-esteem, and couple's counseling.