Dealing with the feelings of divorce.
Feelings associated with the divorce process
Firstly it is important to consider that no one gets married with the intention of getting divorced. Rather, one has an expectation, a picture or dream, of spending the rest of your life with your loved one whilst sharing life’s demands as you grow old together. When a marriage ends, by implication, these expectations and dreams are destroyed along with it. We can therefore compare this to the reaction of loss which is associated with grief, as would be in the case of the death of a loved one or the loss of work.The process of grief or loss has various phases and in the case of divorce, these phases can be explained along the following guidelines:
- Shock: the unavoidable realisation of the divorce. This stage usually includes physical symptoms of, amongst others, nausea, sleeplessness, loss of appetite, etc.
- Disbelief: “this can’t be happening to us, we use to be so happy”
- Denial: “this is not true, everything will be alright again”
- Negotiation: “Lord, please bring him back home, if you do, I will attend church services each Sunday”
- Rational or irrational feelings of guilt and resentment of the self: “I should have been a better wife and not complained as much”
- Anger: “How dare he leave us after all that I have sacrificed for him?”
- Sadness: “Will I ever be able to stop crying?” If this phase is not dealt with appropriately and the emotional pain does not subside, depression can follow, which includes feelings of helplessness, feeling physically and emotionally numb and also hopelessness.
- Adjustment: eventually the phase of adjustment is reached, although any of these mentioned phases can reoccur, to a lesser degree, during specific times or significant events, for example, the children’s birthdays, Christmas, etc. Adjustment can be compared to a person who has lost a limb, but who still can adapt to his or her present life and function at a high level. This creates a feeling of “I can still be happy, even if....” The sun rises and the sun sets, despite our loss of dreams, relationships or life expectations.
It is however important to remember that various factors influence these phases, to a lesser or greater degree. Examples of these variables include the expectancy or non-expectancy of the divorce, a chronic dysfunctional marital relationship or a sudden situation (becoming aware of other relationships) as well as the value given to the institution of marriage, by either or both parties. It also needs to be taken into consideration that each individual has a unique reaction to the grief process. Not all people going through a divorce necessarily experience each and every phase; the duration of the phases may vary, the intensity and order can differ and the total length of the grief process differs from one person to the next (on average, the process lasts between 6 months to 2 years).
In conclusion it can be said that the grief process linked to a divorce is characterised by certain phases, yet it is still experienced individually and therefore remains unique. The most important thing however, is that there is hope for a fresh start, just as the sun rises to remind us of a new dawn breaking.... so our life will start again, in its own time.
The author: Dr Amanda Kotze-Streicher is a clinical social worker in private practice. She specialises in Marriage and Divorce counselling, Trauma and Psychiatry (aspects related to Mood disorders, which include depression and anxiety). She can be reached at 082 6935 863.
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