t is helpful to look at divorce and relate it to death. Divorce is the death of a marriage. Like the grief in death, someone experiencing a divorce goes through these four stages.
The first stage is shock and denial. No one wants to admit failure, and divorce is a failure in both our own and the world's eyes. Once the shock wears off, our denial begins to form.
"I can't believe this is happening to me. I didn't do anything to deserve this pain." Denial may lead to numbness, or an attempt to mask the pain by shopping, using alcohol, or anything that works for us to numb or deaden our senses.
We need to see denial as a defense mechanism and not as a weakness. We survive difficult situations by pretending they do not exist or imagining the signs are not accurate. There is both healthy and unhealthy denial.
Unhealthy denial is when a person will not admit there is a problem and so progress cannot be made. Healthy denial is when you can revisit the subject again and again a little bit at a time, until you are able to see all sides and take appropriate action.
The second stage is panic and other painful emotions. Your feelings go on an emotional roller coaster as you are pulled up and down and sideways and every other way you can be pulled. You try to figure out where everything went wrong and what your fault is in all of this.
Some people may pressure you to reconcile with your spouse. Others react with a sympathy that can be suffocating.
During this stage you will find that despair and depression constantly surround you, and you have no control on your negative emotions. Emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental areas compete for your energy. During divorce, much of your energy is channeled into your emotions. No wonder you do not have much energy to do anything else.
The third stage is beginning to establish a new identity. Negative emotions have to be dealt with productively, or they will consume the new person. Resetting expectations will help to control your anger.
You have to guard against trying to heal too quickly or trying to use a new relationship to establish your identity. Getting involved in another intimate relationship too soon is like taking Tylenol to get over a broken leg. It will take away some of the pain but will not help the wound heal.
The fourth stage comes as your recentered and calmer self begins to look at other relationships, life, emotional needs, and new goals. Happiness with life is renewed in this stage.
Remember a number of things as you work through your grief. Realize that we all experience pain in our lives. The centrality of our pain can isolate us, especially if we are men. But we can also allow it to make us to become more sensitive to pain in others in pain that may be the same or different than our own.
It is normal to hurt. But why do we hurt so much? Think of the losses - financial support, financial goals, love, companionship, friendship, confidante, fun, family, children, shared future, goals, intimacy, your identity, faith, trust, other's support.
Take solace in knowing others have survived the pain of divorce. One lady told of her husband who wanted a divorce even though they had just gotten married. It was only in sharing with her about others I knew who survived the pain of divorce that she seemed to take hope.
Your spirituality may also help you as you open up to comfort from God and your church or other caring people. Remember you may have to change churches, as your current congregation may not be able to help as you need.
You must accept that your marriage is over. Sometimes there are reconciliations, but these will not usually take place immediately. It is so tempting to try it one more time. It is too soon, and you need to work on your pain and anger. There is a reason you have decided not to stay married. These reasons will not change just because, in a weak moment, you start believing the reasons were not so important.
Understand how you may have contributed to the divorce. It takes two to tango, so usually there are some faults on both sides. It is important to also realize there may have been some good things about your marriage as well. There was something that attracted you to each other and something enjoyable about marriage itself.
I think it is important to work on being honest with what each of you brought to the relationship and what you did not bring to the relationship. There are valid reasons you were drawn together and valid reasons for your being torn asunder.
Look at this as a fresh start for you. What are some things you have been meaning to do that you have not been able to do before? What are areas in your life that have not been allowed to grow?
Take some time to recover. Look for ways you can get involved with other people, especially during times you might be affected by loneliness.
Don't sit at home in baggy pants and a t-shirt with holes in it. Counselors can offer self-assessment tools so you can embrace who you are. It's a good time to take stock in yourself and reaffirm your strengths; brush off those old dreams and goals; and remember you have so much to give to your children, yourself, and others.
Do not think you can jump right back into the dating game where you left off. Sometimes, well-meaning friends decide this is just what you need. They have the perfect person for you. Resist, and know the lasting relationships that begin after a divorce do not happen right away.
I have read it takes most people several years before they are ready to start another relationship. Remember, 65 percent of second marriages end in divorce.
This is an excellent time to reinvent who you are and what you want to do. Look for people who will bring the best out of you. Don't look for people who make you look good. Look for people who will help you become who you want to be.
Don't be tied to who you were, but decide who you want to be. Some decide they will volunteer and help others who go through divorce. Some join support groups. Research a new career. Your future is unlimited.
Forgive. Forgiveness is key to starting over. I have not ever talked to a couple where there was only one person at fault. Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself. It is setting you free from the connection and control of the other person. Share your personal experiences of forgiveness.
If you hold on to anger, you are actually holding on to the old relationship. You cannot help others, especially your children, if you don't first help yourself to heal.
Too often children are the pawns in a divorce. Some medical studies show that children in a divorce have more stress than the adults. Your first priority must always be your children. As their parents, avoid fighting with each other in front of them. You need to sit down and explain the divorce to them if you have not.
Avoid unhealthy alignments. Make the other parent look good when you can, and ignore the failures on their part.
Be wary of putting the other person down in front of the children. The children naturally resist being drawn into an adult fight.
You need to work very hard to keep the children away from the pain and hurt of your divorce. This will have a powerful influence on their future relationships.
If you follow this advice, you will find you can survive divorce, the funeral that never really ends. There is a better future for you out there just waiting to happen.