“Grief is the emotional contract of divorce” ~ Cheryl Nielsen
To be honest, the range of emotions I experienced through the divorce process and after it was over took me by surprise. It’s easy to forget that divorce isn’t just a legal event, it’s a very emotional one too. No matter the reason for the marriage ending, there’s still an emotional bond between the spouses, especially when you’ve been married a long time. Getting divorced doesn’t mean you stop caring. And the feelings that surface can be unsettling and frightening because of their intensity.
At the start, I had my practical head on and wasn’t too caught up with the emotional side of things; not my usual state, usually I’m the other way around! But it didn’t take long for frustration and anger to kick in. I was hoping that we could come to an agreement as quickly as possible, mainly for the boys’ sake, and that we could remain friends. I’m sure there are those who’d say it was easy for me to want that as I was the one who’d started the process. What made me even angrier was being told (not by Neil) that I shouldn’t give in to my anger, but the anger I felt was real and I refused to ignore it.
As it became clear that our divorce was going to be a long process, other emotions pitched up. Stress and disappointment settled in for the long haul; there was exhaustion, confusion, disruption; fear of having to cope with changing finances and other circumstances; and good old depression. While we’re here, let’s not forget guilt and shame. I knew I no longer wanted to stay married to an alcoholic, that the boys were no longer prepared to put up with an alcoholic parent, but I still felt like I’d failed. I’d failed to ‘save’ my marriage; I’d failed to fulfil the promises I’d made when we got married; I’d somehow failed my culture... I know none of that makes any logical sense but, I think, that’s another part of dealing with divorce – irrational thoughts and feelings.
Through it all was an undercurrent of sadness and grief at the end of a long relationship, one I thought was going to last until death. Even though we’d grown apart, I never stopped hoping that he’d give up the alcohol and we could stay together as friends. Just because I no longer loved him as a husband, didn’t mean I didn’t still love him as a friend and the boys’ father; for me, that was enough to still stay married.
So, how do you cope with all these uncomfortable feelings?
Allow yourself to grieve. It’s true that going through a divorce is like going through a bereavement; so, grieve as you would when you lose a loved one. Realise that you are mourning a loss – the loss of your relationship, the loss of your hopes and dreams, the loss of support and lifelong companionship. There is no right or wrong way to grieve; do so in whatever way comes naturally to you. And there is no specified amount of time to grieve; it all depends on the reason for the divorce in the first place – someone who’s been betrayed will take a longer time to grieve than someone who chooses to end their marriage and does so amicably.
Acknowledge all the painful, difficult emotions that come up, like anger and confusion and fear; don’t suppress or ignore them. Identify them and work through them or they’ll just keep hanging around for longer than necessary, pulling you down and holding you back.
Talk. Don’t hide how you’re really feeling and pretend that you’re ok. Talk to friends and family, the supportive ones, or talk to a professional if you feel more comfortable doing that. Talking helps, it really does. Even if no one says anything of note, just the exercise of voicing your thoughts, knowing that someone knows how you feel, helps lessen the pain.
Keeping a journal was one thing that I found immensely helpful. There were things I didn’t feel comfortable talking about to anyone. But I could still ‘voice’ it by writing it down, getting those feelings/thoughts into the open. Writing down difficult things helped me ‘see’ certain situations better. As time went on, I could look back on what I’d written and realise that I’d moved forward.
Be good to yourself. It’s so easy to get caught up with tasks that need doing, bills that need paying, not to mention the emotional upheavals, that we forget to look after ourselves.
- Take time every day, even if it’s only for 5 or 10 minutes, to do something, especially for you, that’s soothing – going for a walk; doing absolutely nothing but listening to music; a relaxing bath; reading; meditating… whatever calms you.
- Honour yourself. Don’t agree to everything that’s asked of you; learn to say ‘no’.
- Lose yourself in attention-demanding chores when the painful emotions start to feel overwhelming – watching tv; cleaning the house; organising paperwork or your wardrobe…
- Indulge in new interests or rediscover old ones.
“Divorce is a time of change. It really rocks the foundation of most people’s lives. When we have our hearts broken or our dreams taken away from us, it is a time of growth and change” ~ Debbie Ford
The main thing to remember when you’re dealing with divorce and life afterwards – it’s about moving on and embracing your future. It’s true that you’ve had to let go of the future with that person you were committed to, but that doesn’t mean there is no other future waiting for you. It’s up to you to start envisioning new hopes and dreams for a new future.
“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tiptoe if you must, but take a step” ~ Naeem Callaway
I won’t be posting next weekend as it's Liam’s birthday. When I post again, in July, I’ll be talking about what helped me through the upheavals, emotional and otherwise.