Divorce is ranked as the second-highest most stressful life event!
Whenever I raise this with anyone, the next comment is inevitable, “What’s the first?” …. To which I reply: “Death of your child”.
Then there’s usually a huge exhale.
Divorce is hard and it’s on the rise since the COVID-19 outbreak in Canada in March 2020 taking rates to as high as 60%! Most divorces had recently been most prevalent amongst those aged 50+, known as the “grey divorce”, usually related to the empty nest syndrome and the overused belief that it was better to separate once the youngest child had left home. Since COVID-19, that is changing and younger couples separating is on the rise. With the rates this high, chances are you or someone who knows has, is, or will go through a divorce.
We attract partners in ways that invite us to grow, (yes opposites do attract) but we usually resist that growth and conflicts arise and if we aren’t taking optimal care of ourselves and our relationship, those conflicts typically increase and worsen leading to a breakdown, infidelity or a disengaged “parallel” relationship. Many relationships tragically end unnecessarily at this point, because the invitations to grow were “lost “and needed resources to help were not used, creating painful upheaval for everyone.
Divorce shakes even the highest functioning among us. There is usually major uncertainty, losses (primary – the relationship and secondary- finances, properties, time with children, relationship with friends, in-laws, prized possessions, Holiday Celebrations, etc.), and loss of control, even if you are the one who initiates the separation. In my training, I’ve learned: “It’s harder to have a good divorce than a good marriage”. Dysfunctional patterns in the marriage can easily get heightened exponentially resulting in a high conflict divorce.
Divorce commonly creates levels of sadness, anxiety, fear and anger that throw us off our game and can result in poor self-care with compromised sleeping and eating and exercising routines, anxiety attacks, excessive worrying, reduced concentration, memory and focus, depression, impulsivity or stagnation, rage attacks, aggression and retaliation, or immobilization and giving up or passivity, absenteeism at work or becoming a workaholic, or the onset of chronic pain or illness symptoms.
Experts predict it takes about 2 years “to get through it”, each stage lasting different lengths of time for different people, usually depending on personality, pre-existing issues, historical factors and the degree of agreement/conflict between the two partners.
There’s usually initial shock and disbelief, as so much is changing and this creates the making of critical life incident symptoms that manifest in disruptions to our daily lives.
This stage is generally followed by independent decision making where we begin to make choices without necessarily conferring with or having a full agreement with our ex-partner as part of the “uncoupling”. This can begin to help us feel empowered.
It is later, common to “re-grieve” the relationship, with a deeper understanding of what actually played out in the relationship. Most people at this stage will begin to feel that they are moving backwards and “ back at square one” because the re-grieving is painful, but this is actually a very healthy stage because the deeper process can help us neutralize the negativity and release us from shame and blame that keep us stuck if we aren’t’ careful. This is by far, the most common stage that I see people get stuck with and can cause major delays in the legal process, worsening of psychological, mental, social and physical symptoms, misdirected grief played out again each other including the children, moving too quickly into new relationships that usually break down easily causing more pain, and the inability to let go. Getting help to neutralizing the grief is, in my opinion, the most important work to do in therapy when you are going through a divorce. Grief is not about wanting or not wanting your partner back, it’s about moving through the process of the loss towards something better for you and your family.
…and once you’re through that, you can see what the hidden message or lesson was for you within the broken relationship and are free to have a new life to be healthy for ourselves, our children and our next relationship.
So, whether you have gone, or are going through, or worry you may go through a separation and divorce, ask yourself…
Are you seeing the invitations to grow in your relationship?
Are you getting help to reduce conflicts and move on to a better stage?
Are you taking the best care of yourself that you can?
Have you made or are making healthy independent decisions?
Have you been able to understand how two good people ended up hurting each other?
Are you free to move on?
Are you still shaming yourself or blaming your partner?
All crises are opportunities to grow, what is yours?