When you lose a loved one, you expect to experience grief and those around you expect it too and offer comfort. However, many people do not realize that you also go through grief after a divorce. Even if you are the one who wanted the divorce, this does not mean you do not grieve. You mourn the death of your marriage and the loss of the life you had imagined.
When you grieve, you allow yourself to feel the full weight of what’s happened but it also makes room for you to begin healing. It sets the stage for moving forward and embracing life once more.
Factors such as how happy you were in the marriage, whether your partner was unfaithful and your own personality play a part in how long you take to get through the grieving process and move forward after divorce. It always seems to take longer than you think it should but you cannot be impatient.
Divorce and the grieving process
In 1969 Elisabeth Kubler-Ross introduced the idea that there were five stages of grief. She was a psychiatrist who studied terminally ill patients but the stages she introduced can be applied to any type of loss, including divorce.
This stage may exist long before your marriage is over. You may try to tough it out, believing that it will improve. You cling on to the hope that somehow you will get through the difficulties and your previous good relationship will be restored. It is perfectly normal to refuse to accept that your marriage is over. You do not want to face facts because you cannot face the pain that comes with them. You may have believed you would always be together and it was only death that would part you. It is hard to adjust to a different reality and accept what has taken place. Denial is a coping mechanism to help you from becoming completely overwhelmed but you need to move beyond it and face facts.
Anger is often a very strong emotion during and after divorce. The situation that led to the divorce affects your level of anger and how you express it. If your ex had an affair, for example, you might feel intense anger towards him and the other woman. However, even if no other person was involved, you may be angry with your spouse for many other reasons – financial problems, addiction problems or simply for not loving you anymore.
Your anger may even be directed towards yourself – you blame yourself for not doing enough to save your marriage or for not seeing the writing on the wall early enough. If there are children involved, you may feel intensely angry because of the way they are affected by the divorce.
“Make this not happen and in return I will …” is the basis of this phase. It is an attempt to put on the brakes and get your ‘life’ back no matter what you have to do.
Your head is full of confusing thoughts as you lie in bed trying to get to sleep and after a restless night you wake up feeling as tired as when you went to bed. All you want to do is to pull the sheets over your head and stay in bed so that you do not have to face your new reality.
You may be filled with a deep sadness too, thinking about the fact that your marriage vows obviously did not mean as much to your spouse as they did to you. You may be sad about the death of the love you used to have for one another. You may feel a terrible sadness about what the divorce has done to your children.
Your circumstances change when you go through a divorce and this can also add to your depression. You may have to move home, get a job or live alone for the first time. It is hard to adjust to being single again, especially if you have been married for many years. The routines you are familiar with are disrupted and have not yet been replaced by others.
Acceptance comes when you face the fact that your marriage is over and that there is no chance of reconciliation. When you are ready to let go of your hopes for a shared future, you are ready to move on. You can face life squarely in the face again and start carving out your future without thinking about your past all the time. Even when you have reached this point, there will still be days when you feel angry, guilty and sad. However, as time goes by, these emotions have less power over you.
5 common myths about grief
Myth 1: Pain goes away if you bury it and pretend it does not exist. You need to put on a brave face and be strong.
Truth: Suppression of grief can be an obstacle to healing. If you want healing, you need to give yourself permission to grieve. In some cultures you are expected to keep your emotions to yourself, keep your chin up and carry on with your life as though nothing has happened. Grief is an experience that changes you irrevocably and allowing yourself to experience it instead of fighting against it, helps you to heal.
Myth 2: You feel the pain of grief for a certain period and then you ‘get over’ it.
Truth: There is no time frame for grief and no ‘quick fix’. The time it takes is different for each person and it will never go away completely. Instead, you become reconciled to your loss. The pangs of grief lessen and you are able to face your new reality and a different future to the one you expected or imagined.
Myth 3: There are stages to grief. You move through these stages until you finally reach acceptance.
Truth: Elizabeth Kubler-Ross never meant for the five stages to be applied in a linear way. Grief is unpredictable and trying to fit it into neat boxes or stages is a mistake. You may even experience anger and sadness one day and then feel depressed for the next while. It’s a bit like being on an emotional rollercoaster.
Myth 4: Everyone grieves in the same way.
Truth: Everyone experiences similar emotions but they do not necessarily show them in the same way. Our unique personalities and life experiences, the type of loss we have experienced and even our religious and cultural backgrounds all contribute to how we express grief.
Myth 5: Crying and other outward expressions of mourning show weakness.
Truth: Crying is a healthy response. If you do not cry, it does not mean you are not grieving but you should not suppress your tears because you regard them as a sign of weakness . Some people want to talk about their grief and others prefer to remain silent. However, your motivation for keeping silent should not be because you do not want to be thought of as weak and needy. Mourning or the outward expression of grief is often important on the road towards recovery. Acknowledge your pain and don’t hold back your tears.
Allow yourself time to grieve and to process all your feelings of anger, hurt, betrayal, sadness and confusion. If you don’t, you will have a hard time trying to move forward. As you go through the grieving process, you reach a point where you find you are ready to embrace life again. You are ready to accept the fact that there is life after divorce and that there is another chapter to your life. Reaching that point is an important step in the process of dealing with the past and paving the way for your future.