I covered grieving in Episode 2 but I wanted to come back to it because grieving is a process. It’s not something that you deal with and then move on. You will continue to be thrust back into the grieving cycle as you identify new losses.
A few weeks ago I shared how I was blindsided by emotions when my son was facing anxiety attacks. Nine years after my divorce this brought back feelings of failure and responsibility because he didn’t have an intact two-parent home. I briefly felt angry toward my ex-wife for making poor decisions nine years ago, but it didn’t last very long. In turned out the anxiety was most likely a reaction to an albuterol inhaler my son was taking for some breathing difficulty and not a psychological issue at all. The key point is that even after nine years events can trigger an emotional response in me that puts me back in the grieving process.
While we often associate grieving with death, dictionary.com defines grief as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss; sharp sorrow; painful regret”. Divorce involves all of these: affliction, loss, sorrow, and regret. That is why the hurt of divorce is so great, we are not just dealing with one cause of grief, but all of them.
Overcoming grief is a process. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross proposed that the grieving process consists of 5 steps: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. The grieving process moves from denial to acceptance but there can be a lot of moving between steps on the way. You may be bargaining for your spouse to reconsider one day and so angry you wouldn’t think of taking them back the next.
So now let’s look at the 5 steps.
Denial is the first step because we usually find ourselves in denial when faced with a major loss. When we lose a loved one to death, it takes awhile for it to sink in that they are really gone. The same is true with divorce. When we are faced with the prospect of divorce we will often be in denial for quite a while. We can think that our ex will come to their senses and either cancel the divorce process or change the behavior that is making us contemplate divorce. But eventually the denial ends and we move on to anger.
Anger is usually the second step in the grieving process. After we come to grips with the fact that a divorce is inevitable we become angry. We may feel anger at our spouse, angry at ourselves, anger at God, anger at family or friends. The ways anger can be directed are almost limitless, but I don’t know of anyone who comes through a divorce without being angry at some point. There is a great danger in getting stuck in this phase and becoming bitter.
The next step is often bargaining. This is where we are getting over the initial anger and we just want things to be back to “normal” and we are willing to do just about anything to stop the divorce. This when we make statements like “If you’ll come back home I will _____” . I was in the bargaining phase for quite a while. I thought I could stop the divorce but it just wasn’t meant to be. Now there are instances where your ex has done something that is so bad in your eyes that you never enter the bargaining phase. For many this is infidelity, but other things such as drug use, alcoholism, abuse, etc. can also prevent you from having any desire to save the marriage.
Depression is next on the list and most people will experience some sort of depression during the divorce process. It may be just a bad case of the blues or it may be a serious depression that requires medical attention. You may find that all you want to do is sleep or you may have difficulty focusing at work. Depression effects many areas of our lives including our health, relationships, work, etc. If you find yourself stuck in depression, please seek medical help.
After we have worked our way through the first four steps we finally reach acceptance. This is the goal for everyone but there isn’t a definite time it takes to reach acceptance. The greatest factor in how long it takes to reach acceptance is how long you were married. It can take as long as one year of grieving for every three years of marriage. I was married for 13 years and it took me five years to work through all of the issues from my divorce.
Identifying Your Losses.
Unfortunately the grieving process is not as simple as working your way through the five steps and your done. When you divorce, there are many things that will need to be grieved and each one of these requires you to work your way through the process. You are initially faced with the loss of your marriage but you will soon identify many other things that need to be grieved, such as:
- Loss of a companion
- Loss of a dream
- Loss of pride
- Loss of financial security
- Loss of a co-parent
- Loss of insurance
- Loss of your home
- Regret for things you might have done
- Regret for things you didn’t do
As you encounter each new loss, regret, or sorrow you start the grieving process over for that particular cause of grief. You may find that you are discovering new things to grieve for several years after the divorce. This is normal. You don’t expect someone who has lost a spouse to death to snap back immediately and be as good as new so don’t expect that after divorce.
My Ex Is So Cold
One thing that is common to hear from people who are surprised by divorce is that their ex or soon-to-be ex is cold and unfeeling about the divorce. This if often because they started their grieving process months or even years earlier and have reached the point of acceptance for the loss the marriage before telling you they wanted a divorce. You are just starting the process so the pain is fresh. This doesn’t mean they won’t experience any grief during the process. They will. They will be surprised by losses and regrets that they weren’t expecting and they will experience the grieving process for those, but they have already accepted that the marriage is over
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