Posted on October 20, 2020
This blog article will provide a how-to guide covering coping with divorce, ways to cope emotionally during the different stages of divorce. This will include divorce counseling as a coping method.
Divorce is one of the most difficult decisions a person can make. It’s a stressful and unsettling event, both emotionally and logistically, when a major relationship ends. Routine, comfort, and the life you’ve known are tossed upside down in the midst of a big transition. It’s not just the detaching that happens at home, legal hoops can make it even more difficult to cope. Let’s be honest, there are really two distinct sides to the divorce process; the human emotional side and the formal legal side. The question of how to cope with divorce and everything that comes with it from divorce stress to mental health and conflicting emotions and even parenting can be answered. Different coping strategies and skills are often needed to address each of these aspects of divorce. One of these strategies could include divorce counseling and using a therapy matching service in order to make the transition as smooth as possible.
Divorce can trigger all sorts of awful feelings a person may have never before confronted. These feelings can range from mild discomfort to deep fear. Emotions will undulate through the entire process, running through grief, loneliness, depression, despair, guilt, frustration, anxiety, anger, and devastation, just to name a few.
Understandably, there is sadness and grief at the thought of the end of a significant relationship, and fear at the prospect of being single again. Coping with a major shift in financial, living and social circumstances is a slow process that is sometimes hindered with a partner's stubborn obstinacy and pettiness, abuse, or outright betrayal. There can also be guilt over perceived failures to have made the relationship work, resorting to playing a hypothetical game of “what if.”
Though it might not seem obvious, these sorts of emotions are generally natural grief-related reactions. Similar to any feelings of grief or loss, there are no cures. However, there are plenty of healthy ways to cope, lessen suffering, and even gain in wisdom, compassion and strength from having gone through a difficult experience.
Grief refers to loss of any kind; it doesn’t necessarily need to be related to death. Though a divorce can metaphorically feel like the death of a marriage. Because of this, the grieving process is a normal part of it. Grief is a natural human reaction to loss, but it isn’t a simple emotion. Grief is an instinctual emotional process that can invoke all sorts of reactions. Ultimately, when enough time passes, the loss becomes less intense and decreases in its presence in day-to-day life. Grief doesn't so much go away as it becomes irrelevant.
But, until it does, fighting grief is often counterproductive. Most of the time it is best to allow yourself to grieve in the ways that come naturally to you, at least part of the time. Everyone needs different amounts of time to move their own grief process and express themselves with different intensities of emotion depending on their personalities, and on the nature of their divorce. A marriage ending in betrayal might take longer and require more outside help with grief than a mutual, amicable separation.
No matter what event sparked the divorce, it is not realistic that grief over a lost marriage should be worked out in a month or even several months. Most people will continue to deal with the emotional effects of loss for many months, sometimes even several years.
Throughout that time, a person in the process of a divorce will most likely experience five common emotions during the divorce process. They are often referred to as the five stages of grief and they include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Naturally, these expand to more nuanced emotions that vary based on circumstances.
The party who didn’t initiate the divorce often spends a significant amount of time in the denial stage because the person who did initiate has already had time to process the separation. In certain cases, the feelings associated with unwanted divorce may be the cause in a delayed response to divorce papers but, ultimately, denial provides comfort as it allows people to distance themselves from an overwhelming reality.
Feelings of anger are typical for both parties. Whether the emotions are focused on blame, rage, or frustration, anger can be felt for both the self and spouse. Because people usually suppress their emotions while in denial, emotions unleash when they evolve to this next phase. It’s important to be patient and offer enough space to get through to the other side with little to no hostile or vindictive decisions.
The initiator of divorce is often surprised that they struggle with the bargaining stage. For those individuals, what they’re actually battling is doubt and guilt. As they weigh the odds, it leads them to question their decision and analyze the consequences. However, going back and forth during this stage is common.
No matter who wanted the divorce, depression can be one of the most difficult and longest lasting stages. After the anger has waned and the door to get back together is officially closed, this wave of reality is often overwhelming, sometimes debilitating. Divorce depression can overcome a person with negative emotions. During this phase, it’s important to lean on a support system or loved ones, and accept help when offered. For all parties affected, a trained and experienced therapist can be a worthwhile investment in long-term healing.
Most people will find what they consider peace during this phase, embracing hope for the future, though there still may be some lingering negative emotions. It’s also common at this stage to briefly revisit one of the prior stages, without becoming consumed by those feelings.
Whether the initiator or on the receiving end of divorce papers, it’s normal to experience some degree of these stages of grief and move through them at different paces.
While grief can be immobilizing at first, after a while, most grieving people decide to put the past behind them. For a time, it’s natural to be simultaneously moving on and grieving. As a practical matter, there are a number of things that people can do to help themselves cope while grieving the loss of a marriage. For instance, it’s a great step to embrace a new life living as a single person. Discovering a new identity includes physically transforming your space by packing away old photographs and mementos. In general, it’s important to confidently look forward towards the future, rather than backwards at the divorce.
If it all seems too much to handle on your own, talk therapy is a wonderful tool. Wondering what is the purpose of divorce counseling? Listening. Finding people who can and will listen and allow space to vent hurt emotions and fears and offer comforting advice often proves very helpful. Support groups are self-help meetings attended by people going through similar circumstances. Divorce support groups provide a face-to-face forum where people in different stages of adjustment to their divorce come together to educate and support one another.
However, if you prefer to seek individual professional help, psychotherapy and counseling can also be excellent options for obtaining divorce support. A qualified therapist is a trained and empathic listener with an expert understanding of how big life changes can have a ripple effect. He or she will be able to provide a safe place where the divorcing person can vent their emotions and talk about their fears, especially those feelings that are too private and intense to talk about elsewhere. He or she will also be able to provide expert guidance on managing stress, grief, and self-defeating thoughts, remaining an effective parent to your children, and rebuilding an effective life in the aftermath of divorce.
The 'chemistry' between therapist and client is important. It is often a good idea to interview one or more therapists prior to committing to work with any particular one so as to find one who feels safe and best appears to offer appropriate guidance.
Divorce is a major life event and the emotional aftermath can be extremely difficult, but it is possible to seek the support you need to find the light on the other side.
Alison LaSov, LMFT
Alison LaSov is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist with experience treating clients struggling with anxiety and depression. She predominantly focuses on mental health intervention for children and adolescents, particularly those who are in crisis. She has worked within the Los Angeles education system treating students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), as well as supervised a non-profit Teen Crisis Hotline out of Cedars-Sinai Hospital. Alison earned her B.A. from UCLA and M.A. from Pepperdine University. She is a native to Los Angeles and co-founder at Advekit.