Riding the Ride: How to Recognize and Manage Your Emotions Through Divorce
Some decisions are really easy to make – What will I have for breakfast? What TV show do I want to watch? What time do I need to get up in the morning? Other decisions, like whether or not divorce is the correct path for you to take, can be agonizing.
Let’s begin by focusing on the person who is contemplating whether or not to divorce – the leaver.
Usually, the leaver is unhappy in the marriage and hasn’t been able to effectively communicate what changes they want to occur in the marriage. They may have tried therapy – either individual or couples. They may have tried some form of medication like anti-depressants or alcohol or even food. They may have tried distraction – an all-consuming hobby, focusing on the children, focusing on work. Yet everything they’ve tried just isn’t working and they’re still unhappy in their marriage. They may also have tried nothing because they didn’t believe they had options.
On the other hand, perhaps the leaver has been able to communicate EXACTLY what they’d like to be different in their marriage yet their spouse isn’t willing or isn’t able to make the requested changes. When this is the case, the leaver often feels powerless and unimportant in their marriage.
Leavers often experience frustration, low esteem and guilt. Along with these emotions can come a sense of hopelessness of not knowing what else to do and a sense of having tried everything to make their marriage work – even if their spouse has no idea of what they’ve tried. They usually don’t think that well of themselves because they feel like a failure at having the marriage they want. They often recognize the commitment they made when they married their spouse and feel guilty that they are contemplating divorce. In fact, it’s not unusual for someone who has a lot of guilt feelings about contemplating divorce and who can’t see or imagine any way to ever be happy again to do something, like have an affair, that somehow makes it “acceptable” or “right” to get divorced. This something that they do may or may not be done consciously or with pre-meditated intent.
Now let’s talk a bit about the partner being left. When a spouse learns that their partner wants a divorce, the first emotions experienced are usually shock and denial. This is especially true when “the” conversation or “the” decision comes as a surprise. “How can this be happening?” “They can’t be serious. Can they?” “This has got to be some kind of a cruel joke!” These are the types of thoughts that run through their minds over and over again as they try to make some sense of what’s happening. Shock and denial are protective emotions. They keep us from having to deal with too much at any one time. The thing about these protective emotions though is that we can get stuck in them and avoid facing the reality of “the” conversation instead of participating in it.
However, choosing to participate in “the” conversation doesn’t make everything all better. Once the partner being left begins participating, the next two emotions most commonly experienced by both partners are anger and fear. Their worlds are on the verge of completely changing in ways they never expected and the changes are often both maddening and frightening.
The interesting thing about all these emotions is that both the leaver and the left can experience a rapid shifting of their emotions and can at times feel very unlike themselves. They can be angry one minute and experiencing overwhelming sadness the next. These shifting emotions are often the result of hormone levels that vary in response to the added stressors of “the” conversation or decision. These varying hormone levels often cause difficulty doing the things they used to be able to easily do. For example, if you’re usually a very organized and task oriented parson, when you’re going through the emotional ups and downs of divorce, it’s fairly common to experience a sense of disorganization and not being able to get the things done you used to get done.
Recognizing the different emotions you experience during divorce regardless of whether you are the leaver of the one being left is critical to being able to manage your expectations of yourself and your spouse. Most people notice that they are not as efficient or capable while going through divorce. If this is the case for you, as it was for me, please take this into account and go easy on yourself. Be sure and schedule time every day to relax and nurture yourself. I promise it will be time well spent and enable you to get back to being you that much more quickly!
Your Functional Divorce Assignment:
Are you the leaver or the one being left? Get real with yourself here. I know it took me a while to realize that I had felt that I was left in my marriage before I ever started thinking about leaving it. Most people discover that the beginnings of the end of the marriage happened long before “the” conversation or decision happens.
What are the emotions you’re experiencing now? Which emotions are you experiencing most often at this point in your divorce process? How are they impacting your life? What can you do to acknowledge the emotions AND move forward?
Be kind to yourself. Going through divorce is a big change and one of the most stressful life experiences you can have. Be sure and take care of yourself emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Be willing to ask for help. Often talking with a neutral 3rd party can help put your emotions in perspective and develop means for working through them.
Guest post from one of our favorite divorce coaches- Karen Finn, Ph.D.
Karen Finn, Ph.D. is a divorce coach and the owner of The Functional Divorce in Keller, Texas. She specializes in working with divorcing or recently divorced individuals who want to successfully navigate the confusion and uncertainty that usually comes with divorce. Karen helps her clients manage and work through the five facets of divorce to reduce their stress, find happiness again and rediscover the best of themselves.