How to Survive Your Grief During Divorce
The feelings experienced during divorce could be compared to riding a rickety old roller coaster – you jump on board (sometimes unwillingly) and feel your life passing by at high speed – up, down and around again. Some days you feel like you are hanging upside down watching the world go past below, while other days it feels like things are falling into place (only to find yourself back upside down again a few moments later!)
There is no one right way to grieve the end of a marriage but if there was one right thing to do, it would be to grieve. If you allow yourself to move through the stages of grief you will allow yourself the best chance of finding your heart again at the end. If you stop yourself from grieving, pretend things are ok when they are not, it will take so much longer for the pain to pass.
The Swiss American Psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, was the first to propose that there are five stages of grief commonly experienced by us as we adjust to significant loss, these being:
We can experience these stages of grief in any order and sometimes over and over again. Chances are if you have or are experiencing the breakdown of a significant relationship, you will have experienced these feelings at some stage.
A person in denial will just stick their head in the sand and pretend nothing has happened. They will say things like “he will come to his senses”! Denial is sometimes a comfortable place to start, particularly if your divorce comes as a shock, but you want to keep moving as it is not a healthy place to stay.
Someone in anger can be a little scarier to deal with. It is perhaps the easiest emotion to identify but is expressed by different people in different ways. Some of us simmer in anger and others will yell and scream. At the end of a relationship, anger is often expressed by us telling every man (and his dog) that might listen just how terrible our ex-partner is. We might also fall into the trap of sending hateful emails and texts and should probably avoid the dreaded Friday night on Facebook with a bottle of wine as it can only end badly!
Bargaining and denial are often experienced hand in hand. We might promise, threaten or negotiate with our spouse in an attempt to get the relationship back on track. At this stage we are looking for any possible way through, using almost any means to preserve our relationship.
Depression is often associated with a feeling of hopelessness- the overall feeling that things will never be good again. Like anger, depression is expressed differently by different people. It might be that you just want to lie in bed all day- one of those ‘Bridget Jones’ moments with lots of tissues, a dark room and a television. Some of us experience depression physically, with a loss of appetite, loss of sleep or generally with a sense of feeling ‘down’. This stage is perhaps the most difficult as if you allow the sense of hopelessness to take hold, it can be very difficult to know how to lift yourself out of that state.
Acceptance is said to be the final stage of grief and is about accepting the end of your relationship and coming to terms with the loss. This does not mean that you are suddenly jumping around with glee, fist pumping Tom Cruise style, more that you have reached a sense of peace and can start to look back on your relationship and see the good bits, not just the bad. This stage of letting go of the relationship may seem like it will never come and then suddenly one day you will realise you are there. It occurs bit by bit and you may not even notice it happening, but you sure will feel better once you get there.
When you have two people who are each experiencing grief about the same event and they hold the other somehow responsible for their part in the failed relationship, we have a melting pot of grief just waiting to explode. It can be so difficult when you are grieving yourself to contain your actions but if you can, it will hold you and your family in good stead for the future.
Whether the end of your relationship was your choice or it has been imposed upon you, it is often no harder or easier. Either way you will feel a gambit of difficult emotions. Decisions that are made when you are in this challenging state are often not well considered and can be regretted at a later stage. Expect to have days when you are feeling on top of the world only to wake the next day feeling like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Like a lot of things in life, it will feel like two steps forward, three steps back. Remind yourself of this- set small and achievable goals, day by day or week by week. Find things to look forward to- a holiday, a dinner out, a new hobby – just something that you know you will enjoy that can sit as a good thing to look forward to.
Perhaps most of all maintain a positive outlook- this takes courage and you will need buckets of courage to get through your divorce. A dear friend shared with me her experience of divorce and she put it so eloquently when she said to me ‘When life gives you lemons, make margaritas!’.
We never know what is around the corner in life and sometimes all you can do is pick your socks up and keep going, no matter how hard it feels at the time. If you can look to the future, not the past and start to plan your life after your divorce, it will help you and your family move through your separation and out the other side as smoothly as possible.
Clarissa Rayward is a family lawyer, wife and mum who is passionate about relationships, people and family. Clarissa uses her industry knowledge and skill to change the way Australian families experience divorce and separation. She is known as ‘The Happy Family Lawyer’ as she believes that your divorce can be a part of your marriage you can look back on with pride. She is the author of the successful ‘Happy Family Lawyer’ blog, providing weekly commentary and tips on issues relating to divorce. She has also started an online education series ensuring separating families all over Australia can share in her knowledge on how to experience a dignified and positive divorce. Clarissa is also about to publish her book Splitsville – How to separate, stay out of Court and stay friends.