Written by Drs. Evelyn and Paul Moschetta of Mid-town Manhattan
Social researchers have told us that death of a spouse and divorce are two of the most stressful life events humans have to endure. In fact, if you are the person being left divorce can feel just like a death and knowing how to best mourn the loss is essential.
Here are 8 steps to ease the pain of divorce:
1. Don’t censor your feelings. Divorce is felt emotionally as a loss and that loss has to be fully experienced. Feeling hopeless, afraid and vulnerable are common, so are feelings of anger, rage and self-loathing. You might feel sure that you will not be able to survive what is about to happen to you. These are familiar reactions to the trauma of divorce. Feel all your feelings fully. They will run their course if you don’t push them down inside you. Remember, feeling feelings is not the same as acting on them. It’s a good idea to write down angry feelings in a letter and then put it safely away in a desk draw. Acting out angry feelings in destructive ways is never acceptable and only brings more pain into your life.
2. See your doctor. You may need a mild tranquilizer to get you through the immediate pain so you can continue to meet family and/or work responsibilities. The strong feelings you’ll be experiencing are draining emotionally and physically. Do not allow your health to suffer at a time when you need to be thinking clearly. Temporary medication can help you sleep restfully rather than tossing and turning and waking up exhausted.
3. Be careful not to idealize your marriage or your partner. Divorce is a stark indication that your marriage and/or partner had serious problems. Watch your tendency to look back and only see the best times and only remember the good things about your former partner. Force yourself to be more objective. Make a list of the ways your marriage and your partner hurt and disappointed you. Reread it often.
4. Welcome the support of friends and family. Life traumas are made more tolerable by the warmth and encouragement of those who truly care about you. Do not shut them out because you are feeling self-consciously bereft. Love indeed is the best medicine; seek out people you can count on to ease your pain even if the relief is temporary at first.
5. Don’t give in to self blame. Blaming yourself for a relationship ending is simply giving yourself too much power. You could not have done it alone. You are only entitled to half the responsibility. Believing you could have saved things if you had been different in some way (more sexy, kept a better house, made more money or spent less time with family or friends or worked less or argued less etc.) is wishful thinking. Relationships are never this simple. Whenever you start blaming yourself and feeling guilty ask yourself what your partner might have done differently to make the relationship work better. Again, make a list of the ways your partner did not come through for you and your marriage.
6. Don’t awfulize, deal with the present not the future. Watch for your tendency to project all your fears, doubts and insecurities into the future and make yourself more scared and depressed. Thoughts like “I’ll never get over this,” “I’ll never be happy again,” “I can’t go on alone,” “I’ll never meet anyone else,” come up whenever you look ahead from a fearful, insecure state of mind. This is called awfulizing. It weakens you. When these thoughts come up let them pass through you like a cold chill, do not dwell on or cling to them. Get busy in the present moment doing something that needs to be done for yourself or another who needs your attention.
7. Get good legal advice. Finding a competent matrimonial attorney will be one of the first tasks you will have to focus on. Take it seriously. If you need to, get someone to help you with this. It will get you out of your head and into the reality of your situation. Ask family and friends for referrals, gather attorney information, have all your personal and financial information ready. This is good practice for taking care of yourself and moving positively forward.
8. Remember, under stress we regress. Be careful not to regress back to old self-destructive or sabotaging behaviors. With all your strength stay adult. Take good care of yourself so you can be there for those who need you. Do not take on any new or additional projects at this time which might add more stress. Find ways to relax, and to welcome whenever and wherever possible new healthy ways
to bring some joy into your life.
9. Reassessment and renewal. Don’t allow being divorced to define who you are. Do not make getting divorced a life project, a way to get revenge or to feel superior. Just reasonably protect your interests and move on. This is a time for reassessment and renewal. When you feel ready find some interest you are passionate about and pursue it to wherever it leads you. It doesn’t matter what it is, volunteering in an animal clinic, taking up golf or gardening or starting a new business. What matters is the care you put into it and the people it brings you in contact with.