Divorces happen for many reasons. Sometimes spouses mutually agree to end a marriage, and other times one initiates the divorce. In either case, parties to a divorce will each have to make numerous financial and practical decisions, while managing their own emotional responses to the divorce. When super-star, singer-songwriter Adele initiated divorce proceedings, even she was surprised at the emotions she experienced.
During an interview with Oprah, Adele admitted to feeling embarrassed and not wanting others to know she had decided to divorce her spouse and father of her child. Adele said she had been “obsessed with a nuclear family” and “took marriage very seriously” because she had grown up without one. Adele was afraid the public would see her as “disrespecting [marriage] by getting married and divorced so quickly” and was “embarrassed that [she] didn’t make [her] marriage work.” Rolling Stone reported that Adele engaged in new activities to manage the up-and-down of her divorce anxiety, trying hiking, climbing, writing, and working out, while also forgoing alcohol for a time. While most people experiencing divorce lack Adele’s music-celebrity status, they may also struggle with their emotions during divorce.
Why grieving your divorce is normal
Like Adele, people facing divorce may have to cope with emotions capable of interfering with their attention to the divorce. If you are undergoing a divorce, you should be prepared to recognize these emotions, have a plan to cope with them, and consider engaging experienced divorce attorneys to advise and represent you through the divorce process.
Since grief is a normal response to loss, many people dealing with divorce experience stages of grief similar to those experienced when a loved one dies, including denial, shock, uneven or rollercoaster emotions, bargaining, letting go, and accepting. Although not everyone experiences each stage or follows the same progression of feelings, the stages of grief may disrupt a person’s ability to handle the important issues during a divorce. Those experiencing the stage of denial may have trouble believing the marriage is ending and avoid dealing with the issue. Those in the shock stage might experience numbness, anger, or rage which may disrupt progress or decision making or create a “high conflict” divorce situation. In fact, Psychology Today explains that grief often appears as anger or self-righteousness. The rollercoaster stage is marked by swinging back and forth between hopefulness and despair about the marriage, and during bargaining, people may attempt to institute changes to save the marriage. Both stages may be destructive to working through the divorce. The stage of letting go is marked by recognition that the marriage is over, and in acceptance the person begins to let go of the pain of divorce and see the possibility of a future life without the former marriage, but since the stages may not be stable or occur in order, they do not promise an environment for sound decision making.
Rather than viewing emotions through the stages of grief, some therapists see emotions involved in divorce through the framework of trauma, considering grief one product of divorce trauma. As one article puts it, since the end of a marriage can feel “like a threat to existence,” the brain may react to divorce the same way it reacts to physical trauma, and signal stress hormones to flood the body. As the stress hormones prepare the body to prepare to survive by either fighting, fleeing (running), or freezing (holding still), “the emotional brain hijacks the thinking brain.” The person living in this state of divorce trauma may experience the emotions of grief, rage, depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, and powerlessness, or feel moody and irritable. Someone living in trauma also may have trouble eating, sleeping, and focusing on daily tasks, or handling the minor stresses of daily life. The person going through divorce trauma may lose faith in the future or their abilities, worry about their children, feel undeserving of love and unsafe, and isolate or contemplate suicide. These trauma responses also may interfere with the person’s ability to make the numerous financial and practical decisions involved in working through a divorce. Since those decisions shape the person’s post-divorce life, those decisions should be made with sound thinking and are too important to delay or ignore.
How can I cope with emotions associated with grief or trauma in divorce?
Whether seen as part of a grief or a trauma response, people involved in divorce need to be able to cope with their emotions so they may take care of themselves and more fully engage in the important divorce process. If you are experiencing these kinds of emotions, like Adele, you will need to research and discover the best way to manage your emotions, and might look into several coping strategies that are often recommended, including
- Acknowledging your emotional state,
- Tapping into your support network, or seeking out counseling or a support group, and avoiding isolation,
- Caring for yourself by eating and sleeping regularly, and following your
- Regular daily work routine,
- Trying new, relaxing, or healthy activities you might enjoy like meditation, yoga, painting, swimming, dance, going to the gym, or volunteering,
- Getting outside daily for a walk,
- Avoiding unhealthy habits, like smoking, drinking or drugs,
- Avoiding conflict with your soon to be ex-spouse and keeping friends and children out of spousal disagreements, and
- Not making other major life changes.
In addition to coping with your emotions, when faced with a divorce you will need experienced Columbia legal representatives to guide you through your divorce and help you with divorce planning.
If you are considering a divorce or coping with divorce because a spouse has raised the issue, consider retaining the services of the Columbia family law attorneys at McCabe Russell, PA to assist you and protect your interests. You can set up a consultation with a member of our team today by calling 443.917.3347 or reach out to us through our contact form. We will meet with you to talk about your situation and divorce process. We also maintain offices in Bethesda, Rockville, and Fulton.