Why Divorce Feels Like a Death
Mariah thought, that once the divorce papers were signed, everything would be better and she would finally feel relief. But she didn’t. Somehow, unexpected emotions of remorse, sadness, and guilt piled on top of bitterness, resentment, and frustration intensified. Her confusion caused her to wonder if she made a mistake.
She relived the marriage and divorce desperately seeking answers as to why this happened, what went wrong, and how could things have been dealt with differently. Terrified of judgment from her supportive family and friends, she held it in and didn’t confide in anyone. But this caused her to feel even more isolated and anxious for this feeling to end.
And it will, but not today or even tomorrow. She thought the grieving process started before she filed for divorce and would end when the divorce was finalized. And it did. Then a new wave of grief emerged and the process seemed to start all over again.
It is difficult to remember that a divorce is more than the end of a marriage; it is the end of dreams, expectations, family, and friendships. When a person divorces, they are leaving behind these hopes and relationships, so it is an ending. In this way, experiencing a divorce is like experiencing a death and the process of recovery is very similar.
Denial. It might seem odd to experience denial after being divorced, however, it does occur in strange circumstances. For instance, while picking up medication at the pharmacy, the pharmacist asks if you want to pick up your spouse’s medication. Or at a favorite restaurant, the waitress asks if your spouse is joining you. It is tempting not to tell the other person about the divorce and instead pretend you are still together (which you can do but it might provide for a more awkward moment later). This is a form of denial.
Anger. This reaction is far more familiar as leading up to the divorce, most likely, this was experienced in spades. While the name of your ex might no longer provoke an immediate angry reaction, some anger will pop-up in unexpected places. Perhaps a co-worker displays the same lack of motivation that your ex did, a neighbor laughs like your ex, or your child looks and acts more and more like your ex every day. Unexpected anger towards the co-worker, neighbor, or child which has little to do with them and far more to do with whom they resemble. Stop, take a breather and recognize where the anger is coming from so it is not projected on an innocent target.
Bargaining. Once again, the questions will appear. Just when it seems like every angle has been analyzed, more uncertainty will emerge. These inquiries rehash old issues as well as new ones resulting from the divorce process. Questions like, “If only I had asked for this,” “Why didn’t I fight for that,” “I should have spent more time,” and “How come things turned out this way?” are abundant. By now, most friends and relatives are exhausted from this process and offer little answers or comfort.
Depression. No matter how easy it was to divorce, going through the holidays without your ex and the routine and traditions that you developed will be difficult. Expect to feel even more depressed between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day as this is a time of intense celebration, family activities and getting together with friends. When feeling most depressed, get out of the house and go do something. Do not sit at home thinking about last year at your ex’s family’s house and the good time you had. Instead, start new traditions this year that you have always wanted to try such as going to the mountains for Christmas or feeding the homeless on Thanksgiving.
Acceptance. At the end of a long cycle, acceptance will be reached. It is more comfortable talking about the end of the marriage without extraneous or bitter feelings. Similar to the death of a close family member, this process will take about a year to finally achieve. Your children, on the other hand, will not be on the same schedule as they will look like they have accepted it far sooner, but a couple of years later will show signs of anger and depression. Don’t be surprised by this, but expect it and anticipate getting them help if needed.
Mariah did not get married wanting to go through a divorce. She learned that divorce is hard, painful, and demands time for proper healing. By having a better understanding of your emotions and viewing divorce in the same light as a death, you will glide through the stages instead of stumbling in the dark.