Ever heard of the stages of grief? They are usually applied to a death; but, if you’re going through a divorce, you know that death and divorce have a lot in common! They both mark the end of a life. In the case of divorce, it’s the end of married life, and the end of life together. Divorcing people also often mourn the fact that all of the dreams they had for that relationship are now over.
The stages of grief include:
Depending on how far along you are in recovering from your divorce, you may recognize that you’ve already lived through some steps, and note that you have not yet endured others. Healing will happen in your own time, and at the pace that works for you. We all have setbacks along the way; but, gradually the universe rebalances and we find ourselves out of the darkness and living life again. I promise.
Denial is not just a river in Egypt. I wish. It’s actually the lead sled dog of the divorce experience.
Let’s explore what denial looks like and what it accomplishes in the recovery process.
Denial is like anesthesia. It is for the person who is in intense pain, but can’t yet face it in a fully-conscious state. To an outsider looking in, denial is frustrating, deceiving, and a trickster.
“Why does she put up with that? Can’t she see what he’s doing?”
“It’s not that bad…”
“That would never happen to me!”
“He wouldn’t do that!”
Secretly, down deep, part of us knows we should be concerned, mad, or hysterical; but, we are unprepared to see the truth or know the answers. We are not yet strong enough to take a head-on hit of reality; so, we sit in a fog, only half seeing or knowing what’s going on around us.
Many of us probably become acquainted with denial before “divorce” is spoken. Perhaps whatever we refuse to see is the catalyst for the “D” word; or, the ball may begin rolling down the slipperiest of slopes to denial once our soon-to-be-ex drops a divorce bomb on us.
I lived in my fog of denial for the last three years of my marriage. I didn’t want to see, didn’t want to know just how bad it was. I marched through a daily routine like a mechanical woman with my emotional switch turned to numb so that I wouldn’t agonize at watching my marriage slip through my fingers.
Occasionally, I would become semi-conscious and ask myself a question such as “is this the happiest I’m ever going to be, for the rest of my life?” or “is this as good as it gets?” I would try to reassure myself that other married people I knew seemed miserable too and complained about their spouses; so, my marriage must be completely normal, and any question of that was simply ungrateful and unrealistic.
Then the anesthesiologist would turn up the volume on the gas seeping through my mask, and I would drift back into oblivion again…
Denial kept me alive and allowed me to function as a mother until I was mentally in the right state to start to analyze my situation and question it more. I wasn’t ready to consider whether I actually deserved better or if the treatment I accepted from my then husband was reasonable. By not thinking, and not feeling, I could cope and I could go on!
Denial, however, can’t last forever! A mind can’t say that numb for too long before it simply must begin to feel and think. I was on my own course of living the dysfunction of my marriage, and my ex was on his. No surprise that two people who had drifted so far apart in marriage would also face the end of it and the grief process so differently!
He took much longer to become conscious to the decline of our situation. I can’t say that I fault him for that! If someone gave of themselves entirely to me, waited on me hand and foot, and I never had to lift a finger outside of work, I imagine that I would continue to happily forge ahead for a long time ignorant to the possibility of problems outside of my peripheral vision!
My ex was thrust into the first stage of grief as I demanded his attention to our crumbling state of affairs and insisted on some action. Much like a bear stumbling out of the dark cave of winter hibernation, he clumsily staggered into the brightness of the truth staring him right in the face, and swatted at it to keep it from hurting his eyes. He didn’t want to see. He didn’t want to know. He wasn’t ready to face the truth and do something about it.
Of course, by the time he entered into anger and bargaining, I was already working my way through depression and toward acceptance. It was too little too late. The difference in the rates that two spouses may recognize and work through the healing process is part of the misconception some have about one spouse seeming to “move on so quickly.” It’s not that the spouse who completes the process and moves on first feels less, cares less, or was able to forget quickly; but, rather the fact that he or she probably became conscious first and started to grieve at that point.
I didn’t care less about my marriage or love my spouse less because I healed before he did. I began the process of grieving over two years before he did; so, naturally, I progressed through my grief before he did!
If not already, you, too, will become well-acquainted with denial. Perhaps you may already be there and are not fully conscious to the scope of your marital problems or the fact that you’re headed into divorce? Some may consider denial a pointless stage because, while we’re there, we aren’t able to fully see and understand what’s going on around us. In reality, the wheels are already turning, and denial is a caring companion who tries to shield us from pain until we’re ready to face it.