If you are going through a divorce, or recently divorced, and you are not both angry and sad, I want to know why. No matter the circumstances, you should be angry AND sad! More than likely you are going to feel one way or the other or both for a very long time. And that is OK. It is normal.
Don’t listen to people who tell you, “You need to get over it.” Don’t listen to people who say “Time heals all wounds,” or, “You’re better off,” or, “Thank goodness he’s out of your life,” or even, “Don’t worry, you’ll find someone else.” They mean well, but grief, anger, and sadness are personal.
Everyone feels those things differently. It is not healthy to keep anger and sadness bottled up. Get them out and deal with them. That is called recovery. There are no short cuts to divorce recovery, no formula, no right or wrong way to feel. It’s only important that you feel, and that you deal with those feelings.
Many people equate divorce with death. The end of a marriage is a kind of death and you should (unashamedly) mourn accordingly for however long you need. In 1969, Elizabeth Kuber-Ross wrote her famous book, “On Death and Dying.” Still today, people counsel those going through loss, death, and even divorce, to understand the five stages of grief Kubler-Ross wrote about. You will be going through these stages.
The Five Stages of Grief:
Many times the signs of impending divorce are there and we just refuse to see them. Even when confronted with irrefutable evidence of infidelity or wrong-doing, we travel up stream on the river of denial. You must confront the truth about your spouse and about yourself. There are no innocent parties in divorce.
More than likely, you didn’t get married thinking that if it doesn’t work out you can always get a divorce. We truly meant “until death do us part.” As the marriage comes to an end, it’s only natural to be mad, to be angry, and to be sad. We are angry at our spouses as well as ourselves. It is healthy to be angry. It is what you do with the anger that is critical.
“God, I’ll go to church every Sunday if you will only save my marriage.” “If you stay, I promise I’ll do better.” “I’ll (fill in the blank), if you will only stay.” Bargaining is begging and it’s demeaning. It’s too late. Do you really want him to stay under those circumstances?
Depression is so normal, short term. But if your depression sinks to the depths of such despair that you want to do yourself or someone else harm, please see a medical and/or psychiatric doctor for help immediately. If a close friend or relative is concerned about you enough to suggest you see a doctor for help, listen to them. It may save your life.
You’ve tried marriage counseling and everything you can think of. The divorce is inevitable, the court date is set. You realize the marriage is beyond saving, and to tell the truth, you are thankful the fighting and hurting each other is just about over. You are still sad and angry, but you’ve accepted it as the best thing for everyone involved. Now it is time to recover.
The stages above are listed in order, but you probably won’t feel them in any particular order. You might start with bargaining; go to anger, and then denial. You might go back and forth between them many times. You might always feel anger even when going through the rest. Even when you have reached acceptance, you may still feel the others from time to time. You may also feel other emotions or experience other feelings that a friend or acquaintance never feels. All of this is normal!
My best advice for anyone thinking about divorce or who has filed for divorce is to find a really good divorce recovery program for you and your children. Marriage is a huge step and ending a marriage is an even bigger step. It not only affects you, it affects your family and especially your children.
Many churches have programs, and most divorce lawyers and mediation services know how to find a program that best fits your circumstances. There is no shame in seeking out help. Help is a good thing. We all need help from time to time, especially as we navigate the labyrinth of legal, emotional, financial and physical changes that will be happening at this time in your life. If you were drowning in a swimming pool or being chased by a shark, you would yell for help! Divorce is just about the same thing – at least it feels like drowning in shark-filled waters.
Take the Time to Recover Properly!
In the divorce recovery program I used to teach, the rule of thumb is that it takes, on average, one year of recovery for every three years of marriage. For example, if you were married nine years, it will take about three years to recover, if you do it right.
During that time of recovery you should be seeking help through a divorce recovery program. You should be helping your kids recover from the hurt and anger they are feeling. You might not like this bit of advice, but don’t become involved with anyone else during this recovery process even if it takes three or four, or more, years! The reason for second and third divorces is because people don’t take enough time to recover properly after the first divorce.
This is the time to heal, to reinvent yourself, start over, and maybe start a new job or career, or move into a new house or apartment. This is the time to be good to you. This is the time to reflect on your past and your future. You don’t need anyone else confusing the process.
If you had a heart attack and had open heart surgery, you would spend many months recovering physical and emotionally. Your life would be different after surgery and you would have to adjust to the changes. You would have to take the time to heal properly. It is the same thing in a divorce. Your heart is broken and you have to recover from the divorce. Your future emotional health (and that of your children) is dependent on the recovery process. Take the time to recover properly.
There are no easy answers when it comes to divorce. It is damn hard. It is a time for anger and for sadness. But it is also a time to look to the future. You get the chance to start over and to get it right the next time. It will take hard work, but you can do it!