For me, divorce caused emotional pain that I can’t put into words. I’d had my heart broken in the past but, this new pain was nothing like the heartbreak I’d experienced before over lost love.
For 18 months after my divorce, I cried daily. In the beginning, I cried every day and nearly all day long. For the first 3 years after he was gone I’d have knee buckling moments when the reality of what had happened would enter my consciousness.
In the beginning, I obsessed over why it was happening and what I could do to stop the divorce. As time went on I would obsess over what he was doing, who he was doing it with and the fact that he had gotten away with abandoning his children and wife with no recourse.
I stayed stuck in the negativity of what had been done to my children and I by someone who was supposed to love us. I was so shamed by his actions that it was months before I told friends and some family that we were no longer married.
And, I refused to let go of the love I felt for him. I was of the immature belief that if you love someone, they will return that love. In my mind, as long as I continued to love him there was a chance he would come home again.
Today I shake my head at all the things I did that prolonged my emotional pain. But, it was something I had to do, to get to where I am today. I’m a smart woman, capable of learning quickly but, when it came to my divorce pain learning for me was like sucking peanut butter through a straw.
Once I was passed all the knee buckling pain and had come to the decision to finish my degree and become a Divorce Coach researching and understanding the pain caused by divorce was first on my list of things to understand so I could hopefully help other women move forward with their lives a hell of a lot faster than I did.
Here is what I’ve learned about the emotional pain caused by divorce.
To understand the emotional pain experienced during a divorce, it might help to discuss the two types of emotional pain, according to some psychologists. There is “clean pain” and “dirty pain.”
Clean pain, is the pain that comes with living life in general. The loss of a loved one, having a serious illness, being in an abusive relationship and so forth.
We all, at some time or another experience this kind of pain.
Dirty pain, is pathological pain and comes from what we tell ourselves about situations we find ourselves in. For example, negative thinking about oneself or, harsh judgments from others and a negative view of the world and experiences will cause us to experience “dirty pain.”
Both clean and dirty pain are experienced during a divorce. Which is one reason the pain of divorce is hard to move past. It is common during a divorce to feel the pain of loss and the pain of pathological thinking about that loss. In other words, we experience both necessary pain and unnecessary pain during a divorce.
I’d not put much thought into the emotional pain that divorce causes until I went through my own divorce. Divorce was just something that happened to other people, just another turn of events. I had this misguided belief that a couple sat down and came to a mutual agreement to divorce, and moved on from there.
Then came my own divorce and intense emotional pain and years of healing for everyone touched by the situation.
There is nothing like personal experience to change your perspective!
I recently had a conversation with a woman who was beating herself up because she “couldn’t move on.” She had been divorced for two months and thought that once the divorce was final she would feel a sense of relief. Instead, she felt fear, anxiety, and loss.
She felt both clean and dirty pain and had no resources for working through the pain.
Regardless of whether you are the one who wanted a divorce or, the one who was left behind, there is emotional pain and healing to be expected. Perhaps if we look at where the feelings of sadness and negative emotions come from it will be easier to understand why the healing process can take longer than expected for some who divorce.
Where Does the Emotional Pain of Divorce Come From?
1. You’ve lost someone you once loved or maybe still love. There is a grieving process much like one would experience if they lost a loved one to death. It isn’t unusual to blame yourself for the end of the marriage or, blame your ex-spouse.
For those who didn’t want a divorce, there will be periods of anger at everything and everyone. You may withdraw from friends and support and isolate yourself in an attempt for self-protection. Your ex is someone you were once intimately attached to; give yourself time to adjust to that loss.
2. You’ve lost dreams for the future. In a marriage, we live in the present and the future. There are constant thoughts of where we, as a couple will be 5, 10 or 20 years down the road. With divorce, any future the two of you had planned is gone; you have to start from scratch and learn to build a future for one after a divorce.
It is easy for newly divorced individuals to get stuck in the present or the past, ruminating over what went wrong and how they are feeling, “right now” instead of looking forward. Is it any wonder that some find it hard to get past the pain of having to let go of the future and start over again?
3. You’ve lost an intact family. If we have children we all work hard at having the “perfect” family. A lot of time and emotional energy goes into maintaining a great intact family. A lot of emotional pain goes into letting go of the idea that we didn’t have a “perfect” family.
When a family falls apart we are made more aware of the work and energy that will go into building a new and different family with a new partner. We have to not only take into consideration or own pain and fears we have to focus on doing what is in the best interest of our children who’ve suffered the greatest loss of all.
4. You feel as if you have failed. Most of us don’t live in constant denial and are able to take responsibility for the role we played in the demise of our marriage. Admitting to ourselves that we made mistakes can leave us feeling vulnerable and riddled with guilt.
Even as commonplace as divorce is in today’s society there is still a certain amount of shame and embarrassment attached to the idea that we were not able to keep our marriage together. Facing others in our social circle, church or family can bring up negative emotions that also take time to heal. It is a matter of adjusting, going from being part of a couple to single again after a divorce. And, that being OK within and without.
The above is a short list. It, by no means, covers all the bases. Pain is relative and each divorce situation is unique. You will suffer losses that are exclusive to your marriage and your recovery. The secret to recovering and moving on after divorce is to become self-aware and honest with yourself. To be able to distinguish between clean pain and dirty pain.
Divorce may mean freedom but with that freedom comes loss, and there must be a willingness to take the necessary time to heal.
Jeff Cone says
Dear Cathy, the article from the 15th – (Emotional pain:4 reasons)was one of the best, most healing articles I’ve ever read.Your web site has been so helpful. I can never thank you enough. I so wish there was a larger support group and sites,on-line communities like yours that helped -men, fathers and husbands.
Keep up the great work
Cathy Meyer says
Thank you, Jeff! I do what I do to be of help to people. It’s always nice hearing from someone who was helped. Do you know of DadsDivorce.com? They have great resources for men and fathers going through or rebuilding after a divorce. And, they may have a group on Facebook for me. You need to check them out. And, thank you for your kind words. Best to you, Jeff.
Tina B says
Thank you. It’s been 3.5 years, I’m still involveld in a law suit with my ex and the pain seems to never end. I constantly ask myself why it still hurts so badly after this much time has passed. I have neve heard of clean vs dirty pain. It makes sense. Here’s to another day of moving forward in peace and acceptance.
Cathy Meyer says
Hi Tina, my ex and I were in and out of court for six years due to divorce issues. When you’re constantly dealing with the stress of upcoming court hearings and an ex who tries at every turn to tear you down, it’s easy to get caught up in dirty pain. It’s difficult to navigate and heal under those situations. I wish you the best and hope you are soon able to heal and move forward.
Peg McCann says
Thank you Cathy. Great article. I am coming up on the one year mark of my divorce. I keep thinking there is something wrong with me. Why can’t I just move on? My friends and family have started to pull away because they can’t handle my anxiety and depression. I have also been diagnosed with ptsd and a form of dissociation. I endured a childhood of physical, emotional, and verbal abuse followed by 23 years of verbal, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse by my husband. I know I am now free and I keep pushing forward. I just feel so numb and empty all the time. All of this explanation to say thank you. Your article gave me some validation that my reaction and emotions are normal. I’m tired of feeling like I am crazy and should be celebrating my freedom.