Separation and divorce, what do you wish you had known?
If, like countless other wonderful women before you, you have found yourself going through the trials of separation and divorce – unexpected or otherwise – welcome.
You are about to begin a journey, a journey which will at times test every fiber of your being, and which you may find lonely, painful, exasperating and even frightening at times. You may feel as though the carpet has been ripped from under your feet, and your world turned around and upside down as you go through massive levels of change and the uncertainty that naturally comes with this.
Truth is, change is a tough process for all of us. This applies to both expected and unexpected change. MAJOR life changes, such as separation and divorce, can lead to high levels of uncertainty about the present and future, and the stress and worry that naturally comes with this uncertainty.
Let’s face it – it doesn’t matter what age you were when you walked down the aisle, or how long you were in the marriage for – the fact is, once we are responsible, mature adults none of us really enter into a serious love partnership with the knowledge or hope that it will one day come to a screaming end.
So when the union DOES end, we are left to pick up the pieces and do our best to adapt to all of the changes to our life on our own. There is a lot to be done and at times we don’t feel like doing anything at all.
I want to help you to simplify matters so you can look at what needs to be done, and gain some clarity during separation and divorce, starting with where you are at right NOW.
First things first:
It is not nice to think that the person we have spent a good portion of our lives with may not have our best interests at heart. But sadly, this is sometimes the case. Separation and divorce can bring out the worst in some people, and previously undetected behaviors or even potentially dangerous personality disorders may now be on full display.
If there are issues of violence, your safety and the safety of those you care for such as your children are of utmost priority. Violence and at-risk behaviors can take many forms, including physical, sexual and mental abuse. If you and/or your children are at risk of being exposed to any violent behavior by your ex-partner or anyone associated with them, seek help and assistance NOW. Do not wait until the at-risk behaviors have occurred.
Contact friends and relatives to put safety systems in place wherever needed. Ensure that you have rapid access to emergency assistance to ensure that you (and your children) are safe. And if violence has or is occurring, contact the Police in your local area immediately. Domestic violence in any form is not acceptable and you do not have to tolerate it. Help is available.
You also need to take action to protect yourself from such forms of abuse as harassment, manipulation, and control. You, like everyone else, have a right to feel safe, and a right to basic privacy. Ensure nobody has access to any personal or personal financial information, online accounts or money. These are all aspects of ensuring you are safe and aspects you need to pay attention to.
Accepting what has happened
Now for the good news, and yes there is always good news if you look closely enough.
The good news is this: us women are actually pretty darn good at adapting. You may not recognize it as yet, but there IS light at the end of that long dark tunnel you are currently scrambling through.
Accepting this change to your circumstances, rather than resisting it is extremely important in helping you navigate the change. If the decision to separate or divorce is final – whether it was your choice or not – stop wishing it otherwise. You will only prolong the pain, and delay your progress in moving through the grief if you spend time and energy wishing and hoping for things to be different.
Nothing is permanent in life – good or bad. Situations and people naturally evolve and change over the course of time, and you will find that once you accept this life becomes a lot less daunting. And, change of any sort is nowhere near as scary as it potentially could be.
One of your biggest obstacles right now may be how to get over some pre-conceived ideas of how your life was supposed to be. If you have children, you may feel you never signed up to be a ‘part-time parent’ and consequently feel miserable when your child visits your ex-partner.
If you don’t have children, but previously enjoyed a booming social life with other married or partnered couples, you may fear these people’s judgments of you as a newly single woman. Or you may feel you just can’t relate to this group of people now.
You may be thinking – or actually SCREAMING inside – ‘Noooo!! This is not how it’s supposed to be!!’
The good thing is, you can learn to change your thought processes, and as a result let go of these pre-conceived expectations, as well as any stigma you may have attached to the idea of being ‘single’ or a ‘single mother’. You can also learn to adjust to the attitudes of others, whether it is your family, friends, acquaintances, or the community in general. You can’t control how others will perceive you, but you can work to create a powerful sense of pride in yourself and/or your children.
Here are some practical things you can do to help yourself survive the current maze of uncertainty, and find acceptance during separation and divorce.
Stop for a moment and sit down. Observe your surroundings, wherever you are and breathe. Breathe in and breathe out, slowly and deliberately. Notice after a few moments that the world is still going on around you, and you are still here, breathing. Although it may seem so, the world hasn’t stopped turning. There has been a pretty major shift in your world, but the world at large is still OK.
Once you are feeling a little more grounded, you can start to look at this thing, demystify it and then begin the process of managing it. Grounding yourself in this way – and do this as often as needed – will help you enormously in seeing a situation for exactly what it is, at this moment in time. Not what your mind may be projecting it to be.
As we go through a loss of any type, it is normal to experience a myriad of emotions. This is part of the grieving process and it is OK. Feel them. Whatever you do, don’t suppress or block what you are feeling. Sitting with uncomfortable emotions for a time (rather than constantly distracting yourself) is hard, but if you can manage to do this, even for short periods of time, you will be helping yourself immensely. This is because suppressed emotions can resurface at a later time, often worse than they originally were. Processed emotions – emotions that you have allowed yourself to sit with and feel – are able to pass through you at a natural pace, and eventually evaporate of their own accord.
So, you feel like crying. Cry. Cry for a few moments, then wipe your tears and move on. You feel like screaming? Go into your bedroom, close the door, and SCREAM! (Just alert anyone in your immediate vicinity first that you will be doing this!). Punch a pillow, throw something at the wall, stomp your feet loudly, wail. Do this until it is out of your system, then move on. If the need arises again tomorrow, do it all over. Just make sure you don’t stay too long in this space. Do it. Get it out of your system. Move on.
If you find yourself feeling lost and anxious when contemplating what in hell lies ahead for you, don’t let your thoughts wander too far into the future. For now, make sure yours, and if applicable your children’s, immediate needs are taken care of. The rest will be sorted in time. Baby steps.
Remember, nothing – no thought or situation – is permanent. Although it may be near impossible for you believe right now, this life will one day be your new normal. Things will naturally settle as your situation evolves as it is meant to. In time, the uncertain and confused thoughts currently whirling around in your head will be nothing more than a distant memory.
Adjust your thinking
Particularly if you have children, adjust your thinking on how a family ‘should be’. There are plenty of unhappy and dysfunctional two-parent families out there – a traditional family environment is no guarantee of a happy family life. Ongoing violence, arguments, substance or alcohol abuse, or mental health issues will have a far greater impact on your children than being raised by a single parent will. Try to remind yourself that the molecular structure of your family is not the be-all and end-all of everything in your world.
With love and care, your kids will adjust to their new circumstances. In fact, they will not only adjust, they will be privy to some pretty amazing and valuable life lessons – patience, strength, resilience, and tolerance in the face of change are a few which come to mind.
Stages of Grief During Separation and Divorce
The end of a marriage is a death, of sorts. It is the end of the life you shared with your significant other, the conclusion of shared hopes and dreams, and of any and all visions of your future life together as a concrete couple. This is no small thing!
And, the end of this life needs to be grieved, just as any death is grieved. This grieving process cannot and must not be skipped. It can be painful, it can be uncomfortable, it can be a downright bloody agonizing nuisance at times.
Make no mistake here – the temptation to simply block and numb the pain will strike! But for your own good, please ignore this temptation. Grieve, and do it well. You will be doing yourself and your future mental and emotional health a HUGE favor if you allow yourself the time and the energy to mourn your loss now, by allowing yourself to feel and process the emotions as they come along.
I have listed the five recognized stages of grief (tailored specifically for divorce) below. Please know however that grieving is a very individual process and there is no specific timetable or timeline to adhere to. It is okay to move through the stages of grief at your own pace, and in whatever order, the stages present themselves to you. Personally, I went through the grieving process in a topsy-turvy manner, and this was okay. I still got through it.
The important thing, as I mentioned earlier, is to not deny or block whatever feelings arise, or to try and numb the pain associated with the feeling with alcohol/drugs/sex/all night partying (examples only!). When the feeling comes … sit with it, feel it, breathe into it, process it. Then let it go.
- Denial: ‘This is not actually happening. He is not leaving me. He’ll come to his senses. He just needs time. There is no way he would walk out on our marriage’
- Anger: ‘I don’t deserve this! Who the f@#% does he think he is?! Ohhh I am so ANGRY right now!!’
- Bargaining: ‘Don’t leave. I promise I’ll do things your way. I’ll change. We’ll have more sex, I’ll lose weight, I’ll stop nagging’
- Depression: ‘He is actually leaving. I can’t stop him. And I can’t bear this feeling of emptiness’
- Acceptance: ‘Okay. He’s gone. So I’m going to work at moving on from this and making a new life for myself’
When you are in the very early stages of the grieving process (denial, anger, bargaining) it is very hard to clear your head enough to think coherently and understand clearly what is going on around you. For this reason be extremely careful when making decisions on, or agreeing to, things which will have an impact on your (and if applicable, your children’s) future. If at least, you can be aware that you are in a state of grief, and identify exactly where you’re at with it, you will be much better placed to stop and think before making or agreeing to any choices or decisions.
Grief makes it extremely difficult to make clear and rational decisions on anything, big or small, inconsequential or important. A lot of high-conflict (and bitter) divorce cases are instigated, I’m sure when one or both parties are battling with grief. But, just like anything else, grief passes. The implications of an acrimonious separation or divorce, however, may be long-lasting. So be careful and mindful when making decisions or agreeing to anything that could have a lasting impact.