Ways to break the pain of divorce
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Graeme Armstrong MBACP
10th February, 20170 Comments
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf” - Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Separation and divorce, the breakup of a once cherished relationship, can provoke the most heartbreaking, emotional-and physically traumatic feelings that we have ever felt; it can be the most life changing event that our lives go through. For this reason alone, it is vitally important that we go through this as well as we can. Here are some ways to lessen the pain of divorce.
There are generally four domains to divorce, the legal, the financial, the parental and the emotional. It is the latter that often tangles up and can make us feel bad about ourselves and sad at the breakup. It can feel not just that we are mad at our ex but we, in turn, are going mad!
There are a few guiding lights that can help you navigate your way through a divorce; nothing will really help it not get messy or difficult, but the struggles and the pain can be lessened:
- Choose to be a survivor, not a victim: accept your part in the situation, blaming your ex simply keeps the drama going and keeps you in the hurt/victim mode.
- Don’t expect it not to hurt: the hurt and pain can creep up on you from the strangest of places, so you probably need to be realistic about this. You will go through stages of feeling pain, hurt, anger, hate, all kinds of negativity. It’s not really about stopping this happening (often you can’t) more about being aware of it happening, processing what you are experiencing and not holding onto it; you might feel bitter at times, but you don’t want to turn into a bitter person.
- Create an action plan: this need not be complex, but creating a plan of the major steps you need to take. Tell children/move out/furnish new home can help you retain a sense of moving forwards. Make your action plan realistic and quite specific.
- Keep a journal: record your ups and downs, get it out of your head and onto paper.
- Impermanence: keep remembering that this is a temporary phase of your life (though life changing) and not a permanent one, this will end!
- Take a day off: you might begin to feel your job now has changed into being a full time divorcer; this will take its emotional toll, so take time off. It might be useful to take all your rolled up emotions and pain to a counsellor every month or so (it’s a myth that effective therapy requires weekly sessions) to help you keep on track.
- Keep it away from your children: in reality it’s almost impossible not to bring your children into the split, but working to minimise this should be your aim, the pain of separation for children is traumatic but can be temporary; the suffering associated with a sense of divided loyalties or being their parents “soother” can have a long term psychological impact.
- Find yourself: that old 1960s cliché is doubly important after divorce. You might have been together for two years, or you might have been together for 20 years, but the end of a marriage can signify the end of a dream, a deep promise that you held fast to, that both of you would live in love till the end, that you would depend and be there for each other; this dream is now shattered, and you need to spend time discovering who you are, all over again.
- Create a businesslike relationship with your ex: keeping your emotions out of the breakup will make the ending and the subsequent new relationship (which it will be if you have children) easier.
- Become as financially independent as possible: this will ensure that you can move on more quickly.
- Beware emotions around the new lover: as amicable as you might both be, don’t be surprised if all your calm thoughts and feelings vanish overnight when your ex finds somebody new. This person-who might become a stepparent to your children and can resurrect a whole host of old wounds.
- Be flexible with childcare: your children might have contrasting and struggling needs post separation; the sense of personal failure and accompanying blame-the-other-parent around this can be both overwhelming and destructive. Create boundaries and routines, but don’t expect them all to be permanent. The younger the child is, the more inclined they will be to have “magical thoughts” that cause them to behave in ways that are designed to bring you both back together.
- Recognise your needs: take time not only to recognise your needs but own and meet them too, and expect your needs to change during your “divorce journey.”
- New “yous”: as you might try on new clothes, try on “new yous” different foods, music, activities, and don’t be afraid to try and then ditch them if they don’t work.
- Recognise what’s happening and untangle your emotions.
- Break the patterns that cause you to react rather than respond.
- Get help: don’t try to go it alone: a good friend, a counsellor, somebody you can trust to talk it out with.
- Find your freedom, find your new self.
- Live: it’s the end of your marriage, not your life.
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