Understanding your Divorce Induced Emotions
Editor's note: This article by Ada Gonzalez explores the emotional issues of divorce. Designed for clients, it may also be helpful to those who work with them.
Separation and divorce are among the most painful and disruptive events that an individual and family can experience. The emotions that divorce induce clash with emotions you have felt in the past, and with the core of who you are. After all, many times your marriage is a big part of your identity.
To make matters worst, you are probably in the middle of trying to sort legal issues out, to learn to relate to your former spouse in a different way, hearing all kinds of contradictory opinions and advice, and holding the family together at a time when you don’t feel you have it together! Messy is just one of the words that come to mind.
As a divorcing adult, you will encounter a number of predictable emotional experiences which can go from mild and to an extreme or even pathological reaction for which psychotherapy could be advisable. In this introductory overview we will try to sort out what is “normal” and what is extreme as well as what is helpful.
1. Separation and Anxiety- In my work coaching divorcing couples, anxiety and sadness are two of the most common emotions experienced. These emotions are normal due to the multiple losses and separations a person going through a divorce encounters as the structure of their present world is dissolving.
In the framework of divorce, whether you initiated the divorce, want the divorce, or feel victimized by it, you experience multiple losses and separations. The more losses you experience, the stronger your feelings of aloneness and anxiety will be.
In the extreme, you could be driven to the point of panic or depression. In this extreme place, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for someone to make adult decisions and work in rational ways on your own behalf.
The antidote of fear is FAITH. Faith in yourself and in your future. This is how people heal from fear. The antidote for sadness due to the experienced losses and the emotions they create is to do GRIEF WORK - to MOURN. This is how people heal from loss.
2. Disappointment mixed with anger- We tend to come into marriage with fantasies and expectations that can set us up for disappointment, due to unfulfilled expectations, wishes, fantasies and promises inherent in the failed marriage.
With a divorce comes it is normal to feel the pain and anger of having again been disappointed and/or betrayed by the other. In its extreme form, we can experience feelings of betrayal and rage. I see very often the total devaluation spouses make of the other and the uncompromising rage and murderous, unforgiving feelings they experience towards them.
The antidote for these emotions is FORGIVENESS. This is how people heal from anger. It is important to entertain the idea that you can have the ability to forgive each other over time. I often hear the phrase: “I could never forgive her/him!” What people don’t realize is that forgiveness is the best alternative to anger because it releases the angry person from being upset and feeling like a victim
3- Self-interest- A measure of self-interest is good and necessary, especially in a divorce situation. But in divorce, due to the couple's need to compete in dividing the marital assets in the process of equitable distribution, it can deteriorate quickly into envy and greed, and feeling cheated.
When feelings of envy and greed are too high, destructive, spoiling behavior often follows and can spill over to the decisions related to the children. It can become the basis for the most destructive and costly aspects of the divorce process. It can also be what tears children apart and makes them suffer most.
The antidote for greed is placing value in something else. In the case of divorce, recognizing the value in a collaborative relationship with each other, and the mutual care for others (like their children) is the remedy.
Healing comes in recognizing the ongoing CONNECTION you will always have and in learning to value it. There is no contradiction in recognizing that even as each of you has to get on with your own lives you will also remain connected to each other into the future. The real question is what will be the nature of the connection. Will it be friendly, detached, and collaborative as it pertains to parenting, or will it continue to be full of conflict and pain.
4- Distrust or suspicion- You are engaged in a process that has long term meaning legally, financially, emotionally, spiritually, etc. Since you feel, and perhaps are, competitive with each other, you have reason to be suspicious of each other.
The horror stories often told of people's dealings with the adversarial divorce process brings you much more distrust and fear that needs be. The healing antidote for distrust is learning to TRUST. The collaborative process fosters trust by encouraging increasing degrees of risk-taking in open disclosure.
The more open, the more honest you can be, the more basis for trust is developed. When confusions, disagreements, or difficulties between the couple starts turning into distrust, a good divorce coach can reframe what is going on between you and help you understand that seeing things differently need not be a basis for losing trust.
Even as healing from divorce is an emotional process, it is also a spiritual process. Marriage and divorce were traditionally seen as a spiritual or religious event. Historically, religion has been used to define and determine both divorce and marriage, and, it is a somewhat modern notion that marriage and divorce became the province of the legal profession.
Your spiritual and/or moral values and meanings need to be part of the divorce process. Instead of closing your heart, open it. Instead of shrinking in anxiety and pain, have faith. Instead of feeding the fires of anger, forgive. Instead of becoming selfish and greedy, connect and relate in a different way. Instead of distrusting and suspecting everything and everyone, learn to trust again. It’s possible to heal and the whole again!
Ada Gonzalez is a Psychotherapist, Divorce Coach and Mediator with more than 25 years of experience. For more information about her services, and to know about her Collaborative Divorce Coaching Telephone Group, go to: http://www.adagonzalez.com/programs/mediation/divorcecoaching