When I was a child, I used to LOVE riding roller coasters at the amusement park every summer! However, as an adult, that same roller coaster has a very different perspective. I often think about the emotions we have during our divorces as that roller coaster ride that you just can’t wait to get off . At the height of the coaster, the anxiety and nausea of what is coming next can often times paralyze you. At its low points, the exhaustion of the experience leaves you unable to see the end.
- Good news: the emotional roller coaster won’t last forever, and there will be a time when you will be able to step off and move confidently into the next, new ride.
- Bad news: it’s not something you can rush or avoid. You have to work through your emotions in order for you to be healthy and strong enough to step off and choose to move on.
Tips to Approaching the Emotions of Your Divorce
- The most important tip I can give you in dealing with your emotions from your divorce is not to avoid them. There’s just no way around this. If you avoid your emotions now, you’ll deal with them later at an unexpected time. Work through them now, so you can move forward later.
- Everyone works through the various emotions of divorce in different ways and different speeds. Don’t allow others to tell you where you should be in your journey. You may have well meaning friends and family who are concerned about it taking too long for you to “get over it.” Listen to their concerns, but keep in mind that if they haven’t walked in your shoes, they may not fully understand the depth of what you are experiencing.
- If the concerns of others have validity, don’t be ashamed to talk to a professional counselor who can help guide you as an objective person in your recovery. It may take a couple of different counselors until you find the right “fit.” But, when you do, you’ll be surprised at how much that expert can help you begin to process the emotions of your divorce.
- Keep a journal. There is value in writing down what you are feeling in the moment because it helps you consciously process what exactly is going on within the emotions of the time. As you are working through your divorce, it’s often times difficult to see if you’re healing at all. Consequently, keeping a journal allows you to go back later and see the growth you are making in the process.
Common Emotions of Divorce
- One of the most common emotions of divorce is the grief and sadness you feel over your marriage ending. Understanding where the sadness is coming from is key to moving through the emotion.
- Consciously acknowledge what it is you are sad about. Is it the loss of the dream of family? Is it the loss of time with your children? Is it the loss of trust? Is it the loss of the relationship between you and the person closest to you? Whatever it is (and it is probably many things), identify it so you can deal with it head on.
- When you feel the need to cry, do it! Crying is your body’s natural way of working through grief. Don’t stop yourself when you need to cry because you’ll just have to work through that same emotion later. So, let it run its full course. ***As a caution, be careful not to drag your kids into a highly emotional experience. It’s ok for them to see you express sadness, but shelter them from the times when your emotion is at its height.
- After you have worked through the need to cry, proactively retrain your thoughts. This is a great time to pull out that journal and write. It’s also a time to accurately look at the “why” of the cry session and then look at the situations realistically rather than emotionally. Talk positively to yourself about who you are, what you are dealing with, and what your future will hold.
- Anger in divorce is completely normal. It’s in how you handle your anger that determines whether or not it is healthy or unhealthy.
- Anger that is out of control or abusive will not help you or your situation in your divorce. If you are consistently lashing out at people, cursing at them, or exhibiting physical aggression, seek out the help of a professional who can help you work through your anger.
- Just like grief, acknowledging why you are angry and who you are angry with is important to knowing how to move through it. At first glance, it may look like you are just angry at your ex-spouse. However, there may be some other, less identifiable sources of your anger. Other sources could be: friends, members of your spouse’s family, members of your family, or God.
- Avoid triggers that will cause you to become angry. This may mean not responding to your ex-spouse or avoiding situations of conflict. It may mean walking away from circumstances that evoke anger towards a person or situation.
- When you feel yourself becoming angry, get some exercise, do deep breathing exercises, or use your journal to help process the anger.
- One of the emotions of divorce is the anxiety and stress associated with so many of the elements that occur within the divorce process.
- Fear of the unknown is a major contributor to the anxiety that accompanies divorce. During the separation and prior to the actual divorce, a lot of stress can occur because you are in the middle of negotiations regarding assets, debt, and child custody. Take the process one step at a time, and don’t let your mind get ahead of yourself. In the meantime, make goals for what you want to accomplish after your divorce is final so you can see that a good future is possible!
- You may hear a lot of “worst case scenario” stories from people who have gone through a divorce or even from your attorney. Keep in mind that you can’t control what you can’t control. So, you have to let the worry go as much as you can and work off of what is known. Make your list of “non-negotiables” and then work from there. My attorney gave me good advice when she told me that nobody gets everything they want in a divorce. So, the goal is for you to get what you can live with and then compromise on the rest.
- Finally, the fear of change causes a lot of stressful emotions during a divorce. When you’re in the thick of your divorce, it’s really hard to see that change is not always bad. But, as time goes on, you’ll find that sometimes the change brings a breath of fresh air and a sense of new life as you begin to put together your future.
Avoid Negative Ways of Dealing with the Emotions of Your Divorce
- It’s easy to try and distract yourself from dealing with the emotions of your divorce. However, in order for you to heal and move through the pain of what you’re going through, you can’t afford to get sidetracked.
- Don’t make the mistake of numbing your pain by indulging in substances such as drugs or alcohol. This will only add additional issues to what you are already dealing with.
- Don’t enter into a romantic relationship for a while after your divorce. I know that’s not what you probably want to hear right now. But, this is about YOUR healing. Another individual will only distract you from fully facing the emotions you need to deal with and working through the various reasons for your divorce.
- Don’t hide away from the people who love and care about you. They may not always say the right thing. They may push you more than what you want. But, you will need support during this time. When they want to help, accept it! I had a very good friend who would always treat me to lunch and dinner, and I began to feel very guilty about it. One day, she said to me “I don’t know what else to do for you, so let me do this.” It was in that moment that I realized it was ok to accept the kindness of others when I needed it most.
Common Questions/FAQ About Dealing with the Emotions of Your Divorce
- How long will I feel this way?
- I wish I could answer this for you. But, as I stated above, everyone works through their emotions differently. I can tell you that at the time of this writing, I have been divorced a year and 9 months. While there are still some emotions I deal with about it, I am laughing and feeling joy again…and you will, too!
- How do I stop thinking about the “what ifs”?
- I’m going to admit that this is hard! You have to be very intentional about changing your thoughts when you realize you’re having them. Have some go to quotes or scriptures that you have on hand for those times that you can pull out and read through until the thoughts have passed. In those moments, deal with what is a rational outcome and what may be irrational.
- How do I get past my anger?
- A lot of times, anger is really founded in hurt, fear, or a lack of control. Identify if your anger is founded in any of those and work from there. Once you’re able to discover the origin of your anger, you’ll have to CHOOSE to let it go. I’m not saying stuff your anger. I’m saying that you have to make the conscious choice to let the anger go to allow yourself to heal. Forgiveness (which we’ll discuss in Part II) works similarly.
- How can I plan for my future when I don’t know how things are going to turn out in the divorce?
- First, don’t panic! Start with what you know. Most states have general practices when it comes to common divorces. Ask your attorney what the probabilities are regarding those things you want in the outcome. From there, go with your Plan A and Plan B.
- How can I stop caring about what my ex is doing?
- This is a complex solution, but I’m going to give you the simplest answer I can. You have to disengage from his/her new life and activities. If you’re still “friends” on Facebook, you may need to stop being Facebook friends so you don’t see what your ex-spouse is doing. If friends try to tell you what they know, politely tell them you are focusing on your own healing, so you need separation from any information they may have. Finally, establish boundaries between you and your ex to ensure that you only have to interact with him/her when absolutely necessary.
Getting off the Emotional Roller Coaster
During the session of Divorce Care I attended, our group leader gave us an article written by someone going through grief that is still a “go to” for me. When you grieve, it means you loved. So, going through that grief isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s proof of how much you cared for another human being. How do you know when you’re healing? You know because the ups and downs (or the waves) don’t come as often, and they aren’t as high as they once were. I’m leaving you with a link to the article and hope it helps you anticipate the time when your waves won’t come as often or seem so high.
What questions do you have about the emotional journey of divorce? Drop them in the comments below for us to talk about in upcoming posts.