We can’t tell you there’s a “right way” or a “wrong way” to grieve and adjust to divorce and separation, but we can tell you it’s a process that involves layers of emotion.
We can also tell you, that by understanding what you’re going through, by digging down deep to find your grit in the face of adversity, by moving toward self-care and acceptance, you can shorten the length of time and impact of the distress for you and your children. Let’s take a look at what might be involved in grieving.
1. Shock and Disbelief
For some, the first wave of emotion can actually be “an absence of emotion.” This is the period of time when you “don’t miss a beat” and carry on with daily life and simply add in the details of divorce/separation or divorce/separation adjustment. You may wonder to yourself, “why is this so hard for other people?”
2. Cooperation or Bargaining
Next we sometimes see a period of “congeniality” and a “cooperative spirit” surrounding the divorce/separation. When this is born of a genuine, mutual agreement regarding the ending of the relationship, and a true desire to make things as amicable as possible, then the two adults and their children are extremely lucky and can benefit greatly. All too often however, this “honeymoon” period is a desperate, hopeful time of bargaining in a sincere attempt to reverse the outcome—a plea to the spouse who is leaving to change his/her mind, to “wake-up,” to come back home, and resume life as a couple.
3. Anger and Rage
Anger and rage is common in divorce/separation, and can continue well into post divorce/ separation adjustment. So much change, so much loss, and often a feeling of helplessness to stop what’s out of your control contribute to these feelings. It’s a very normal reaction to struggle and fight against these unwelcome truths. Along with anger—and often underneath anger—we find sadness and grief.
Sadness may feel slower and deeper than anger and it has an energy all its own. Unlike the energizing emotion of anger, which comes with an adrenaline rush, sadness lays heavy on our hearts, drains energy out through our toes and color out of the day, and replaces our normal sense of self with feelings of vulnerability, loneliness, and loss. Then there are the tears, difficulty concentrating, anxiety about the future, and sleeping more than normal, which makes day-to-day activities increasingly difficult to accomplish. You may feel like a shell of a person, going through the motions.
5. The Journey
Remember that grief is a journey that doesn’t last forever, and you don’t have to travel alone. Divorce/separation can be like traversing a glacier of emotion. It’s easier to bring along necessary support (a trusted friend, counselor, post-divorce/separation support group) and allow ample time to work through emotion. Most consider the first two years post-divorce/separation the most significant in adjusting and the first five years part of the adjustment territory. We caution you about lingering too long in a crevasse of anger, fear, or sadness. You can ask for help and lean on others when you find yourself stuck, recycling the past, resentful, rigid, bitter, blaming, or if you become unyielding to a new, more hopeful path.
At the end of your journey awaits acceptance. We discussed above the layers of emotions that you may wander through and visit again from time to time during your grief process. We can remind you that what awaits on the other side of all these difficult emotions is the view of your future through the lens of acceptance, which is well worth the arduous journey. There is no straight path or “right path,” but we hope for you to reach, in time, that new place of acceptance, and acceptance may even include forgiveness.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been taken from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK For more information on Karen or her books, you’re invited to visit http://coachmediateconsult.com/coParents-handbook/