Chances are that your divorce has lasted a year or more and has been full of tension and drama. It's all over now and you're awaiting that giant sigh of relief that you've been expecting. But wait, instead of relief, you feel.........like a wreck. Don't be surprised: Feeling unhinged following your divorce is simply a natural and expected part of the divorce process.
Remember that you've been coping with a lot this last year-mountains of paperwork, regular calls and meetings with your lawyer, sometimes challenging interaction with your ex, and a distressed child for whom you've been holding it all together. All this on top of the usual stresses of everyday life, and let's not forget that all-important job! Even if you've been taking your B vitamins regularly, all this stress has been adding up. Now.....it's payback time. Here are a few tips to help you better cope with the emotional aftermath of divorce.
- Emotional Roller Coaster. All of the feelings that you've been holding at arm's length so that you could function on a day to day basis finally have a chance to express themselves. Odds are that these feelings will be all over the map, from sorrow to anger to frustration to self-pity and back again, all within the span of minutes. No, you are not losing your mind! Your are simply in the throes of grief. Wild emotional ups and downs are to be expected. As long as you can compose yourself when appropriate-at work, in front of the kids and so on-your experience is within the normal range. When you do have the opportunity, let these feelings out. That's why they are showing up in the first place, for the opportunity to be experienced and released. If you do find yourself losing it at inappropriate times, you should seek the help of a counselor and/or divorce support group.
- Friends and Family. Let's hope that your friends and family have been supporting you during this challenging past year. Now that the divorce is settled, people have a tendency to think everything is "over," when you may well only just be beginning the grieving process. Or sometimes people can feel that you need to "buck" up, particularly if you were the one to initiate the divorce. As much as you can let those close to you know where you stand emotionally, please do. One of the most supportive people I encountered during my divorce was a widow who had grieved the death of her husband and who somehow intuitively understood that divorce was an analogous process. Just as in grief over a death, there are stages of denial, fear, bargaining, anger and finally acceptance-and for many people, the true grieving process does not even begin until the divorce is final.
- Effect on the Kids. Just when you want to believe that everything is going to be okay after all, your child starts to act possessed. Your kids have good reason to be freaking out right now-because you are. Of course you still have to maintain the rules-banging up against their boundaries is part of what your children are doing right now to assure themselves that indeed, some things do remain the same. While your forbearance may be at an all-time low, do not lose it with your kids or you will only make things worse for everyone. If your children are really pushing your buttons on a regular basis, find a way to create the time and space necessary for you to compose yourself. Your children need a stable adult in their lives right now and that means you! This doesn't mean that you cannot curl into a fetal position and cry your eyes out once they are asleep. Even better, save it for when they are with the other parent, and then let loose for as long as you want. Remember that your children will not always be at the emotional place that they are at right now.....they will work through their own grieving process at their own pace.
- Double Whammy. When you're going through the death or illness of a parent, relocation, loss of a job or adjustment to a new one, menopause, treatment for illness or addiction or any of life's other major stressors-in addition to divorce-you are experiencing a double or maybe even a triple whammy. I am of the belief that life never throws at us more than we can handle.....hopefully you have some kind of belief system along these lines that will give you the fortitude to get through this challenging time. If you are in the midst of a double or triple whammy, expect your symptoms to be exponentially worse, and just hang on as best you can for the ride.
- Take Care of Yourself. I hope that this phrase has been your mantra throughout the divorce. Stress can have countless bad effects upon the physical and emotional systems of the body. Even if on the surface you feel fine, stress has an undertow: Take time for yourself no matter how many responsibilities you have. Otherwise you will lose touch with the all-important joie de vivre that makes it all worthwhile. And don't quit that vitamin regimen just yet!
- Dating Again. To me it is a bit of a red flag when people begin to date aggressively after they've only just separated. For more on this topic, see How To Start Dating After Divorce. That being said, there is that aforementioned joie de vivre to consider.......as long as you are upfront with your new partner about where you stand emotionally (and you've got two feet on the ground), the choice of how soon to start dating is up to you. Do remember, though, that if you haven't allowed yourself the opportunity to grieve, chances are that you will make similar mistakes next go 'round. It can be challenging to feel badly for weeks or even months at a time, particularly if your ex seems unfazed. If it is any consolation, I promise you that if your ex appears unfazed, he or she is even worse off than you. There is simply no way to transition from a marriage completely unscathed.
No matter how your divorce is finally settled, be prepared for the aftermath. Except for the death of a child or a spouse, the demise of a relationship is the most emotionally devastating of life's transitions. While you may have expected the challenges of the divorce process itself, sometimes the aftermath of divorce can catch us off guard. Gird yourself well and you will not only survive, but thrive.