On your wedding day, at a time of joy, hope and optimism, nobody thinks that their union will end up in the divorce courts; that is simply something that happens to “other people”. We expect to grow old together, have our grandchildren over for tea together and maybe roam the world in our dotage together.
This is where it differs somewhat from death which we all expect to experience at some point in our lives. So, when divorce visits, the emotions we feel can be strong, long lasting and confusing.
Disappointment, anger, betrayal, sadness, guilt, distress, fear, grief, frustration, joy, worry; the list of emotions that are typically experienced when a relationship ends and a divorce ensues, is endless. This cocktail of feelings can be crippling and of course, it comes at a time when we are expected to manage an important, complicated and often adversarial process.
To survive the mechanics of a divorce you have to park your emotions, it is essential to be pragmatic and practical and you may have to be assertive and stand your ground. This at a time when all you want to do is retreat and lick your wounds.
Of course, if there are children involved, your emotions have to take a back seat to their needs too. They have to be protected from the pain you are feeling and you may even find yourself having to promote the very person that is the source of your pain.
Then, there is the pressure from society and those around you to re-start your life; earn money, date again, move house etc. This expectation does not sit well with the emotions you may be experiencing.
Maybe these are why divorce is generally considered to be one of life’s major stress events.
So, how can we manage our emotions and get through?
Firstly, allow yourself to feel. The pertinent point here, is that you have to go through it. Emotions are our way of healing and so, we must allow ourselves time to be sad, angry, frustrated and so on. Nevertheless, we also have to get on with life and considering a framework known as the 3P’s may help you achieve this.
Permanence - Pervasiveness - Personal
If you can look at your divorce and think it is not permanent, pervasive or personal, then you can gain some perspective and allow hope and optimism back into your mind.
Of course your divorce is permanent but the sadness you feel about it, is not. There will come a day when you realise that you have not felt sad about it at all and for many, there will be a realisation that the divorce was actually a positive thing. Whilst in the thick of it though, being told that “you’ll be OK” is very frustrating and for many, it is difficult to comprehend. Just try to keep reminding yourself that the way you feel is not permanent. Remember an event in your past which you found difficult and consider if you still feel as strongly about it today? Feelings fade and often disappear. These will too.
Going through a separation and divorce can feel incredibly pervasive. Divorce impacts your future dreams, your past memories and your present reality (finances, family, friends etc), seemingly everything. Look closely though and even in your darkest moments, there will be parts of your life that are untouched or even improved by the situation. Maybe it’s the better relationship you have with your children or a closer network of friends. Maybe it’s a new activity that you take up or different places you visit. As time goes by, these small pockets of your life that are not affected by divorce will become greater, eventually they will become the pervasive elements with the divorce fading to a distant memory.
This can be the most difficult P to get your mind around.
“Why is this happening to me?”
“What did I do to deserve it?”
It all feels very personal. However, in the same way that terminal illness impacts some people and others become victims of crime, it is not personal. Life is simply not fair and when it serves us a dish of injustice we need to poke around and find the opportunity within it.
Consciously using the 3 P’s when emotions threaten to overwhelm you will help you to recognise the worry for what it is and deal with it appropriately.
Lastly, try to avoid projecting.
“I’m alone, I will remain alone and die an old lady eaten by my cats.”
You don’t know what the future holds and there is no benefit in envisioning a grisly cat ingested end! Try to live in the present for now and deal with what is in front of you. One day at a time.
Remember that nobody ever died of divorce!