The Normal Stages of Divorce and How to Ease Past Them with Mindfulness
By Dr. Scott Silverman
Published March 19, 2017
Divorce can be one of the most difficult experiences one goes through in life. Some of the stages you may go through are:
Denial: This is when you wake up in the middle of the night and forget about all that is going on, and then it hits you like a ton of bricks that your life is in upheaval. At times throughout the day you forget and even have visions of a reconciliation or good times past. Or someone asks how you’re doing and you simply reply “fine.” This defense mechanism is normal and just your mind’s way of protecting you from becoming emotionally overwhelmed. However, as a long term solution denial will prevent you from moving on and you must face reality to move to the next stage.
Anger: This is the stage that doubles as blame. It’s all my husband’s or wife’s fault and if it’s not theirs maybe it’s actually my fault for marrying them in the first place. The lazy partner I still have won’t even pay attention to the house falling apart anymore or won’t even discuss finances for the divorce. This is the stage where we often let out our pent up emotions after we move past denial. Understand that often beneath the anger lies the real issue. This could be fear, uncertainty, frustration and sadness. Remember, your emotions are real and acceptable, but it’s your behavioral reactions that can cause more trouble.
Bargaining: Sometimes when there is infidelity or one spouse initiates the divorce, they or the other spouse may try to bargain back into the relationship. “I’m so sorry for cheating, I will do whatever it takes to repair the damage” or “I’m so sorry I don’t love you anymore, you can have the house.” There is a lot of guilt in this stage but let’s not forget that the underlying unhappiness is still there. That’s why many people try again and get back together so they can decrease anger and denial and, although maybe stay unhappy, at least live a predictable life.
Depression: Often during divorce underlying our anger is a depressed state. This is where we lie in bed a lot and don’t feel happy anymore. Negative thoughts such as “how will I survive financially” or “I’m a lousy parent to my children” are hitting you most of the day. We may seek therapy, take medication or do whatever it takes to try to survive. It’s crucial to have a support system of friends, professional help and people in similar situations.
Acceptance: Finally, the day comes where our divorce does not consume every thought and moment of our lives. Yes, the thoughts, anger and depressed feelings pop up but not nearly as much. This is the stage where we say, “hey, I have a new and exciting life ahead of me”. You may even go on Match. com or to a bar with friends and have some hope. You have now learned to accept the situation you are in. Although you may still be having normal feelings of sadness or regret you are able to live with them. You are able to live your life.
So now that you know the stages of divorce, if you are stuck in anger, there is a wonderful way you can learn to help yourself through this.
Let’s say you are listening to your spouse’s voice give you yet another set of lies. You feel your temperature rise, adrenaline begin to make your heart pound, and your body instinctively prepare for a fight. STOP! Take a deep breath letting your lungs fill completely with oxygen filled air. Listen to the silence calm your voice, simply observing your reactions. You just used mindfulness meditation to find inner tranquility during a difficult moment.
What is mindfulness meditation?
Jon Kabat-Zinn describes Mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
Being mindful is being open to our experiences, pleasant or unpleasant, without ruminating or rejecting. Instead of trying to escape our feelings we learn how to be present with whatever is happening. We begin to understand how our minds operate and see ourselves in entirety.
Mindfulness is proven to reduce stress, emotional pain and pain intensity, as well as help us self-regulate our emotions.
How and where can you learn or practice mindfulness meditation?
There are many books available such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction by Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you would like to become involved in a more experiential setting, I offer Divorce Support Groups that incorporate mindfulness or mindfulness-based stress reduction workshops. This is in addition to individual divorce counseling.