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Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz Keane, MA LMFTLife is like an onion. You peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.
- Carl Sandburg
On the surface divorce is a legal process. Armies of specialists may jump in (attorneys, mediators, and other experts). There’s no stigma to using these specialists – in fact many believe they are necessary.
But, what’s below the surface? Like icebergs, most of the divorce process is not so easily recognized. The repercussions of divorce include physical separation, financial separation, and parent planning. Many of these issues require multi-tasking. While the legal process is bumping along, couples needs to figure out who will live where, how each will afford two households with the resources for one, and what happens to the kids. These are all tasks that need attention at the same time.
As if these stressors weren’t enough, the psychological and emotional divorces lie in the background often getting little consideration. Studies and theoretical speculation attempt to analyze these forces to make sense of them. One view breaks down the psychological process into various steps or stages, but then proposes these stages can overlap, repeat, be skipped and occur in different orders.
While there are many “sub-stages” that have been proposed, the primary stages identified are 1) the deliberative stage – the stresses in the relationship, the disappointments perceived, the frustrations experienced begin to build a case (not necessarily an accurate view of what is happening) to justify separation and divorce. When the case is strong enough there is a movement into the 2) Decision stage. When the decision to divorce is made both partners become involved in the struggle. This leads to the 3) Transition stage which sometimes leads to a physical separation and sometimes to initiating the legal divorce. Often described as a “crazy” time, emotions are amplified. Fear, rejection, hurt and grief are commonly felt. The fourth stage, Healing, is more of an aspiration than a certainty. When the divorce is final and each can move forward in their respective lives, healing has a chance.
Successful healing is most likely when couples navigate the process with appropriate support and guidance tending to all the layers in divorce, not just the legal process.