By Irving H. Zaroff, JD LMFT and Dana Schutz, MA LMFT

One can be preoccupied after setting sail in the Sea of Divorce with the anticipation of storms, leaky boats, shortage of life jackets, and the other perils of Mother Nature. There may not be time or energy to consider that your ship is leaving behind the only port you ever knew.

The original meaning of divorce was to “separate” or “turn aside.” Marital divorce means physically separating and financially separating. These are definable actions. Mutual agreement or court rulings can give effect to such actions. But there is a third separation that is much murkier – the emotional separation. In human behavioral psychology, this process of loss is called grief. Grief means “mental pain” and “sorrow.” These feelings are the drivers or motivators that determine what the process of divorce will look like for each couple.

Grief, following the death of a loved one, is a bit different than grief in divorce. It is much harder to resolve one’s mental pain or sorrow when the object of loss is an idea (i.e., “our family”) or a person that still exists. The journey is complicated because it is rare that both spouses are experiencing the same stage of grief at the same time. One spouse may have grieved the “idea” of a lost marriage before the other spouse is even aware of it. This can amplify the stages for the “surprised” spouse. The stages may be similar to grieving a death (shock and denial; anger; bargaining to escape the loss; depression; and finally, acceptance). But the process is not as linear. Because the dynamics between the spouses will be frequently changing (mood shifts; influence from friends and advisors; the seesaw of fear and anger; etc.) parties will be thrown back and forth between the stages. Unrequited bargaining may lead to anger or depression. Anger or depression may lead back to denial – and so forth.

What’s the answer? An emotional compass! Be aware of the grieving process. Treat the pain through dialogue. Be accepting of the sorrow. Get support for the emotional loss. Learn that things will get better.

The closing of a door can bring blessed privacy and comfort—the opening, terror. Conversely, the closing of a door can be a sad and final thing—the opening a wonderfully joyous moment.
– Andy Rooney

Divorce, once extremely rare, is all too commonplace in today’s society. The good news? Most people adapt. The human spirit is a wind to fill your sails when you listen to its whisper. All you have to do is listen.

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