Your spouse steps into your room and says: “We need to talk.” Immediately, your stress level jumps and you feel defensive, but you can’t avoid the issue so you face the music and agree to talk. After a few preliminary comments about how unhappy she has been for the past several months, your spouse tells you, “I don’t want to be married to you anymore. I have hired an attorney and she will be sending you papers later this week. I want you out of the house as soon as you find an apartment.”
You are stunned. Sure, you’ve been vaguely aware she has been withdrawn the last few months, but you attributed that to her mother’s recent death. Now, you realize you missed something important in your marriage and it looks like it may be too late to fix it. However, you decide to give it a try anyway. You ask, “Can we work this out? How about couples counseling? You have said you wanted to do that in the past.” Your spouse says, “It’s too late. I want a divorce.”
Denial is the First Stage
Your immediate reaction is to deny the problem. You think to yourself, “She’s just upset about something–when she calms down, everything will be fine.” However, denying you have a serious emotional issue won’t help and is dangerous to your health and wellbeing. Avoiding dealing with anxiety, anger and depression generally makes matters worse. Every human being is vulnerable to anger, anxiety and depression when faced with a serious loss like divorce or death. If you are feeling overwhelmed, seek counseling. Avoiding dealing with stress only makes matters worse. To get through the loss you need to allow yourself to experience the sadness, anger and fear. Focusing on positive things in your life will help you through the grief. Stay in touch with family and friends and avoid isolating yourself. It’s ok to feel sorry for yourself, but don’t allow depression to make you passive.
Anger, Anxiety, and Depression
After denial, the most frequent emotions associated with divorce are anger, anxiety, and depression. Instead of denying these strong emotions, there are healthy steps you can take to deal with the grief. An important factor in achieving mental health during a divorce is to gain a feeling of control over your life; avoid acting like a victim. Feeling you are in control will give you a sense of achievement. Additionally, take time every day to eat right, exercise and maintain a positive mental attitude. Meditate or do relaxation exercises regularly and take care of yourself.
Managing Divorce Emotions
Exercise and stress management are essential components of mental health during a divorce. Daily exercise is an effective way to modulate mood, dissipate stress, and relieve depression. Start with simple steps such as relaxing and breathing deeply several times a day and gradually increase your walking or running. Try to replace alcohol or drugs with a safer way to relax such as meditation or exercise. Pay attention to your surroundings. Psychologists call this state mindfulness - being aware of yourself in your world. Habits are difficult to change. Take inventory of your life and ask yourself what bad habits make life difficult for you. The key is to focus on things that are important to you and plan positive things for your future. Life is not over, even though it may seem that way.
Recovery from Divorce
Don’t expect your anger, anxiety, and depression to go away quickly. It may take six or eight months for you to feel somewhat normal most of the time and you will have recurring bouts of sadness and feelings of loss when reminded of the loss. The important thing is to experience your grief when it occurs, work through it and come out on the other side stronger and happier. Avoid any activity that drains your spirit or energy. Don’t spend time with negative people. Instead, choose people and activities that enhance your mental wellbeing. Think positive, stay proactive, avoid being isolated and you will survive to love again. Finally, choose to do a collaborative divorce because the process itself will be healing. Rather than fighting with your spouse, the collaborative divorce process will teach you how to communicate, compromise and connect with your spouse and family after the divorce if finished. You and your children will be better off as a result.