Grief hits us at numerous times throughout life. It is a multifaceted response to loss of any kind and not only does it carry an emotional impact, but also cognitive, physical, social, philosophical and even behavioural consequences. It is anything but simple.
Whether or not you are the instigator of a separation or divorce, there will be at least some degree of grief felt. Grief for the loss of the relationship, for the demise of the family unit and for the future you’d envisaged as a couple.
There are five distinct stages in any grieving process, and many people experience all of these and in their particular order. It is normal to feel these emotions.
You may have made the decision to separate. Your partner may have decided and thrust their decision upon you. Initial denial is very common – it’s hard to believe that this is really happening. Denial is a human defense mechanism we subconsciously use to protect ourselves from shock and the pain of the loss. It’s the “I’ll think about that tomorrow” philosophy. You may feel numb and go through the motions of normality. In time, the reality of the situation sinks in and you may feel pain and fear.
Anger and resentment is incredibly common in the grieving process, especially in a separation. While your ex-partner is the most likely (and probably justified) target of your anger, you may also feel resentment towards parents, in-laws, friends, and even yourself or your children. This stage of grief can be very intense and feelings can seem out of control. Others may well be angry with you, too. This is a time when professional counselling can help.
“If only…”. Avoidance of the final outcome is the key to this stage of grief. It is based on a need to regain control of the situation. Bargaining is like a last-ditch attempt to come to terms with the separation and its inevitable finality. You may seek a truce with your ex-partner, enter couples counselling and try to reconcile, or alternatively work to convince yourself that divorcing is the right thing to do. Link to counselling blog
This stage should be the least surprising. Any great loss will result in feelings of sadness and depression. This is what we tend to think of when we hear the word “grief”. You may feel totally exhausted both physically and mentally, yet struggle to sleep. You may struggle to stay awake or to get out of bed. You may lose your appetite or start overeating. You may have a short temper and not feel like yourself. You might feel ashamed or guilty, or isolated, even retreating socially – especially if your social group is also that of your ex-partner. Medical assistance is commonly required to help navigate this time.
At this point you have accepted your separation and the fact that chapter of your life is closed. You will gradually find yourself able to release the other negative emotions and you will begin to live again – without being overwhelmed with sadness. You are now ready to move on with your life. You are stronger than you ever believed you could be!
Nobody’s divorce is exactly the same as anyone else’s. While you do need to get on with normal life while you’re navigating separation, you also need to allow yourself to go through the emotional process so that you can ultimately heal and move forward. Be kind to yourself, accept support from friends and family, and seek counselling if you can. It will get better in time.
If you are thinking of separating, please talk to us about the steps you need to take to get the best possible outcome.
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