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Divorce is Worse than Death

In the 1960’s Homes and Rahe set divorce as a stressor second only to the death of a spouse. These days, I am not alone in affirming for clients that the stress and grief of divorce is more complicated and more difficult on an individual than the death of a spouse. 

Every change is a stressor. Even positive changes like the addition of a child to a family or a new job are stressors. Positive stressors generally encourage growth but they can still require additional emotional and mental energy. Those stressors that we believe will be harmful to us or will be difficult are what cause typical distress reactions. Even if you believe the change in your relationship status is and will be a positive change, there are so many logistical changes that you are bound to experience some stress. No matter how congenially it is handled, it is a major change!

For many individuals divorce causes more than “some stress”; it can even be traumatic. Divorce is the death of the marriage; not only do you lose your spouse and have all of the logistical changes associated with that, but often people experience a feeling of failure and/or disappointment at not being successful at marriage, choosing the wrong spouse, etc. Even when you have given all that you could to make the relationship work there can still be guilt about giving up or even simply growing apart. Self-doubt is common. There can be struggles with identity as you try to definite yourself as an individual separate from the relationship that has been such a large part of your life. Unlike when someone dies, the person you divorce continues to live and you can run into them at any point (online or in real life) and you may even have to have consistent contact for court dates and coparenting. This can complicated the process of grieving the loss of the relationship and the death of the marriage. 

Divorce is not a single event that changes your reality; it includes numerous changes and stressors that can stretch on for months and years. Financially there will likely be a loss of income, additional expenses like housing and groceries, not to mention the court costs and attorney fees. You may have to return to work, work more hours, or look for a new job. You may need to find a new place to live and/or sell your home which involves hiring a realtor, staging, showings, inspections, assessment, paperwork, negotiations, hiring additional professionals, closing, packing, and moving. In addition to the legal paperwork involved, you will need to change your next of kin and emergency contact on any number of forms and databases. You may have to secure new options for childcare or depend on relatives you would rather not. You may have to take on new household tasks like paying bills, doing laundry, cleaning, cooking, landscaping, etc. You may have to manage the stress your children experience from this major change and how it impacts their lives. Then there is the eventual stress of reentering the dating world and all of its complexities and idiosyncrasies. 

It can be difficult to know who you can or should talk to. You are likely to lose friendships as individuals you both know choose one side or another. Some will even share what you have confided in them with your former spouse. Even supportive family and friends are invested and cannot be entirely neutral. Their support and advice can unintentionally be as much about them as it is about you or they can be hurt by something you say or angry when you don’t do as they suggest. The last thing you need in the midst of a divorce is complications in other relationships. 

The stress and grief of divorce is likely to be one of the more difficult experiences of your life. It can make you feel like you are going crazy and cause you to question yourself. Often my clients will share their recent thoughts or intentions or interactions simply to ask for reassurance that there aren’t any ‘red flags’ or that they aren’t “crazy”. Some of the biggest reassurance I observe in my clients is when I can help anchor them to who they are, their values, and the strengths that they sometimes forget in the midst of all the fighting and grieving. I often help my clients connect to quality professionals such as realtors, house painters, attorneys, financial planners, etc. to make the process easier. Those that fear that their former spouse would use counseling against them in some way, appreciate that I offer additional confidentiality by scheduling blocks before and after sessions, so there is not a full waiting room, and accepting cash payments and a sliding-fee scale based on income rather than billing insurance. 

Professionals that work with people in the midst of divorce, including divorce attorneys, generally strongly recommend counseling. While I love working with couples and doing pre-marital counseling, I particularly appreciate working with individuals considering, in the midst of, and healing from divorce or breakup because I know it is such important work and can make such a difference to those experiencing one of the more complicated situations of life. I hope that anyone in a similar situation can find someone to help them through it. 


image courtesy of marcolm/ / used as background iamge

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