Divorce represents the death of a marriage and all the hopes and dreams that went into it. And the death of a marriage, like any death, requires a grieving process for healing. Since people do not enter into marriage planning for divorce, the death of a marriage inevitably brings with it strong emotions- especially denial, shock, and anger. If there are children involved, the entire process is even more complicated and painful.
Studies show that it takes at least 2 years for substantial healing to occur. For some, this time frame may be longer. Even adult children of divorcing parents experience grief, anger and oftentimes, depression.
There are two dangers many people face when dealing with strong emotions:
- Refusing to admit feelings and/or pushing painful feelings aside.
- Getting stuck in the feelings and prolonging them.
The way in which you react to your divorce is yours. While there are common stages, how you go through them depends on you. The biggest challenge throughout this process is to allow yourself to pass through the stages of grief, experience the emotions fully, and then to move on while taking back some of your power. Your feelings and thoughts are not the boss! You are the person doing the work and creating your future!! If you feel comfortable, seeking out counseling during these difficult days is a great way to help yourself heal.
For the children:
- Sit all children down together and tell them about the impending divorce. This ensures no one has to 'keep a secret' and no one feels as if they were deceived.
- Communicate clearly to the children that it is not their fault; therefore they cannot fix it or get you back together.
- Make a conscious effort to put aside your conflict now to help the children. Even if one parent does not keep their commitment to avoid conflict, you keep yours.
- Answer any questions they may have honestly and as completely as you can. They may want to know where they will live, will they attend the same school, and who will be leaving the home, etc.
- Encourage them to talk about their feelings. Let them know it is ok to be angry or frightened and reassure them that you are always willing to listen.
- Let your children know that they are not being disloyal to you by loving and wanting to spend time with the other parent.
- Realize that even very young children are affected by divorce. Infants and toddlers may not understand all that is happening but they do sense tension, anger and sadness. They may react by crying more than usual, throwing temper tantrums, sleeplessness, or regressing back to an earlier developmental stage.
- Try to keep young children's routines the same. Familiar people and consistent schedules will help children feel safe and secure.
- Speak negatively about the other parent. This is the #1predictor of how well children heal emotionally after a divorce. When you attack your ex-spouse you are unconsciously attacking your children. They are half of the other parent!
- Jump too quickly into another relationship. It can take up to two years for healing to occur and during this time everyone is emotionally vulnerable.
- Try to be the 'good parent'. Bribing children with gifts and trips upsets a child's need for order and consistency. It will also become a burden because the children will expect special treats all the time.
- Make the children 'choose' between you and your ex-spouse. It is especially difficult for children to exclude one parent from an activity or celebration.
- Lean on your children for emotional support. Seek out a therapist or trusted friend with whom you can talk.