Saturday, January 19, 2008

Coping After The Decision To Divorce

What feelings can I expect to experience during and after my divorce?

There's a myriad of feelings that you will experience if you're going through a divorce. First and foremost, though, it depends on whether or not you're the person who wants the divorce or who doesn't want the divorce. If you are the person who actually has initiated the divorce, the most prominent feeling you're going to feel is guilt. And that is because the other person may be begging you not to leave the marriage and you may feel very guilty, and it may touch your ambivelance about the whole process. In other words, you may think, "am I making the right choice here? Maybe I'm making a mistake, even though I don't want to be with this person," and often what happens is the guilt really becomes overwhelming to the point where, if you're the one who initiated the divorce, you actually don't want to be around your ex-spouse because it exacerbates your guilt. If you are a person who has been asked for a divorce, or told that you're going to get a divorce, you're going to feel not only tremendous rejection, but you're going to feel a loss of control. That it's really out of your control; that your life, right in front of your eyes, is falling apart. That everything you planned or expected has no more reality than the fantasies in your life. And that you're going to find yourself feeling completely out of control. And that's going to frustrate you to the point where you either become very angry or very depressed.

How can I best cope with the feelings I experience during and after my divorce?

Because divorce is so overwhelming, you really need support. You need support from family and friends and not support for the divorce or not divorcing, but support for your feelings. If you're feeling sad or overwhelmed or loss of control, that someone is able to listen and say, "it's ok to feel that way" and “you're going to need to feel those feelings before you move into a different stage of feeling” and so you need support. You also need to stop blaming yourself if you feel you that can not be happy in that marriage because if you can't be happy, you're not going to make the other person happy. You need to think about the other person. Staying in a marriage with someone who you truly don't love and want to be with is a cruel thing to do. It's an unfair kind of process that we put people through and it's not a loving gesture, in fact, it's very cold and rejecting although we see it as loving at times. So I think that you have to cope with this myriad of feelings you're going to feel and you're going to need a support system to do so. You're going to need people who listen to you. You're going to go through very different stages at different times of grieving your relationship and not everybody goes through them the same way. It's not a prescription. It's not stage one, stage two, stage three. Divorces are all very different. Once again it depends on, did you want this divorce? Are you someone who wanted divorce, but really doesn't want it for the wrong reasons? Are you someone who feels that you are totally shocked and one day your husband or wife came home and said it's over with and your life all the sudden has no predictive value anymore? You don't know what tomorrow is going to bring and you start losing your sense of self. There's lots of ways to cope with a divorce but unfortunately there's going to be lots of feelings that are continually going to come up for a long time from the beginning to almost the end. With the end being, when it's finally not on you plate every day, when you're not thinking about it every day, when it's not part of your life on a regular basis.

Should I join a support group to help me during or after my divorce?

Individual counseling or support groups can be very helpful to you while you're going through the divorce process. In addition to that, there are many support groups held by church and temple support groups and local organizations, where people are going through a similar process and you can get together and talk about how to support each other through this difficult time of divorce. Support groups are very helpful because your friends and your family are going to get tired of your divorce issues. They're going to get tired of you because you're living with this pain 24/7 and only someone else who's living through the same thing too can be as supportive as you want them to be.

Should I consult a therapist to help me during or after my divorce?

When you are feeling that you cannot cope, and it is actually making you dysfunctional in your work, in your parenting or in other relationships, you need to consult a professional to help you. It's not unusual to go through a serious depression during divorce, or to be seriously angry and frustrated all the time the divorce is going on. If you can go and discharge your feelings and get some kind of contextual kind of perspective, it will be very helpful.

What stages of grief are related to divorce?

During your divorce you can expect to experience different stages of grief. Often people start out feeling shocked, not just shocked because a person wants a divorce, but shocked that their actually going to do it finally. Its actually happening even though they've thought about it a very long time, and then often what happens is after that they recant, they take a step backward and they start negotiating. Maybe we can make it work and often what that is; is that's a function of fear. That's really not a function of appreciation of the other person, but I'm so scared and overwhelmed; I'm going to try to make this work now because it looks, the side of the mountain looks so much scarier than this side of the mountain that I'm going to do whatever I can to not have to cross over, and so what happens is people start negotiating. But the negotiation leaves you angry because it means you sacrifice and so then you become very angry and you find yourself angry that you're in a situation where you're splitting up. Where you've tried negotiating; it hasn't worked of course. You're split up and you're just angry about you're situation and you're usually angry at the person who initiated the divorce. You're not angry at yourself. If you've initiated, you're still trying to rationalize that you had to do this. So you may go through rationalization stage if you initiated it, that I needed to do this for my own welfare but more importantly for the sake of my children and that may or may not be the case it may be helpful or may not be helpful for the children. So you rationalize and then you start feeling sort of an acceptance that you're going to be two individual people no longer together and acceptance takes a long time; it sort of, you go back and forth between anger and frustration and guilt and a sense of lose and also this deep sense of failure; that I must have done something wrong because my marriage failed; when it may not be anything you've done at all. In fact you may have been a great marital partner, but the other person was not a great marital partner. Or your lives have really taken two distinctly different paths and you no longer are on the same paths and you don't want to live each others life. So you're going to go through all these stages and don't be concerned if you don't do them in any particular order. You're going to go in and out of them, and years later you may still find that you're going to in and out of phases; even temporarily when things are brought up like during holidays, special events, occasions. When you look at photo albums. When people will bring up things. When you see your children. You may go right back and regress. You may be right back where you were ten years ago for a moment.

What do I do if I change my mind after asking my spouse for a divorce?

Fortunately for you if you change your mind, and you're the one who initiated the divorce, you may find that your spouse is, at that moment, very happy that you no longer want a divorce. However, she or he is going to resent it later on. You're going to have to work through that, because you're going to get the initial relief. You're also going to get a lot of anger, and more importantly, you're going to get distrust, because if you could have asked for this divorce once, you can ask for it twice, and you're going to make your partner feel very unsafe. So your job is going to be to prove to that partner that this was a mistake, and really address their concerns about why you said this in the beginning, and why you've changed your mind now.

What do I do if my spouse changes their mind after asking me for a divorce?

If your spouse, who's asked you for divorce, comes back to you and says they want to work on the marriage, the first thing you have to ask them is, "Why?" They're going to have to show you and demonstrate that they still want to be married to you and really work on the marriage. You're will need to understand the process your spouse went through to reach this new decision. That means to understand: are they doing this because they just met with a lawyer who told them they're going to lose half their fortune? Or, did they find out they won't see their children as often? Perhaps your spouse's father or grandfather, or brother or sister, disapproves of the divorce, or the might have really decided they want to remain married to you. That's a really hard thing to figure out, so take your time before you say to your spouse, "Okay, let's reconcile."

How can we avoid repeating mistakes in our marriage?

Once you have broken up your marriage, you really have to take time for yourself to figure out what happened in the relationship. Did you choose the wrong mate? Were you not the partner that the other person expected? Were they not the person you expected them to be? Were you delusional? Did you have false or unrealistic expectations of marriage? Did you have romantic illusions of marriage? If you did, then you have to really review and find out your culpability in the marital demise, even though you may not have been asked for divorce. Even though you may have been skating along while the other person was the one who was having trouble on the ice. So, you have to ask yourself lots of questions, and not get into a relationship before you do that individual work. That is how you will avoid repeating marital mistakes.

What is a "transitional relationship"?

Transitional relationships are often people who you got involved with before the end of your marriage. Often it could be someone you are having an affair with who you have used to help you separate and give you strength to actually confront your marriage and to leave. Often people need somebody out there to go to. They don't want to be alone or they want a shoulder to cry on - someone to be there for them to support them. Thus, a transitional relationship is often the only way that people can actually leave a bad marriage, because they don't feel strong enough independently. For some people their transitional partners actually end up being their subsequent marital partners, and for some people it can work. But, for many people, that transitional person is there to help them get out of their marriage more than to satisfy their basic needs.

Are transitional relationships helpful after my divorce?

Transitional relationships are often helpful temporarily, making a person feel better who feels badly about themselves. They are often very seductive because someone's rejected you and now someone is pursuing you. In the long run, they really don't solve any problems; they are just there as a transition. You still have to work on yourself, even though you may be feeling better because someone is giving you what you haven't gotten in a long time.

Is it okay to live together while we're divorcing?

Once you've made a decision to end your marriage, it's very difficult for many people to cohabitate. It brings up too much pain, too much suffering, particularly when there's children involved. For people who remain in the house together, children often see fighting, and yelling, and crying -- and they don't know what to make of it. If there are no children involved, and people can do it in a civil way -- without feeling that they're being observed, watched, scrutinized, intimidated -- it may work out fine. But, for most people the pain is so intense, that they really need a physical separation.

Is it okay to continue having sex after we've agreed to divorce?

It's not unusual to actually find your partner more attractive once you've separated from them. Time seems to heal some wounds, absence does make the heart grow fonder and so what happens is you may find yourself becoming more sexually attracted to that person and you may even have some separation sex. Usually people feel lousy afterwards and it doesn't solve any problem and they decide not to do it ever again. But for some people they actually have to go through it to decide not to do it. It's nothing I recommend, but I think it's something developmentally that happens in the circumstances and it never solves the problem. In fact what it brings up is that there's some attraction left but the attraction may be something to be worked on, or something that can't be worked on because there's no emotional, intellectual attraction but just a physical attraction.

What is a "high conflict" divorce?

Divorces are "high conflict" when you and your spouse are arguing about everything; you're arguing about child custody, you're arguing about who's going to live in the house, you're going to argue about who's going to get the vacation home, the boat, you're arguing about who gets the silverware that Grandma gave you for your wedding, basically when there is high conflict involved in the divorce process. In some states there are community property laws, in other states there are not, so you have to, of course, address attorneys with these economic issues. But "high conflict" divorces are where people really need to punish or win above the other party. There's no desire to make things easy for anyone, and often that eminates from anger and a need to control the situation. In a divorce, the things you can control are your children and finances, so if you have tremendous anger and rage you're going to try to control everything, and you're going to end up in a "high conflict" divorce, where you probably can't sit in a room together without being angry with and nasty to each other. In fact, I see people who insist in sessions on calling each other Mr. and Mrs., even though they've been married for twenty years, because there's so much conflict and they're really trying to show their disdain each other.

What is a "low conflict" divorce?

A "low conflict" divorce is where you and your spouse make an agreement to make this as easy as possible for everyone. You use a mediator instead of a litigator, you try to decide together what's best for the children, as opposed to deciding it based on how much child support you have to pay or you will get. You divide up things in the family in a fair and reasonable way, you don't try to punish and there's no competition - low conflict. What you really decide to do is to make this as easy as possible for everyone involved so that you can both move on with your lives. That is a low confllict divorce.

What can I do to help assure a low conflict divorce?

Well the first thing you can do to assure a low conflict divorce is to sit down with your spouse and actually talk about the process of separation. To ensure a divorce with little conflict you must really start from the beginning and say "How can we do this in the least painful and least destructive way; not only for us, but for the children" (if they're involved). If you don't get a response from your spouse because you're too angry, or too hurt, you may have to decide to do it on your own, that is, to be the good guy to avoid conflict, and decide "Well, I'll move out, because this is not something you wanted, I'll make it easier for you. I'll move out. I'm not gonna ask you to move out." So even if there's an economic consequence of you moving out, you must say to your spouse "How are we gonna tell the children? What are we gonna do? How are we gonna tell our family? How would you like to tell people? What would you like to do? Can we consult with a mediator instead of two lawyers? Can we not talk about the reason for our divorce with our friends and the community? Can we continue to be polite and nice in public to each other, and can we continue to promote each other as parents of our children?" Not airing dirty laundry in public is a key element that will keep a divorce low conflict, as opposed to high conflict.

What if a spouse is left particularly angry?

There are many people who don't want to let their anger go because their anger becomes their purpose for living. A spouse who has been maligned, who has been asked for divorce, may decide that she or he is going to spend the rest of their life paying you back for the pain you inflicted on them. That person is going to feed off the anger, and it's going to become a purpose in their life. It's going to become a cause, and what happens is if you take it away, they don't know what else they have in their life.

What do I do if the spouse I'm divorcing is hostile?


I always tell my clients that no matter how hostile the other person is acting during a divorce, you have to be true to yourself. You can still be the best divorcing spouse you can be, the best parent you can be, regardless of the jerk the other person is being. In fact, often if you disengage, you will find that the divorce conflict will go down just by function of disengagement. Even though they are still really angry, they will have no one to fight with. You don't have to be involved. Disengagement is really important if your spouse is thriving on the hostility and anger.

How should I respond to an abusive partner during a divorce?

No one should be a victim of domestic violence, and you have to remove yourself, you have to report it and you have to get yourself some assistance if you're a victim.

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