Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Understanding and Using the Thoughts and Feelings After Divorce

Whether a divorce is chosen, imposed, contested, litigated or mediated, divorce is emotionally difficult.

What often adds to the difficulty are lingering thoughts and feelings that bewilder, disturb and interfere with moving on in a productive way.broken heart

  • “ I can’t believe when I saw him at the teacher’s meeting, I actually felt something toward him…what’s wrong with me?”
  • “She said she fell out of love. I thought we were great. I’ll never make someone happy.”
  • “How does a man leave? The kids don’t understand that he ruined everything.”
  • “ Yes I fooled around, but I didn’t want the marriage to end.”

Understanding the emotional fallout from divorce and the ways in which thoughts and feelings persist, may make it possible to cope with them and transform them into lessons learned.

The Chemistry of Intimate Attachments

  • The fact that a divorce is final does not shut off feelings. While people may feel relief that it is over, in the aftermath of a divorce few people feel neutral about their ex-partner.
  • Regardless of who initiated the divorce, we respond to the presence of that person differently than to other people on many levels.
  • Our reactions are often confusing because they are a function of the neurochemistry associated with a shared history of intimate attachment. We may feel some attraction.
  • You may imagine that your x-partner is going to turn into the perfect partner to someone else.
  • You may feel the primitive anger born of fear when a basic human bond is broken.
  • Such feelings don’t imply that you made a mistake, that your ex-partner will magically change, that you don’t know what you are doing, or that these feelings will persist.
  • They mean you are human.

 The Cost of Re-Writing History

  • It is not uncommon to recast all the years of your marriage as unhappy as a way to buffer loss, betrayal or feelings of rejection.
  • It is not uncommon to blame the ex-partner and gather corroborating evidence from family and friends.
  • This can become so persistent that it becomes a strain on family and friends.
  • It is particularly difficult on children as it often discrepant with their memories and reality of their other parent.
  •  The impact of divorce becomes  negative when children are placed in the middle, asked to take sides, or are unable to resume their childhood without pressure and stress.
  •  If you are totally blaming your ex or totally blaming yourself, keep in mind that most people make the best decisions they can with the resources they have.
  • Ripping up all of your memories steals a chapter in your life story as well as the good memories that belong to your children.

The Time to Grieve

Few legitimize the time necessary to grieve the end of a marriage or to recognize how much the mix of feelings one has actually reflects the grieving process.

 Grieving the Loss of Self and the Past

  • It is often difficult for friends and family to understand that although the marriage could not survive—you are suffering with the loss of a dream and the person you were in that dream.
  • After a divorce, many report that they didn’t want the marriage; but they want to be a married person.
  • They want their home, their friends and their children living with two parents.
  • They don’t want to be single. They don’t even know how to be single.
  • Rather than grieving, some have the urge to minimize the loss with a new permanent connection.
  • Given that the rate of divorce increases with second and third marriages, taking the time to find self is crucial.

Finding Self and Going Forward

  • It is often not until the pain and loss of a divorce subsides that both men and women begin to identify those aspects of self that they never found, celebrated or nurtured in their former marriages.
  • Making new friends and connections, finding and using your personal resiliencies (intelligence, physical strength, social connections, spirituality, business savvy, artistic abilities, etc.) even adapting to different financial and living conditions, can become a way of defining a new, happier, stronger self.
  • Over the years, I have seen people change in dramatic ways both emotionally and even physically.
  • They move forward with lessons learned, they co-parent their children, they take on new careers and often as one man  told me, “ I was devastated with the divorce—now I think I should thank her.”

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” Maria Robinson

“ When is Divorce the Best Decision?” Don’t miss Andrea Cade, Divorce Warrior on Psych Up Live 3/16/17 or podcast on 3/17/17.