A client spoke with me recently about how exhausted she had been feeling. This took her quite by surprise as, after years and years of unhappiness and finally feeling able to move ahead with a divorce, she had hoped to feel better. She didn’t expect to feel so irritable, de-energized, and just plain tired out. “Why should I feel so lousy if I’ve finally gotten up the nerve to ask for what I want: A divorce, and the chance to move ahead toward a happier life?”
Perhaps this is not so surprising as even though she has begun the process of getting her life back on track, she is nonetheless experiencing the feelings associated with the ending of a significant part of her life, in this case her 34 year marriage.
There are distinct feelings or emotional stages to pass through when undergoing any important life shift: the death of a loved one, job loss, the end of a relationship, or even moving to a new part of the country. Some people experience one or two of these for a long time and then move through the next 2 or 3 more stages rather quickly. Others seem to get stuck in one stage and just linger there while still others move through each stage a bit more rapidly. One thing we do know for sure is that moving through and then healing from a major life transition such as divorce is not easy and just can’t be rushed.
There is disagreement among the experts about exactly how many stages there are (I’ve seen 4, 5, or 6 stages according to different sources) and about what each stage involves. There is agreement, however, on the idea that individuals who undergo divorce are going to feel a variety of feelings at different points as they move through the process. These include, but are not limited to:
Anger (at their soon to be ex-spouse, friends, family, or even at the world)
Anxiety (about living independently, of being alone, of what the future may bring, about the children’s well-being, about job stability, living in a new place, etc)
Sadness (a strong sense of loss, of hopelessness or helplessness, feeling unmotivated and easily or often fatigued)
Confusion (Not understanding how/why this happened, feeling unable to move ahead, feeling “fuzzy headed” and uncertain, having difficulty with decision making)
Loneliness (Feeling alone and lonely is part of the human condition, one that we may not recognize when we are busy being a spouse, parent, homemaker, etc. Once life quiets down after divorce and we have time to sit alone with ourselves, it may ‘hit us’ that we are indeed alone)
While feeling some degree of each of the above is to be expected, if you find that you are feeling incapacitated by any of these, so much so that it is interfering with your ability to function and live your life, it is a good idea to take some action. Talking to a therapist or counselor about what you are experiencing can be very helpful in helping you to through this.
In time, other emotions can be added to the mix such as:
Relief (That the difficult parts of the marriage are passing or gone, the worst may be over as the level of conflict or tension has been reduced)
Excitement (About starting a new life, finding a new love, having a new beginning)
Happiness (In new surroundings or with new friends, enjoying the freedom of single life or newly found independence)
Calm (The worst is over, the most difficult part is behind you)
Whatever stage you are in, fully healing from divorce takes time (about two years, on average). It is a personal and complicated process that has a beginning, middle, and end. So you can take strength from the old adage that “this too will pass”. Because, it will.