The Emotional Side of Divorce


albrecht-dc3bcrer-the-four-horsemen-apocalypse-probably-1497-98-painting-artwork-printYou probably knew things were not going well in the marriage, but every relationship has its ups and downs.  And maybe your marriage was in a rut.  

The Seattle psychologist John Gottman has identified four factors that he believes predict the end of a marriage.  He entitles them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  They are (1) criticism, (2) contempt, (3) defensiveness, and (4) stonewalling.  These factors are probably best described through example.  Criticism usually starts with “you always…” or “you never…” or “why are you so…”  Contempt is the strongest predictor of divorce, and it is conveyed through name calling, sarcasm, mockery, sneering, rolling of the eyes.  Defensiveness is making excuses or making cross-complaints or just saying “it’s not fair.”  Finally, stonewalling is ignoring, giving one word answers, or changing the subject.

Even if the Four Horsemen seem familiar, you were not expecting that your spouse would ask for a divorce.   To be involved in a divorce is one of life’s most stressful events.  Indeed, the psychologists Holmes and Rahe created a stress scale from 1 to 100.  The higher the number the more stressful the event.  Death of a spouse is 100. The next highest is divorce at 73 and marital separation at 65.  By comparison, trouble with your boss is 23.  Going to prison is 63.   Marital separation and divorce is more stressful than going to prison!

The major emotions you probably feel during your separation and divorce are anger and depression.   A marriage is a partnership, the strongest relationship you have made a commitment to, and yet it is now a failure.  All the dreams and hopes and work that went into it now seem to have wasted.  Yes, it is appropriate to be angry.  That is a core human emotion.

rock climbingHow do you get over the anger?  To be angry means you see yourself as a victim and that you are angry at your persecutor.   But anger is not a healthy state to be in for any length of time.  It is said that anger is depression turned out, while depression is anger turned in.  I have found that the way to break through the anger/depression is through the process of forgiveness.   Please, do not ridicule me so quickly, that is probably because you are still angry. 

The insight will come to you through this passage I read by Jack Kornfield, about two former prisoners of war meeting sometime after their release.  “When one asked, ‘Have you forgiven your captors?’ the other replied, ‘No, never.’ The first ex-prisoner looked with kindness at his friend and said, ‘Well, then they still have you in prison, don’t they.’”  In other words, to forgive your spouse serves to free yourself from being a hostage of your past.   It is simply not emotionally healthy to carry the burden of the past for your entire life.

The inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who helped bring us the telephone, said, “When one door closes, another door opens; but we so often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”   In terms of your personal life during times of separation and divorce, this can occur in several ways. 

If you have children, you should understand that they have also been greatly affected by the separation and divorce.  Children will often think that they are the cause for the problem.  They may also perceive your being away from them as a sign of rejection.  It is therefore important to make the commitment of time and attention that your children need. 

harry sally-ifjrILSainPFinally, you will probably try some new things.  Perhaps you will diet and exercise a few pounds, buy a sportier car to replace that gray van.  You may want to start dating and, as described in the movie When Harry Met Sally, have that “transitional relationship.”

SALLY: Look, there is no point in my going out with someone I might really like if I met him at the right time but who right now has no chance of being anything to me but a transitional man.
MARIE: OK, but don’t wait too long.  Remember what happened to David Walsaw? His wife left him and everyone said, “Give him some time, don’t move in too fast.”  Six months later he was dead.
SALLY: What are you saying?  I should get married to someone right away in case he’s about to die?
MARIE: All I’m saying is that somewhere out there is the man you are supposed to marry. And if you don’t get him first, somebody else will, and you’ll have to spend the rest of your life knowing that somebody else is married to your husband.

Remember that Harry ended up with Sally.  There’s no reason for you to have anything but a happy life.

Our goal is to provide optimal divorce services for our clients. 

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