Divorce/separation

Whether you're considering divorce or are already in the process, you may be experiencing grief, anger, guilt, confusion, pain or shame. If you have kids, you may have the additional worry about how to manage custody, how to co-parent effectively, and how to minimize the effects of divorce on them.

Considering divorce?

This may be a time filled with confusion, fear, guilt, and lots of unknowns. You may be wondering,

  • Do I find a mediator
  • Should I use a collaborative divorce lawyer?
  • Will I be protected emotionally and financially?
  • Will my kids be okay?
  • What will life be like single again?
  • Will I ever get over the shock… hurt... betrayal... guilt...

We are fortunate that the legal system offers more options today than ever. And many are designed to lessen the traumatic impact divorce can have. We also know more about how divorce impacts families emotionally. Counseling can help families:

  • regain equilibrium faster
  • make peace with all of the changes
  • provide a safe place to vent anger and hurt
  • develop effective communication skills
  • and keep the needs of your kids first and foremost

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Already in the divorce process?

Even the easiest divorces are hard. Losing your marriage - even if it was a struggle - can be like losing a limb. For most people, the division of assets and debts, decisions about property, financial agreements and custody agreements can feel like your life is literally being torn apart.

My job is to keep you grounded and feeling whole, so you can make logical decisions that will serve you and your family in the long run. It can be tempting to make decisions in the heat of the moment, based on pain or anger. Therapy provides a safe place to vent all of your feelings, to be heard, understood and validated, leaving your mind clear so that your choices create more ease, comfort and peace for you and your family.

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The "Left Behind Spouse"

Too often, divorce comes as a surprise to one person in the marriage. "I knew we were unhappy, but I thought we'd work it out," is a typical statement people make. When one person is taken by surprise like this, there are feelings of abandonment, rejection, loss of control, helplessness, hurt and betrayal.

The therapy process helps normalize all of these feelings. When you know you're not the only one who feels this way, healing becomes a little bit easier. For many people, being left creates an opportunity to heal wounds from abandonment or rejection from the past too - leaving them feeling stronger and more whole than they ever have before. Anger and helplessness transform into kindness and confidence as you make a new vow - to take care of yourself with as much love and gentleness as you can. Self-esteem grows out of this commitment, and as you learn that you are strong enough to get through intense feelings, that self-esteem becomes stronger and more grounded.

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Surviving Divorce

For many people, each step of the way is a battle. It's easy, when you feel hurt, scared or angry to get caught up in the moment, the details, the arguments. This may also be a time when you feel lonely. Even if you're angry at your spouse, you may miss the good times, the consistency. You may discover that people who were friends take sides, or disappear - unable to handle their own feelings about your divorce. This can be especially painful.

It's helpful and ultimately a relief to focus on the big picture. Learning to let go, even if you spouse wants to pick a fight, is empowering. It's also essential to have a safe and reliable support system. This may include family, true friends, a support group for divorce, classes - anything that helps you feel connected to humanity in a way that is supportive and not depleting.

This is also a time to be extra kind with yourself. Divorce can be physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. You may need permission (from yourself)

  • to do less
  • to rest more
  • to grieve
  • to say no to people and events that feel like too much
  • to say yes to friends and activities that ease your discomfort

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What to expect when divorcing

It can feel like your life is upside down. There may be good days and bad days. As with any loss, there are stages (that don't always happen in order). These include

  • Shock - feeling surreal, like you're not really in your body
  • Denial/disbelief - "This can't be happening; I'm going to wake up and it will all be over"
  • Anger - everything from getting easily irritated to feelings of rage
  • Depression - Sadness, loneliness, guilt or shame: "How can this be happening to me/How could I have let this happen/What's wrong with me?"
  • Helplessness - Feeling stuck, no sense of control, lost and unsure what to do or where to turn
  • Acceptance - Feelings of being okay, relief, may come in brief moments at first, then grow to hours, day, weeks and longer of feeling okay again

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What about the kids?

How the adults behave sets the tone for the kids. Kids need to be protected from anger, hurt and getting pulled into the middle. Each decision involves them at some level. With each decision, a good question to ask yourself is, "how will this affect kids?" You have the power to give them the safest experience by treating your ex with respect and kindness.

Not all kids react the same way. Some are resilient and adjust easily. Others need more support. Your job as a parent is to tune in to your kids level of reaction. This may require putting your own feelings aside temporarily. It may help to have an outside opinion, so you don't accidentally mistake your feelings for your kids' feelings.

Think about ways to empower your kids. Their losing a sense of control and continuity too. How can you give them more control - especially when they live in 2 different spaces? Think about giving them choices about things like room décor. If you can afford it, it may feel good if they have duplicates of certain things in each home. If you can work collaboratively with your spouse, consider ways to keep routines consistent in the two homes.

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How divorce impacts men and women differently

Everyone feels victimized and helpless. But how men and women react may be different. Each person is unique, and the following are general observations that may not apply to you or your ex.

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Effects on Women

While many women are very empowered and financially savvy, there may still be feelings of helplessness, especially if the woman is the one who's been left. If she stayed at home while he worked, this can be compounded. Most stay-at-home moms feel nervous returning to the workplace - even when still married. If there are feelings of helplessness or dependency, women may feel even more victimized by a divorce. And out of this sense of helplessness and fear may come rage.

It's important to recognize where the anger comes from and address the fear. If possible, it can be helpful to take small, manageable steps toward self-empowerment. Learning a new skill set, reading about money management, and finding a job with a supportive employer are some ways to ease yourself through the transition.

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Effects on Men

Divorce may have an equally disturbing but different impact on men. When it comes to things like alimony and custody, the legal system still seems to favor women. Many men feel like their livelihood is being taken away, or that their relationships with their kids are in jeopardy.

This is one way that men can feel helpless and scared. And while it may seem odd, a lot of men don't like conflict. In an attempt to avoid fighting, they may not advocate for themselves or their kids, may become depressed or stuck. Men may not have close friends or an extensive support system to rely on. This can create feelings of isolation. And when the man is the one left-behind, depression may be compounded by injured self-esteem.

It's important to recognize that you can be a "good guy" and a "good dad" and still stand up for yourself. Learning to advocate for yourself in a way that is respectful to others will serve you in every aspect of your life.

You might also be interested in learning more about life transitions and infidelity.

For more information or to book a session,
contact Heather Marchman, Marriage and Family Therapist.

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