Dealing with a Breakup or Divorce
When a relationship ends, healing can take time. These tips can help you grieve your loss and start to move forward.
The Secret Grief of Divorce You Never Talk About
Your griefs are real even if you’ve never heard anyone else talk about them before.
Divorce isn’t something anyone is ever totally prepared for. You probably know someone who has gotten divorced and seen what they went through. But watching someone else deal with the grief of divorce doesn’t do anything to make you ready to deal with your own.
Perhaps you did not want the divorce and were shocked to learn that your ex wanted it. Then you tried to see if you could do anything to save the marriage. Usually there’s nothing to do. Once someone comes to the point of asking for a divorce, they’re usually done and are already experiencing their own guilt and grief.
And after the unwelcome surprise of hearing the words “I want a divorce” begins to wear off, the tidal waves of grief begin to hit you. And they don’t just hit once. The waves of grief hit you again and again and again – until you’re not sure you can take it anymore.
Yet, as uncomfortable and miserable as the grief is, the only way to truly get over the painful losses resulting from the end of your marriage is to go through the grief and acknowledge each and every one of your losses.
Here’s the thing though – you don’t always recognize everything that you’re saying goodbye to because there’s just so much of it. And that’s why you don’t talk about it. You’re afraid that it will make you seem more pitiful or weird than you already do.
But I want you to know that what you’re feeling is OK. The grief of divorce is different for everyone. However, knowing what other people have and do secretly grieve as part of their divorce will help you ferret out all that you’ve lost.
That’s why this list of the secret grief of divorce is so important – it helps you recognize and acknowledge your divorce grief so you can process it. By processing it, you’ll be able to move forward more easily and reduce the chances of getting stuck along the way.
The items below might not be exactly what you are losing, but they are close enough and might stir things up for you emotionally. That just means we are connecting.
Don’t just let things get “stirred up,” but try writing down what you’re grieving about the loss of your marriage. By specifically recognizing every little and big thing you’re mourning you’ll be taking a big step toward your divorce recovery.
Here are 50 secret causes of the grief of divorce:
- The children you’ll never have together.
- Losing the home you shared.
- The inside jokes that won’t mean anything to anyone else.
- The shared history that you’ll never share with anyone else.
- The love you thought you had.
- Feeling that you were special to your ex.
- Your children not being able to grow up in an intact family.
- Losing the secure feeling of knowing your ex has your back.
- Lost financial security.
- No longer sleeping together.
- No longer parenting together.
- The dream of celebrating your 50th anniversary (or maybe just your 10th).
- Being able to help out at your kid’s school at a moment’s notice.
- Always having someone there to share your day with.
- Losing your best friend, soul mate, and confidante.
- Losing your pets.
- Saying goodbye to your in-laws.
- Having your role as spouse ripped away from you.
- No longer being part of the bulk of society – married.
- Losing your holiday traditions and spending all of your holidays with your kids.
- Saying goodbye to amazing sex with your ex.
- No more date nights with your ex.
- The withering of the relationships with your shared friends.
- Losing your shared music library.
- No longer being able to count on someone else to take care of the car or pay the bills or cook or maintain the house or …
- No longer being able to stay at home to raise your kids.
- The disappearance of that someone who accepts you as you are.
- Losing your shared vacation dreams.
- Saying goodbye to the dream of growing old together.
- Losing the dream of sending the kids off to college and rediscovering each other.
- Not being able to welcome your grandchildren together.
- Taking your wedding pictures down.
- Asking your parents to take your wedding pictures down in their home.
- Splitting up all the things that made your house a home.
- The dream of happily ever after with your ex evaporating.
- No longer being able to reach out and hold their hand when you’re scared, or happy, or proud.
- No more sharing a cup of coffee in the morning before the day kicks into gear.
- Losing the joy of sharing your hobby with your spouse.
- Losing the comfort of attending church together.
- Knowing that your spouse is no longer your rock.
- Having to file your taxes as single instead of married.
- Discovering that your self-confidence has evaporated.
- Feeling isolated and no longer feeling connected with others.
- Realizing you don’t know who you are if you aren’t your ex’s spouse anymore.
- Noticing that you don’t know what you want out of life anymore.
- Losing your sense of purpose.
- Finding it difficult to trust anyone – even yourself.
- Destruction of your belief in love and romance.
- Losing your faith in the legal system.
- Feeling as if you’ve lost control of your life.
This list isn’t comprehensive. There’s myriad things you say goodbye to when your marriage ends, and your grief of divorce will probably continue long after you’ve read through this list for the first time. So … revisit it each time you have a new wave of grief that you’re ready to process.
However, if you find yourself feeling consumed by grief, reach out for help. You might get the help you need from your friends and family, but you might also choose to look to a helping professional to support you as you process your grief of divorce.
Thanks to Dr. Karen Finn, author and divorce coach and advisor helping people just like you who are dealing with grief after the end of their marriage. You can join her newsletter list for free weekly advice. Email: [email protected]
Why is Divorce so Painful?
A breakup or divorce can be one of the most stressful and emotional experiences in life. Whatever the reason for the split—and whether you wanted it or not—the breakup of a relationship can turn your whole world upside down and trigger all sorts of painful and unsettling emotions.
Even when a relationship is no longer good, a divorce or breakup can be extremely painful because it represents the loss, not just of the partnership, but also of the dreams and commitments you shared. Romantic relationships begin on a high note of excitement and hopes for the future. When a relationship fails, we experience profound disappointment, stress, and grief.
A breakup or divorce launches you into uncharted territory. Everything is disrupted: your routine and responsibilities, your home, your relationships with extended family and friends, and even your identity. A breakup also brings uncertainty about the future. What will life be like without your partner? Will you find someone else? Will you end up alone? These unknowns can often seem worse than being in an unhappy relationship.
This pain, disruption, and uncertainty means that recovering from a breakup or divorce can be difficult and take time. However, it’s important to keep reminding yourself that you can and will get through this difficult experience and even move on with a renewed sense of hope and optimism.
Coping with a breakup or divorce
Recognize that it’s OK to have different feelings. It’s normal to feel sad, angry, exhausted, frustrated, and confused—and these feelings can be intense. You may also feel anxious about the future. Accept that reactions like these will lessen over time. Even if the relationship was unhealthy, venturing into the unknown is frightening.
Give yourself a break. Give yourself permission to feel and to function at a less than optimal level for a period of time. You may not be able to be quite as productive on the job or care for others in exactly the way you’re accustomed to for a little while. No one is Superman or Supergirl; take time to heal, regroup, and re-energize.
Don’t go through this alone. Sharing your feelings with friends and family can help you get through this period. Consider joining a support group where you can talk to others in similar situations. Isolating yourself can raise your stress levels, reduce your concentration, and get in the way of your work, other relationships, and overall health. Don’t be afraid to get outside help if you need it.
Allow yourself to grieve the loss of the relationship.
Grief is a natural reaction to loss, and the breakup or divorce of a love relationship involves multiple losses:
Loss of companionship and shared experiences (which may or may not have been consistently pleasurable).
Loss of support, be it financial, intellectual, social, or emotional.
Loss of hopes, plans, and dreams (which can be even more painful than practical losses).
Allowing yourself to feel the pain of these losses may be scary. You may fear that your emotions will be too intense to bear, or that you’ll be stuck in a dark place forever. Just remember that grieving is essential to the healing process. The pain of grief is precisely what helps you let go of the old relationship and move on. And no matter how strong your grief, it won’t last forever.
Tips for grieving after a breakup or divorce
Don’t fight your feelings. It’s normal to have lots of ups and downs, and feel many conflicting emotions, including anger, guilt, resentment, sadness, relief, fear, and confusion. It’s important to identify and acknowledge these feelings. While these emotions will often be painful, trying to suppress or ignore them will only prolong the grieving process.
Talk about how you’re feeling. Even if it is difficult for you to talk about your feelings with other people, it is very important to find a way to do so when you are grieving. Knowing that others are aware of your feelings will make you feel less alone with your pain and will help you heal. Writing in a journal can also be a helpful outlet for your feelings.
Remember that moving on is the end goal. Expressing your feelings will liberate you in a way, but it is important not to dwell on the negative feelings or to over-analyze the situation. Looking in the “rearview” mirror of what was is valuable, powerful because it helps you learn and do better as you move forward. Also beware of looking back too much, resulting in you getting stuck in hurtful feelings like blame, anger, and resentment. This can potentially rob you of valuable energy and prevent you from healing and moving forward.
Remind yourself that you still have a future. When you commit to another person, you create many hopes and dreams of a life together. After a breakup, it’s hard to let these aspirations go. As you grieve the loss of the future you once envisioned, be encouraged by the fact that new hopes and dreams will eventually replace your old ones.
Know the difference between a normal reaction to a breakup and depression. Grief can be paralyzing after a breakup, but after a while, the sadness begins to lift. Day by day, and little by little, you start moving on. However, if you don’t feel any forward momentum, you may be suffering from depression. Of course your “situational” depression is expected due to the changes you are going through; however, if you feel concerned about the burdening of your depression and that it’s not lifting over time, talk to a professional.
Helping your kids during a breakup or divorce
When mom and dad split, a child can feel confused, angry, and uncertain as well as profoundly sad. As a parent, you can help your kids with the breakup by providing stability and attending to your child’s needs with a reassuring, positive attitude.
Reaching out to others for support
Support from others is critical to healing after a breakup or divorce. You might feel like being alone, but isolating yourself will only make this time more difficult. Don’t try to get through this on your own.
Connect face-to-face with trusted friends and family members. People who have been through painful breakups or divorces can be especially helpful. They know what it is like and they can assure you that there is hope for healing and new relationships. Frequent face-to-face contact is also a great way to relieve the stress of a breakup and regain balance in your life.
Spend time with people who support, value, and energize you. As you consider who to reach out to, choose wisely. Surround yourself with people who are positive and who truly listen to and care about you. It’s important that you feel free to be honest about what you’re going through, without worrying about being judged, criticized, or told what to do.
Get outside help if you need it. If reaching out to others doesn’t come naturally, consider seeing a counselor or joining a support group. The most important thing is that you have at least one place where you feel comfortable opening up.
Cultivate new friendships. If you feel like you have lost your social network along with the divorce or breakup, make an effort to meet new people. Join a networking group or special interest club, take a class, get involved in community activities, join a new place of worship, or volunteer at a school, place of worship, or other community organization.
Taking care of yourself after a breakup
A divorce is a highly stressful, life-changing event. When you’re going through the emotional wringer and dealing with major life changes, it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself. The strain and upset of a major breakup can leave you psychologically and physically vulnerable.
Treat yourself like you’re getting over the flu. Read/order the griefHaven free booklet entitled “Self-Compassion” available right on our website. It gives you tips about caring for yourself during this challenging and painful time. Adults rarely do this or understand that the idea of putting on your own mask first requires giving yourself the compassion and patience that you would give to a child or friend in need. That kind of personal compassion is what is required of you now; for you and by you. Get plenty of rest, minimize other sources of stress in your life, and reduce your workload if possible. Learning to care for yourself can be one of the most valuable lessons you learn following a breakup. As you feel the emotions of your loss and begin learning from your experience, you can resolve to take better care of yourself and make positive choices going forward. You deserve it and are worth it!
Make time each day to nurture yourself. Help yourself heal by scheduling daily time for activities you find calming and soothing. Spend time with caring friends, go for a walk in nature, listen to music, enjoy a hot bath, get a massage, read a favorite book, take a yoga class, watch a funny TV show, or savor a warm cup of tea.
Pay attention to what you need in any given moment and speak up to express your needs. Honor what you believe to be right and best for you even though it may be different from what your ex or others want. Say “no” without guilt or angst as a way of honoring what is right for you.
Stick to a routine. A divorce or relationship breakup can disrupt almost every area of your life, amplifying feelings of stress, uncertainty, and chaos. Getting back to a regular routine can provide a comforting sense of structure and normalcy.
Take a time out. Try not to make any major decisions in the first few months after a separation or divorce, such as starting a new job or moving to a new city. If you can, wait until you are feeling less emotional so that you can make decisions with a clearer head. Avoid using alcohol, drugs, or food to cope. When you’re in the middle of a breakup, you may be tempted to do anything to relieve your feelings of pain and loneliness. But using alcohol, drugs, or food as an escape is unhealthy and destructive in the long run. It’s essential to find healthier ways of coping with painful feelings. HelpGuide has a free “Emotional Intelligence Toolkit” that can help. (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/emotional-intelligence-toolkit.htm)
Explore new interests. A divorce or breakup is not only an ending, but also a beginning. Take the opportunity to explore new interests and activities. Pursuing fun, new activities gives you a chance to enjoy life in the here-and-now, rather than dwelling on the past.
Making healthy choices: Eat well, sleep well, and exercise.
When you’re going through the stress of a divorce or breakup, healthy habits easily fall by the wayside. You might find yourself not eating at all or overeating your favorite junk foods. Exercise might be harder to fit in because of the added pressures at home and sleep might be elusive. But all of the work you are doing to move forward in a positive way will be pointless if you don’t make long-term healthy lifestyle choices.
Learning important lessons from a breakup or divorce.
It can be difficult to see it when you’re going through a painful breakup, but in times of emotional crisis, there are opportunities to grow and learn. You may be feeling nothing but emptiness and sadness in your life right now, but that doesn’t mean that things will never change. Try to consider this period in your life a time-out, a time for sowing the seeds for new growth. You can emerge from this experience knowing yourself better and feeling stronger and wiser.
In order to fully accept a breakup and move on, you need to understand what happened and acknowledge the part you played. The more you understand how the choices you made affected the relationship, the better you’ll be able to learn from your mistakes—and avoid repeating them in the future.
Questions to ask yourself.
Step back and look at the big picture. How did you contribute to the problems of the relationship?
Do you tend to repeat the same mistakes or choose the wrong person in relationship after relationship?
Think about how you react to stress and deal with conflict and insecurities. Could you act in a more constructive way?
Consider whether or not you accept other people the way they are, not the way they could or “should” be.
Examine your negative feelings as a starting point for change. Are you in control of your feelings, or are they in control of you?
You’ll need to be honest with yourself during this part of the healing process. Try not to dwell on who is to blame or beat yourself up over your mistakes. As you look back on the relationship, you have an opportunity to learn more about yourself, how you relate to others, and the problems you need to work on. If you are able to objectively examine your own choices and behavior, including the reasons why you chose your former partner, you’ll be able to see where you went wrong and make better choices next time.Thanks to Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Gina Kemp, M.A., and Melinda Smith, M.A., with additions by Susan Whitmore, BS/BM; CGC.