Couples can get divorced anywhere on the spectrum of love and loathing. (Yes, couples can lovingly separate - it happens!) What has surprised me with clients and with my own journey through divorce is that the grief that comes with it doesn’t correlate with how you feel about your ex. Even assuming your feelings about your ex are in a steady state, which is never the case. So let’s put it this way - you just never know when grief will hit you.
I have clients who have been separated for years and still find themselves crying every day when they finally end up signing the papers. I have clients who find themselves overwhelmed by grief for months and months afterwards, even when it was their idea and they know it’s the very best thing and what they want. And I have clients who are so excited to be out of a bad situation they don’t feel any grief until years later.
I think there’s a lot of confusion about divorce grief and how long it’s supposed to take. Here’s the truth: there’s no answer. It takes as long as it takes. And though you can mitigate it, you can’t avoid it.
How do you mitigate it? Here are some tips.
First, stick to your routines. Don’t stop showering and eating and brushing your teeth and going to work and doing your dishes. If those things are hard for you, then see a therapist for help. You need your routines.
Second, seek support. Talk to friends or family, find a support group, make connections. People generally want to feel connected and helpful, so let them.
Third, feel the pain but don’t turn it into suffering. Cry and cry when you need to. Write scathing or heart wrenching letters to your ex and then burn them. Rant and rave. And when the impulse to express your feelings declines in intensity, go with it. It will decline. You won’t feel like crying for the rest of your life. You might not even feel like crying for more than a half hour. When you’re done, go blow your nose and do the dishes or watch something funny on TV or go for a walk. Just don’t try to hold on to feelings that are shifting or spin stories around them that aren’t necessarily true. That makes them linger. Let them shift.
Fourth, if you’re a reader, read something uplifting. I’m not sure what those books are for you, but I’m sure they’re out there. It’s good to plant seeds of ideas that seem impossible right now, like the idea that you’ll feel better one day and the emotional roller coaster you’re on won’t last.
Fifth, have some compassion for yourself. You wouldn’t tell a friend to suck it up and get over it. So don’t tell that to yourself either. Not kind, not necessary, and not true either.
The list could go on, but those are the basics. The point here is that you need to do the obvious - take care of yourself and be patient with yourself. Those things are hard when we think we “should” be moving on, but they become easier when you give up that idea and practice the steps. I promise. Things get better the less you try to resist the pain. Sobbing over a financial statement or a box of your ex’s books or the colander you bought when you moved in together is totally fine and normal. Just let it happen and move on. You will move on, I promise, and the more you feel the pain and let it go, the faster it happens.