Divorce doesn’t have to mean complete cutoff. And it doesn’t have to mean your life is over. The relationship is over as you know it. But if you have kids together, this isn’t the end of the relationship.
When you are in pain, you want to avoid what triggers the pain. So you try to avoid the person that ended the relationship. Or you deny that the relationship is over. In trying to avoid being reminded of what you lost, you realize this pain follows you wherever you go.
“Days like this I want to drive away. Pack my bags and watch your shadow fade.” ~ Katy Perry, Part of Me Lyrics
“Tried to forget you. But I can’t get you outta my head.” ~ Daughtry
If you can’t get the lost love out of your head, you try to cope by cutting off from yourself. You look for ways to check out, numb out, and not feel. Some of you will jump into a new relationship to try to feel better, while others will want to check out from relationships in general.
If you don’t want the marriage season to end, it can be hard to imagine ever feeling happy again. Together let’s explore how people cope with the flood of emotions that accompany divorce without more cutoff.
While I am not the expert on you, I want to share what I have learned from you and many others. As a individual and relationship counselor/coach, I have the opportunity to hear how people adapt to life challenges as well as what gets in their way.
Stages of Breaking Up
Your loved one tells you, “I think I will be happier on my own.” Your mate is done, but you are not done trying. Ending a relationship isn’t like turning off a light switch, it takes time to adapt to this new reality. You may experience any or all of the following stages:
Stage 1: Reconcile Attempts – Hearing the news that someone wants to end a relationship with you is very hard. You want to hold on tighter as it’s hard to let them go. You may plead for them to try one more time. To cope you hold onto hope that you will get back together.
Stage 2: Depression – Eventually you begin to accept that the marriage is over and your loved one is not changing their mind. With less hope for reconciliation, you may hit a new low. The reality is setting in, and you can’t imagine life without them.
Stage 3: Introspection – Despair invites you to look inside and learn from your struggles. You begin to realize the relationship didn’t end overnight. Each of you had a part in getting the relationship to this point. In this stage, you try to make sense of the relationship ending.
Stage 4: Re-Group – Eventually you realize that you are living without your loved one. Either through anger or desire, you start to turn your hope from reuniting with your loved one toward renewing yourself. At this stage, you find you are more able to get on top of your feelings that were once raw and exposed.
How to Cope When Emotions Are Flooding You
When emotions are flooding you, it can seem impossible to get on top of the way you feel. But our amazing brain has the ability to override emotions by accessing the thinking part of the brain. By focusing more on goals and functioning, you can’t stop the hurt but you can keep living and connecting.
I hear the challenges that you face when a relationship ends. And this is what you tell me helps you cope when emotions are crashing at high tide:
1. Focus on Daily Functioning – While you can’t stop the hurt from following you around, you can focus more on your functional goals. The more you focus on your goals/functioning, the less you focus on the discomfort of living through the breakup. Then, you realize you are doing it.
Set simple goals like: 1) getting out of bed, 2) taking a shower, 3) going to work, 4) feeding the kids, 5) helping kids with homework, etc. List 1-3 small daily goals. The goals must be so important that you need to do them even though you feel miserable right now.
2. Get More Connected – When you are losing someone, you lose an emotional resource. It’s more important than ever to get more connected. Reconnect with friends and family you’ve lost touch with. In developing relationships, you find reassurance that you are less alone than you thought. You also hear how others navigate living through their ups and downs.
3. Set Emotional/Relational Goals – At some point, most people decide they don’t want to be done in by their divorce. Begin setting long term goals to help guide you through the rough waters that lie ahead of you. Goals I hear you setting are: a) letting go of resentment, b) not putting kids in the middle, c) not taking all the blame, d) finding cooperative ways to communicate with your ex, and e) not viewing differences as a threat.
Many people find meaning once they go through hard times. They realize they can do hard stuff. Instead of letting it crush your confidence, it can boost it. Divorce invites you to re-evaluate your life, to reinvent yourself, to try new things, including how to relate in different ways.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the
quiet voice at the end of the day saying,
“I will try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher
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Photo Credit: “Sunflower Rain” by H. Koppdelaney