In certain cultures, divorce is one of the least accepted decisions a couple can make. People often expect two individuals to be in a relationship throughout their lives – even if they can’t cooperate enough to spend a day with their sanity intact. Deciding on getting a divorce is already a long and complicated decision, and the societal pressure around it makes it even more complex. Couples can feel burdened under this pressure, even though it is a decision that only concerns them and the family they’ve created.
The Grief Cycle
People might assume that the couple must be ‘okay’ if they’ve made the decision themselves, but the actual reality can be different and depends a lot on the level of emotional attachment they had. If two individuals had a close relationship, they would’ve likely developed an emotional attachment, too. This can cause some couples to wonder why they are even separating. Multiple factors could be responsible, with compatibility and adjustment being some of the common reasons we might have heard of.
Today, however, change is starting to become an even more important factor that we are now normalising. It can come in the shape of difference in career, goals, relationship choices, lifestyle – the list goes on. A couple going through a divorce could experience grief like that of a loss. The emotions of the individuals involved could swing from the passive to the active stage.
But one crucial thing to keep in mind here is that the two individuals must be emotionally attached at some level to go through the grief cycle. Even the intensity of emotions associated with each stage differs depending on their emotional attachment. The same is true with time. You cannot determine how much time a person will take in moving from one phase to the other or accepting the decision. It can vary from hours and days to months or even years.
Going from the shock stage to the acceptance stage requires patience and accepting reality. Besides, the timeline for reaching the acceptance stage is not the same for everyone – it ranges from individual to individual. Once you accept the divorce papers as reality, you are usually in a state of shock where you do not want to acknowledge things at first. People may be in denial and make excuses for each situation and circumstance, assuming that it must not be happening to them.
Once the realisation of the situation starts to set in, then comes the anger. This is usually rooted in how they feel cheated of the time and emotions they invested into the relationship. If children are involved, the anger stage might last longer as they feel obligated to fight for the ‘perfect family’.
This then brings us to the bargaining stage, where they are willing to give away a few things in return for others. This stage can easily turn sour when both individuals try to deal with the reality of things by bargaining and realise that it’s simply not working. This stage can lead to depression – either acute or deep – where they feel they cannot change their situation.
Usually, after this stage, they start testing new alternatives like continuing their career, co-parenting methods, remarrying, or pursuing other priorities. Once they find out what works for them, they usually accept the situation and move on in life. All these processes are natural, and the pain people face is a sign to change and grow. This is the time when others need to show support. Help them understand the advantages of their situation and let them realise that it was the best decision that they could’ve made, given their circumstances.
Although such pain and emotional trauma is natural, the social pressure and lack of support from friends and family makes it worse. We, as a society, need to normalise divorce. If two people are not happy living together, then they shouldn’t be forced to be with each other anymore. Instead of pitying them, we should congratulate them for ending a relationship that was not meant for them.
Working Through the Guilt
No matter what the emotional attachment was during the active relationship, one or both parties are often left with a certain amount of guilt. This guilt can make them doubt the right time to start enjoying their life again. The result? They get stuck in this emotional cycle and do not freely live a happy life. Loved ones of divorcees can be especially vital in such cases, helping them focus on the fact that the uncomfortable part is done and they’re now walking into happiness.
Therapy to Cope
Therapy can be a great aid in helping people navigate their divorce. Therapy, in general, is great for adjusting to any change of state – be it big or small. We should normalise therapy as an essential part of life, not something to be ashamed of or something reserved for ‘broken’ people. Therapy can also help in maintaining and distancing oneself from their ex-partner. This is important, especially if you need to co-parent, as an ugly divorce can have adverse effects on children’s mental health.