Guest Blog- Dealing with difficult emotions during a divorce by Dr Isabelle Hung

Dr Isabelle Hung is a Clinical Psychologist who specialises in working with adults who are struggling with mental health, and/or feel stuck in their lives. She is the co-founder of and also works for UCLH and the Schoen clinic, as well as writing for a number of publications and websites and has prepared a guest blog for us on how to deal with difficult emotions during a divorce.

One of the most devasting moments in your life is when you and your partner have that first serious conversation where one or both of you decide to divorce. It is the bombshell that blows up your perhaps otherwise stable life, and leads to a change in relationship status, change in house, change in family arrangements, change in financial situation and much more.

Given the havoc that ensues, divorce will inevitably bring up a lot of emotions, some of which you are likely to feel intensely.  It is useful to be prepared for the emotions you might feel, because emotions will affect the way you think and behave.  We all know, and have probably experienced, a time when our emotions have led to us acting in haste, or out of character.  For example, feeling great on holiday and deciding to buy some questionable tourist merchandise, or writing an angry email, only to regret it later.

Here are just some of the emotions commonly felt; the good and the bad. It is worth also remembering that we can, and will, feel several emotions at once, and that emotions can change very quickly from positive to negative, making the whole experience even harder:

·      sadness that such an important relationship is ending;

·      anxiety as you step into the unknown life after marriage;

·      anger at your partner, as you perceive them as being responsible for the marriage ending;

·      shame that you could not make things work;

·      guilt that you are hurting your children, or guilt at having an affair;

·      relief that you are leaving an unfulfilling and maybe even dangerous marriage;

·      happiness and excitedness that you can leave an unhappy marriage behind and build something new.

Most people will feel sadness most predominantly as they grieve the loss the relationship, the person they were close to, and the future that they had envisaged.  The intensity of this sadness might be like nothing you have ever experienced in your whole life, you may find yourself crying all the time. For approximately 1 in 4, this sadness will turn into depression.

You will need to find ways of managing these emotions so that you can function, deal with the divorce helpfully, and hopefully grow into a better version of yourself.  

Tips for dealing with emotions:

Accept that separating and divorcing will be an emotional time – This might sound obvious, but many people are scared by the intensity of the emotions.  You might look for all kinds of ways to avoid feeling sad and hopeless.  You might resort to drinking too much, or shouting at someone.  Forgive yourself, and cut yourself some slack– you are going through something literally life-changing.  In other words, show yourself some compassion.

Self-Compassion - In fact, self-compassion is found to be essential for recovering from a divorce, and indeed general resilience for all life’s disappointments.  World-leader in self compassion Kristin Neff(see her website for great resources) has found that self-compassion involves directing the same kind of care, kindness, and compassion toward oneself that one conveys toward loved ones who are suffering. According to Neff, self-compassion involves ‘being open to and moved by one’s own suffering, experiencing feelings of caring and kindness toward oneself, taking an understanding, non-judgmental attitude toward one’s inadequacies and failures, and recognizing that one’s experience is part of the common human experience’.  Treating oneself with kindness can include giving yourself time off work to recover emotionally, engaging in kind, forgiving and positive self-talk (as you might do with a friend).

Start thinking of what your next chapter looks like – What do you want your life to look like, what kinds of social life do you want, what kinds of activities do you want to have, where do you want to live?  Dr Erica Slotter and Patrick Markey, authors of “F*ck Divorce” looked at their search, and found that people who were open to trying new things, actually ended up feeling pretty positive later down the line.

Mindfulness – A lot of these points are related to mindfulness. This is the practice of being in the present moment without judgement.  This means that you will not let scary thoughts about the future, or distressing (or happy) memories drag you away from your actual present.  There are lots of ways that we can be mindful which do not involve long hours of meditation.  A mindful meal, a mindful bath or even a mindful walk are other ways that can ground you in the here and now, so that you can decide what to do next.

Remember that this will pass– One of the most comforting things about coming to one of our Divorce Club meetings is hearing from other divorcees who have made it through to the other side. One example being Allison, who was with her partner for nearly 50 years, and who had never dated anyone else.  Seeing her laughing, out with friends, and with a new partner is massively reassuring –there is life after divorce.  You may not believe it, but we are telling you that there is, and it can even be better!

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