Question: Dear Sir: What
can someone do who is going through a divorce to ease the pain? Is divorce
The marriage vow "for better or for worse"
suggests that marriage involves a commitment to a positive adjustment. Mental
health professionals reflect the view that divorce should also involve the same.
As a marriage and family therapist, my goal is to help partners strengthen their
ability to communicate and negotiate. This is to preserve the relationship. On
the other hand, the new concept of divorce therapy is to work toward dissolution
of the relationship in such a way as to enhance well-being.
There is not much
literature in the field of divorce therapy. However, most authors agree that
divorce has three stages. Dr. Douglas Sprenkle in his article, "The
Clinical Practice of Divorce Therapy" presents three stages of divorce: (1)
pre-divorce decision making, (2) divorce restructuring, and
recovery. Dr Sprenkle presents a psychological "do list" to help in
the treatment process of divorce:
- Accept the end of the marriage. The cornerstone of long-term
adjustment is accepting that one is not, and will no longer be, married to
- Achieve a functional post divorce relationship with the ex-spouse.
This entails "making peace" with the ex-spouse. While an ongoing
relationship is unnecessary, if there are no children, parents must be
capable of separating parental and spousal roles.
- Achieve a reasonable emotional adjustment. While divorce inevitably
entails negative emotional consequences, it is important that divorcees not
get stuck in long-term self-blame, guilt or anger.
- Develop an understanding of their own contributions to the
dysfunctional behavior that led to the failure of the marriage. Awareness of
personal responsibility, ways in which the marital struggle may be linked to
family-of-origin issues, and reasons for choice of mate are issues that are
- Find sources of social support. The divorcee needs to develop formal
and informal contacts with individuals and groups who provide emotional
support or material resources while escaping the temptation to deny stress
by developing another premature intimate relationship.
- Help their children adjust to the loss without triangulating them or
nourishing unrealistic expectations. Parents should learn the
"dos" and "doníts" of child management.
- Use the crisis of divorce as an opportunity for learning and personal
- Negotiate the legal process in a way both feel is reasonably
- Develop physical, health, and personal habits consistent with
adjustment for anyone. This includes issues related to dealing with alcohol
and drugs, sleep, eating habits, hygiene and grooming, decision making, job
performance, and financial management.
Following these suggestions can help ease the pain of divorce. It is
important for newly divorced individuals or persons who are going through a
divorce to know that they should avoid getting intimately involved with someone
of the opposite sex for at least two years. Divorce is very painful, and it
leaves the individual very vulnerable. If one enters a relationship prematurely,
there is a great risk that their sexual and other physical needs will be
mistaken for their real needs such as security, acceptance, having someone who
cares and understands, and companionship. Finding true friends during this time
is most important.
One must realize that the friends with whom you share your
deep pain can be someone of the same sex. A newly divorced woman crying on the
shoulders of a "caring man" exhibits a high-risk behavior. There is a
fifty-fifty chance that he will take advantage of her vulnerability. There are
too many divorcees who become sexually active within weeks after the death of a
spouse simply because it is "comforting." A year later, they awake
from a nightmare of pain and confusion after discovering that they were only
being used. Once again, avoid emotional entanglements immediately after divorce.
This will certainly help to ease the pain.
Psychologist Constance Ahrons explains that "the most grueling
disruptions occur during the first three transitions - the decision, the
announcement, and the separation. Deciding to divorce, telling your spouse and
your family, and leaving your mate form the core of the emotional
experience." These three transitions are characterized by ambivalence,
ambiguity, power struggles, soul searching and stress. Even childless partners
feel out of control and crazy during these initial transitions."
What should a person going through a divorce discuss with the lawyer? Here
are a few ideas:
Custodial arrangements for the children.
Children medical, dental, hospital and pharmaceutical expenses.
Division of real estate, transfers, and deeds.
Dealing with debts.
Restoration of prior maiden name.
Lawyer fees, or any other expert fees.
Life insurance policies as protection
for child support payments and property payments in the event of death.
College education for children and/or spouse.
Payments of summer camps
and/or religious training and/or upbringing or other special situations
It is imperative that persons going through divorce do not bottle up their
feelings. Usually newly divorced women discuss the feelings freely. On the other
hand men, are more likely to hide their feelings into workaholism and drinking.
The divorce experience is a shocking experience to all. It is a loss of status,
lost of shared life, loss of a dream, and loss of income. All of these loses are
equivalent to the literal death of a loved one. Therefore, the person going
through a divorce must allow for grief and suffering.
Here is a closing point. Far too often on partner
claims that he or she wants the children with them more
often or want equal time. However, they are only using
the children and props to make them look good. They
bribe them with sweets, give them gifts what they want,
but do not really sacrifice spending time with them.
This is not good for the children.
To conclude, a divorced person is a normal individual with all the
basic needs and functions as any other human being. It would a great advantage
for the divorcee to seek professional counseling to ease the pain and shock of
the new life.
Barrington H. Brennen is
a marriage and family therapist and board certified clinical
psychotherapist, USA. Send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or
write to P.O. Box CB-13019, Nassau, The Bahamas, or visit www.soencouragement.org or
call 242-327-1980 or 242-477-4002