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Why Divorce Hurts

Man looking out hotel window

The pain of divorce is often unbearable. The experience can be so awful that you wonder whether it would have been easier to stay married or even to be dealing with some other horrific life event like death. The depth of pain is often surprising, particularly when you know you don’t want to be married anymore. What many people forget is that divorce is just a fancy word masking what is truly a broken attachment between two people. Divorce is more than separating assets and belongings.  It’s the severing of a very strong bond founded on deep feelings of dependency and need. Believe it or not, you developed an attachment to your partner over the course of dating and marriage that connected you on an emotional and physiological level beyond what you realized.

When two people get married they are vowing to be committed and to love one another, but they are also pledging to become “attached.” This attachment is unspoken and unknown to both, but it is the most powerful connection anyone can have to another person in a love relationship. According to author Helen Fischer in her book Why We Love, our “cuddle chemicals,” namely oxytocin and vasopressin, contribute to the sense of closeness and attachment couples feel toward each other in a love relationship. These bonding hormones promote a sense of fusion between lovers that deepens attachment and a sense of oneness. This biological phenomenon explains the depth of devastation felt when the attachment is broken and the physiological symptoms that become activated when attachments are severed. The response is often primal, leading to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that might never surface in any other context of life.

The end of a marriage is one of the most emotionally painful human experiences. Thinking about the experience of divorce within the context of attachment generates a greater sense of empathy for what you might be feeling. It explains the levels of rage, vindictiveness, grief, and despair that so often accompany this common life transition. We too often think of divorce as a noun or a verb, but it is actually a relational trauma that has a physiological and emotional effect. You may be creating more suffering for yourself by resisting what you are feeling or telling yourself that you are overreacting.

Recognize that the end of your marriage represents much more for you than you may realize. If you were a small child and the person you depended on most was suddenly unavailable to you, there is no doubt you would have a strong reaction. The end of your marriage is no different. Give yourself the time and space to heal and repair. You are not damaged, just temporarily devastated, and the recovery will come with time. Divorce is not just a matter of the heart but an experience that impacts the whole person on a multitude of levels. 

 

 

 

© Copyright 2012 by Andra Brosh, PhD, therapist in Los Angeles, CA. All Rights Reserved.

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Comments
  • Graeme September 14th, 2012 at 11:51 AM #1

    Very nicely explained.I went through a divorce years ago and still cannot forget everything I went through then.It seemed like the end of the world then but even though I do remember it,I have realized that it was a phase and although things will never be the same again,it is not the end and there is just so much more to life.

    I hope everybody who goes through the heartache that comes with divorce have the strength to cope with it and that they determine to go beyond that and be happy again.All the best to all your heartbroken wonderful people out there and thanks a lot to the author of this post.

  • Andra Brosh September 14th, 2012 at 3:19 PM #2

    Thank you so much for your comment. Divorce does leave a permanent mark, but it’s almost like a beautiful scar to remind you of how resilient and courageous you are. It sounds like you have grown from the experience, which is all we can really ask for.

  • arthur September 14th, 2012 at 3:27 PM #3

    Divorce can be so hurtful because you have placed all of your trust in this one person, and when that falls apart it is like you lose a part of yourself too. I have been through a painful divorce, and not only experiencing my own pain, but watching how it affected our children as well as our whole families, wow, that was the worst. I lost my best frined, but my family lost someone that they loved too. For many other people there is that promise to God that they feel like they are breaking when the marriages fall apart, so that is even more pressure than is already being experienced. There is this feeling that ylou have let so many people down, hurt so many and disappointed tham, that divorce can really rip you to shreds.

  • Andra Brosh September 14th, 2012 at 4:32 PM #4

    Yes Arthur so many commitments and bonds get broken. The loss and heartbreak is often unbearable, and children are definitely affected by the pain of broken attachments as well. They are such innocent victims, but fortunately kids are most often even more resilient than their parents!! Thank you for your comment.

  • Hope September 15th, 2012 at 3:30 AM #5

    My ex husband and I had one of those turbulent marriages, really even before we got married, and why I ever thought that things would change with a ceremony and a piece of paper. . . well, let’s just say I had to learn my lesson the hard way.

    So while it did hurt a little, I knew deep down that I was saving my self and my soul by leaving him and I would not go back and change a thing.

    I did not want counseling, did not care to try to work it out, kind of because I think that I eventually learned that really this marriage was over before it started.

  • tiara September 15th, 2012 at 3:02 PM #6

    although divorces tend to be hurtful and mentally draining for both partners it need not always be that way.I separated from my former husband five years ago and we still remain good friends.there was no bad blood between us when we split and we really respect each other.

    coming back to divorce being hurtful,we got through it without much of hurt in either of us.that was probably because we spoke so much about it before we went for the divorce and because we really understood each other’s concern.what could also be a reason is the short period we had been married for(less than a year).

    anyhow what I would like to suggest is to try and work things out by talking and try to minimize the conflict between the two of you.a divorce need not always be war as it is often made out to be!

  • katherine September 16th, 2012 at 12:50 PM #7

    I’ve been through three heartbreaking relationships and I just can’t take it any more. Everything I have experienced has now left me scared of any relationship at all and I am no longer looking to anything like that. I can only imagine how much hurtful a divorce can be and its not difficult to understand why those that have been through divorce seem to be so very heartbroken and hurt.

  • Alley September 17th, 2012 at 4:11 AM #8

    You know, I really wish that more couples would give more thought to want they are doing befor juumping into marriage!

    maybe we should make natiowide marriage counseling a requirement before getting married?

    Nah then people would say the government was intervening in ways that they shouldn’t, and that’s probably true. But I just can’t help but feel like we give far more thought to things that don’t matter th=an we do to the things that do. By that I mean we are so concerned about things like, oh I don’t know, gay couples who actually love each other, but we give little attention to the fact that the divorce rate among heterosexuals is going through the roof and families are losing out as a result.

  • shelly October 1st, 2012 at 5:32 AM #9

    Too many people have such a disposable attitude towards relationships. I mean how many people do we know that have left a relationship once the “new” has worn off or left a marriage because it’s not perfect. I don’t mean there are not valid and good reasons to leave a relationship because there are but so often people just don’t want to do the work that is necessary to maintain a healthy relationship.

  • George Peabody October 12th, 2012 at 11:37 AM #10

    Two thoughts—-one, I would question the premise that marriage is… “the most powerful connection anyone can have to another person in a love relationship”. Perhaps I’m misreading this statement (or reading too much into it), but I believe that a parent-child love is an even more powerful love/connection.

    Two, while divorce is undoubtedly painful, perhaps we need to be questioning the institution of marriage itself. Is it still a viable institution? I would love to hear/read feedback.

  • Dr. Brosh October 15th, 2012 at 8:09 PM #11

    Hi George – You are absolutely right about the power of a connection with one’s children. I tried to make it clearer by using the phrase “love relationship” but maybe this didn’t quite get the point across. While the attachment to children is powerful in it’s own right, a love relationship between two adults offers a different kind of connection that holds it’s own weight. In response to point #2, I completely agree about questioning the institution of marriage and I actually address this topic in my next blog. Stay tuned!

  • Benefits of Divorce May 28th, 2013 at 1:27 AM #12

    Going through a divorce can be difficult, especially if the separating spouses have been married for some time or have tried their best to salvage the relationship. However, if irreconcilable differences have arisen or if one of the spouses has been unfaithful, then a divorce may be a blessing for both parties. Despite this new direction their lives have taken, and the emotions that can accompany a divorce, for many divorcing couples, separating is the best option and brings with it a host of benefits.

  • Divorce is Wrong July 25th, 2013 at 9:03 AM #13

    While I appreciate Dr. Brosh’s article explaining the reasons for the hurtfulness of divorce, I do not agree with her opinion that “kids are most often even more resilient than their parents” (see comment #4). From my experience of being born to a mother who is a child from a divorced family, and of being current divorced by my husband who is also a child from a divorced family, I see divorce as a virus that destroys the very soul of our society like cancer destroys the body, and our legal system is doing nothing in relation to divorce to promote the values of justice or faithfulness. The effects of divorce on children are devastating, and they force children to develop all kinds of defence mechanism to protect themselves during this traumatic experience which often lasts most of their formatting years. These defence mechanisms while having short term benefits, often erodes the children’s self-esteem and hinders their growth and development in the later years. If you are interested in knowing more of the psychological effects of divorce on children, I found Breaking the Cycle of Divorce by John Trent PHD very helpful. The author is an adult child from divorced family too, and I found his views on these effects spot on with my mother and husband. In abandoning the institution of marriage and its sanctity, we are allowing our selfish pursuit of ‘happiness’ destroying our hope for true happiness and the moral psychological and spiritual wellbeing of our future generations. I agree with what Leo Tolstoy wrote: “If an individual or a whole society has problems, there is only one reason: lack of faith”. As with marriage, I think faith is especially important, because marriage does not make us happy, but makes us holy. In our currently not so faith-bound world, I hope the pain of divorce can awake us to God’s never-forsaking love for us and pass it on to our fellow human beings.

  • New Jersey Divorce Lawyers September 17th, 2013 at 10:53 PM #14

    Divorce is really an painful and difficult process.

  • Deidra November 1st, 2013 at 2:18 PM #15

    I have been divorced now for over 4 years and even with me being the person to leave the marriage it is a constant struggle. The what Ifs can plague you, but seeking solace in the blessings you still have is key. For those of you struggling it gets better and sometimes instead of taking it day by day you have to take it hour by hour.

  • Gary December 29th, 2013 at 2:53 PM #16

    Eleven months into separation, I find myself looking at next month. I have made arrangements to have a mediator assist in the next step, Divorce. We, my wife and I, don’t really talk about the next next, however here we are. What I really need to say/ask/hear about, is that in a relationship about to end in divorce, there is your heart and your brain, they fight all the time, one of the many hard parts that I am experiencing is that we are booth here together but one is further ahead. I don’t mean that to sound like a foot race, just one of the partners has initiated the separation and appears to be able to move on or forward. Me personally, this whole loss of a true friend sucks.

  • Alley January 8th, 2014 at 8:23 PM #17

    Thank you reading the article and comments made me feel less alone. It has been a week since my divorce was finalized. I was shocked by all the confusing emotion I felt even those I am the one that wanted the divorce and I know it is for the best.

  • Alley January 11th, 2014 at 11:20 PM #18

    I agree with you. A parent child relationship is the strongest connection we have to another person. I lost my child five years ago and went through a divorce last year. Even thigh a divorce hurts it is no comparison to pain I feel about being separated from my son.

  • Alex January 20th, 2014 at 9:59 AM #19

    My divorce is only hours old. I left but the ocean of pain I find myself in is impossible. I miss my family so much (ex and our two beautiful pups) but left because of a lack of attraction. But I still miss them. Horrifically. Everyone says it gets better. I can’t imagine it at this stage. I just can’t

  • Marilyn Arellanes March 8th, 2014 at 5:08 PM #20

    After reading this article, I am starting to feel better. I was very attached to my ex which is why it hurts so much. We made so many future plans and now that its over, they won’t take place.

  • David August 26th, 2014 at 11:58 AM #21

    I know this post is almost 2 years old but it is timeless. I am in the midst of very painful divorce and it has opened up emotions I never knew I had. This article sums everything I’m feeling up and let’s me know that I’m not alone in feeling this way and that I will eventually heal.

  • Beanie August 30th, 2014 at 8:38 PM #22

    I’m sure hard on both but not as hard or devastating as the one left. Especially if the other has moved onto another person or was cheating. Then said hurtful things they never apologized for. Marriage is full of choices you stay together and work hard. I think I feel bad for some who have lost their attraction to the other, that’s not really a choice. We often times pick and choose clothes and furniture based on looks such as a favorite color we cannot help what we like. Yet often times I hear of people falling out of love. I think that is a choice because you will always see the good and the things you love in the other no matter what. Choosing to stop seeing that person as the one is a choice. Especially when you only look at what you hate about them. When married often times that is what couples do. Try dating then you will see what I’m talking about you will only see their good and over time their flaws will emerge and bother you. Obviously being with someone for that long it becomes harder to appreciate them. Thus marriage is work and never to be entered into lightly. Divorce is basically the death of a loved one except their not physically dead. Unless you have children together you will basically never see them again and I think that’s just sad that’s an option so think before getting married.

  • Patty asks August 30th, 2014 at 8:56 PM #23

    Patty’s Question: How do I deal with my husband of 25 years telling me that he didn’t love me and didn’t think he ever did? To add to the hurt, he admitted that he wasn’t attracted to me anymore because my stomach is so stretched out from being pregnant with our three kids and the colon cancer I had 8 years ago. He lied for years that that didn’t bother him. I am trying to hold it together for my kids, but I can’t function. He has seen a lawyer but nothing has been done yet because I begged him not to start the divorce just as I was going back to work. I truly love him with all my heart and I simply will never understand how he could just throw me away. I have always been faithful and I think he has too. My self-esteem and confidence has been totally destroyed and the loneliness is unbearable. HELP!!

    Gloria’s Answer: My first simple and strong words of encouragement for you, Patty, are these: Hold to the truth!! The truth is, at one time or another over these past 25 years, he did love you, and he probably still does. The truth is your physical attractiveness may not always have bothered him, but now, for some reason, it is. The truth is YOU are a loving and caring wife and mother of 3 beautiful children who is an amazing survivor of colon cancer. The truth is life changes and we must change with it!

    My second thought for you is to stop begging. Remember the wonderful, remarkable woman you are who works hard, loves much, and will survive this, too. Give yourself the respect that you truly deserve.

    Third thought, take a look in the mirror and see if you like the physical parts of who you are. How do YOU feel about the body that you are living in? Are YOU happy with it or are there some things you’d like to work on? Empower yourself to exercise, diet, try a new skin care system, or do whatever is necessary to rebuild your own physical confidence.

    The more beautiful you are to yourself by holding to the truth in every way, the more beautiful you will become to the world around you. And something tells me that your husband will notice it, too!  

  • Dr. Brosh August 31st, 2014 at 8:38 PM #24

    First of all Patty, you were not thrown away you were left. Garbage is thrown away, but sometimes valuable pieces are not appreciated and often replaced. The pain you’re feeling is partly the disillusionment that comes with your life tragically changing, and partly due to your ego being crushed. This man has his own issues, and although it’s impossible not to take this personally you have to remember that your value is not defined by whether someone wants to remain married to you or not. You have a painful road ahead, but it’s nothing more tumultuous than what you’ve already endured. Draw on your survival strength, and remember that this is not life-threatening, just devastating.

  • Jennifer September 9th, 2014 at 6:15 PM #25

    This article describes the depth of divorce pain so accurately. I’m still fresh, just reading about my own feelings brings me to tears.

  • Dee September 11th, 2014 at 3:47 AM #26

    My husband has filed for divorce after 25 years . The sick feeling in my stomach just doesn’t stop and the tears never end . Some days I don’t even know how I am getting out of bed . Rejection is a powerful reality and I can’t imagine staying in this condition . I won’t survive it . How long will I feel this bad.. Sorry to all those feeling this . It’s horrible .

  • V. September 30th, 2014 at 1:00 PM #27

    Last week, my husband of 13 years filed for divorce. I felt so blind sighted. He said he felt trapped and hoped for “true love”. I cried and begged he consider counseling but his mind was made up. I said goodbye to the man I married years ago. This man is mostly thinking of himself. I have four beautiful children that will suffer. I am 36 years old. I am a fit mom even after four kids. I have been blessed with beautiful genes from my parents. All this doesn’t matter to him. I loved him immensely but now I’m so hurt. I know things will eventually work out but the “now” is undoubtedly a trial that I am suffering greatly from.

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