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Divorce / Divorce Adjustment

The end of a marriage can be one of the most stressful events a person experiences. Even for the partner who chooses to leave, divorce is likely to bring up a range of painful and difficult emotions such as grief, guilt, anger, confusion, fear, shame, anxiety, and other intense feelings. If children are involved, the stress level is likely to be even higher. People sometimes seek therapy to help them decide whether to stay in a marriage or leave. Others may seek help in counseling to make the transition from marriage to being single again. Both these goals can be addressed in individual or couple’s therapy.

Why Do People Get Divorced?

There are numerous reasons for why partners get divorced, and many couples cite a combination of reasons rather than just one single problem. The most common reasons people identify for getting a divorce include:

  • Lack of commitment, including marrying too young or marrying the wrong person
  • Infidelity
  • Too much arguing
  • Inequality in marriage, particularly regarding chores or care for children
  • Physical and emotional abuse, and/or abuse of chemical substances
  • Unrealistic assumptions about what marriage would be like, including insufficient preparation for the challenges of married life
  • Financial problems and disagreements about money

Psychologist John Gottman has dedicated his professional career to researching the reasons for problems in relationships, and theorizes that it is not so much specific problems that lead to divorce, but issues with the way partners relate to one another. He argues that there are “four horsemen” which tend to predict divorce; they are:

  • Criticism, particularly when the criticism is not outweighed by frequent positive statements
  • Contempt and lack of respect. Gottman argues that this is the single best predictor of divorce and can be seen even early on in a relationship.
  • Defensiveness. People who cannot take responsibility for a problem cannot fix it and cannot display empathy for their spouse.
  • Stonewalling, which is the deliberate avoidance of interaction and discussion of problems. Stonewalling can make it impossible to resolve an argument.

Therapy for Divorce

When a marriage ends, it can be emotionally traumatic for each partner. In order to cope with the difficult mental, physical and financial process of uncoupling, an individual may choose to begin therapy. Divorce therapy is usually done on an individual basis. A spouse who is going through a divorce may be facing feelings of guilt, fear, anxiety, depression and grief. Working with a therapist can provide an objective and rational perspective and arm a person with the necessary skills to navigate the choppy waters of the divorce. People who rely on therapy during that difficult time benefit from learning more about themselves and see the life transition as an opportunity for growth and personal development.

 

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Divorce may contribute or exacerbate certain mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or personality diagnoses. Many people perceive divorce as a personal failure. Therapy can help work through those feelings, make sense of the end of one’s marriage, and obtain a new perspective. Divorce can be an opportunity to grow and become a stronger, wiser person – qualities that will serve us will in future relationships.

 

Divorce therapy is also available for couples who are in the process of going through a divorce, as a means for working together in a healthy, constructive fashion to achieve the dissolution of the marriage. A divorce therapist acts as a sort of mediator, and sets guidelines to ensure that the divorce is achieved with minimal hostility and emotional damage. Therapists can address pertinent issues, such as living arrangements, financial obligations and parenting responsibilities.

 

Therapy can be critically important for children experiencing a divorce situation. Because their parents are consumed with their own feelings, they often overlook the devastating emotional state their child is in. Children may feel guilt, loss, pain, abandonment, and overwhelming confusion during the divorce. They struggle with loyalty and worry that they are the cause of the divorce. If their parents are aggressive with each other, the child may feel even more fearful or to blame. Parents and children must get help for all of the issues that arise as a result of the divorce in order to process the emotions and move forward in a healthy and constructive way.

Mediation for Divorce

Mediation can be an alternative to the often exhausting and expensive process of fighting about a divorce in court. Some courts mandate mediation for divorcing couples. During mediation, couples discuss child custody, division of assets, and other contentious issues under the guidance of a mediator. The mediator attempts to help the couples reach a settlement--which will be legally binding--on their own.

Adjusting After a Divorce

Divorce recovery is a process. Adjusting to changes that occur as a result of a divorce can take time. Newly divorced people, whether they initiated the divorce or not, recognize that their lives and the lives of those around them have been profoundly affected by their situation. Worries about financial solvency, employment, or housing may affect them. Stress over losing friends or family members as a result of the divorce can be difficult to deal with. Overcoming guilt as a parent of a divorced child is another issue that can cause emotional overwhelm.

 

All of these problems can be worked through during the recovery process. A trained therapist can teach an individual the necessary coping techniques to help them begin their new life with a healthy perspective. Divorce recovery therapy provides an individual with a safe, encouraging and empowering experience during an extremely difficult time.

Therapy for Grief from Divorce - Case Example

Rudy and Jill, in their early 30’s, childless, come in for marriage counseling, considering separation. Jill wants to save the marriage; Rudy is ready to leave. After two or three sessions, it becomes clear to everyone that Rudy has made up his mind. The therapist helps the couple to talk about their relationship openly in a way that helps them both to learn and grow, and to prepare for separation. After the separation occurs, the therapist continues to work with Jill to help her manage her grief and begin moving forward as a single woman.

Divorce After a 30 Year Marriage - Case Example

Raoul, 59, enters therapy after divorcing his wife of 30 years. Raoul’s children are grown, and he had been unhappy for years. He hoped the divorce would make him happy, but he finds he is devastated by the loss. His wife, who wanted to stay married, seems to Raoul “to be doing fine,” and this confuses him terribly. He even spoke to his wife about reconciling, but she is now uninterested. Raoul thinks that is for the best, but he cannot seem to make the adjustment to being single. A therapist helps Raoul identify his fears about being single, and begin developing the skills and support system he needs to stay connected with people and hopeful about the future. Together, they identify the benefits of marriage that Raoul has chosen to give up, and also the benefits of being single that he can now enjoy. The therapist also helps Raoul get in touch with his grief and his guilt surrounding the divorce, his positive feelings towards his ex-wife, and his fears about be able to stay connected with his children.

 

References:

  1. Amato, P. R., & Previti, D. (2003). People's Reasons for Divorcing: Gender, Social Class, the Life Course, and Adjustment. Journal of Family Issues, 24(5), 602-626. doi: 10.1177/0192513X03254507
  2. Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York, NY: Crown.
  3. The 8 most common reasons for divorce. (n.d.). MSN Living. Retrieved from http://living.msn.com/love-relationships/the-8-most-common-reasons-for-divorce

 

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Last updated: 04-03-2014

     

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