Emotions and Divorce


When the idea of divorce becomes an unwelcome reality, there are a lot of emotions that drive decision making. Even if you’ve determined to be as gracious and collaborative as possible, guilt, fear, shame, anger, hurt, and pain all make pretty quick appearances.

Sometimes people are really caught off guard by the intensity of emotion they experience.

Having walked with a number of people through these difficult situations, I can normalize that managing the emotions about and during the separation are potentially THE most challenging parts of this difficult process.

Because our emotions usually drive our decisions, it’s really important to stay connected to how you are feeling.

It’s easy to think that pushing emotion aside is the best thing to do. However, the emotion that is pushed aside doesn’t stay on the sidelines, it will eventually leak out, and it might be at a moment when you least want it to. Hurt may show up as anger in the midst of a mediation. Fear may influence decision making. Guilt may fuel promises that set up disappointment and more hurt.

I think we all know that it’s far easier to talk about managing emotions than it is to actively engage in managing emotions. Where do you even begin?

Here are three steps to managing your emotions through a divorce:

  1. Actively take no action. Hit pause and do an assessment. In the swirling emotions and all the unknowns, it’s easy to get caught up just moving forward. But actively stopping to assess what you are feeling and why will allow you to honor your emotions and also decide how you want them to play a role in your behavior.
  2. Build your team. You will need a team of professionals to help guide you in this process. You may have limited experience navigating divorce, but when you assemble a group of skilled professionals, chances are they will be the key to ensuring you emerge from this process the strongest version of you possible. In addition to your lawyer, and therapist, you may want to consider a financial planner, an accountant, and realtor.
  3. Create a vision. What does life after the divorce look like for you? There is definitely a grieving process that is necessary and important before you are able to begin dreaming new dreams. But it’s never too late to start focusing on the opportunities this new season will have to offer. There are a number of decisions (financial, custody, the division of assets) that will have to be made in this process which will impact your options moving forward. It’s a good idea to begin identifying how your emotions are impacting your sense of the future. Is your fear clouding your vision? Is your relief causing you to be unrealistic? Is your self of self-worth holding you back? It’s ok if you can’t adjust your emotions now. You can start by naming them and identify how they impact your potential behavior. It’s a huge step in the right direction.

Emotions are a natural part of life. We are the best version of ourselves when we are informed by, rather than driven by the emotion. By quickly identifying the emotion, you will be able to use it an indicator on your dashboard, alerting you when there is a change that needs to be made or an area of concern.

Wendy Dickinson, Ph.D.

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