Divorce, separation, breakup. Whether you're the one who initiated it, or the one on the receiving end, it remains a difficult life transition.
The end of a relationship is not something we plan ahead or hope for, and there's often an element of shock or surprise to it - whether you saw it coming or not.
If you are in the process of separating or divorcing, my heart goes out to you. If you are the one subjected to it, here are 5 things you should know about this stage that I hope will normalize the experience and help get you through it with a little more ease.
1- You will go through a roller coaster of emotions
One moment you may feel enraged and you may want to destroy everything that reminds you of your partner. The next moment, you may feel sad and miss him/her/them incredibly. And a few minutes later you may even feel relieved...then move onto regrets: "If I could talk to him again, If I hadn't done or say this or that to her, if only they gave me a real chance..." Sometimes all these emotions will hit you at the same time, which can feel overwhelming and confusing.
This is normal and to be expected. Your mind and your heart are fighting against the reality of the situation.
My advice to you is to let yourself feel whatever emotions come up, and stay away from the "I should feel...". You're not supposed to feel one way or another. Grief is a messy process, and we all go through it in a unique way. So, next time a wave of emotions comes up, remember that it has a beginning and an end.
2- You will experience the stages of grief in no particular order
Grief is not a structured and organized process. Even though you may have heard of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, these are just a road map, not a box in which everyone who goes through a loss fits. You may spend more time in the first stages (anger, denial, bargaining and depression), or you may not. You may go from one stage to the other within seconds or days. Acceptance may come in small bits here and there, or as the final piece of a long journey.
Also, not everyone who grieves goes through all of these stages, and that’s okay: you do not have to go through each stage to feel better.
Remind yourself that you are unique, and so is your process.
Sometimes it helps to write down what you're experiencing. Some people carry a small notebook to jot down their thoughts or emotions as they arise. There's something really cathartic in the old-fashioned writing process.
3- Your self-esteem and confidence may be down for a while
You may go through all the reasons why the relationship ended, and you may even blame yourself. “If I were smarter, prettier, more passionate, had a job…. He/she/they would have stayed with me” are common thoughts in this situation.
Your self-esteem may be temporarily lower than usual (and it will bounce back as you heal); or maybe the separation brought to light the low self-esteem you had been experiencing for a long time that your relationship had helped cover up. For more details, you can read my blog posts on why your self-esteem goes in the dumps after a separation, and the 5 ways to boost your self-esteem.
4- High emotions and finances don't mix well together
While going through the emotional roller coaster that a divorce or separation can bring up, you may be required to make major life decisions that can impact you for the long term. Deciding how to divide assets, and making sure you get what you need/want without feeling cheated or destitute, may seem overwhelming.
Amy Mahlen, a Certified Financial Planner and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst, believes that it is crucial to address these questions objectively before the divorce is finalized in order to create a healthy foundation for moving forward and rebuilding:
"Understandably, individuals tend to make emotional decisions regarding finances during this tumultuous time usually out of fear or anger. Often, choices made with emotions in the driver seat leads to a very bumpy ride, possibly laden with potholes and detours."
"There is a way to answer financial worries that may emotionally consume you before you settle your divorce, such as ‘Will I be okay?’ or ‘Will I have what I need?’. A financial analysis [by a 3rd party professional], in many cases can decrease conflict, speed up the process and provide clarity regarding decisions that will chart the next chapter of your life."
5- Don't bank everything on the power of time
Time will certainly be a major component to help you recover and heal. However, don't count only on time to heal in a healthy way. Going through a major life transition such as a divorce is an opportunity to know yourself better, become more self-aware of your "limiting beliefs" about yourself and others, and learn about unproductive habits or ways of thinking that might inhibit your ability to build a new healthy and fulfilling relationship. This is not about blaming you or your partner for ending the relationship, it's about taking responsibility for what you do that influences your relationships.
The alternative of not doing the work on yourself will be to encounter similar issues in your next relationship, with maybe the added baggage of unprocessed thoughts, beliefs, memories that will potentially hijack you.
You can do some of this work with the help of self-help books, journaling, meditation or other tools that help you self-reflect. Therapy is also an option to go deeper and help you heal more fully.
I often see clients at this stage, when they need help to make sense of certain life events, understand what worked and what didn't in their past relationships, figure out without blame or judgement what part each partner played, and learn more functional ways to communicate and live.
For more information on financial planning through divorce, Amy can be reached via email at email@example.com or her website for more information and free resources at www.mahlenfinancial.com.