Managing the emotions of a divorce
Divorce is challenging in a variety of ways. You might question whether divorce is the right choice for you, you likely fear the financial impact of divorce, and it’s hard not to notice the emotional roller coaster you are likely experiencing. It’s this, the emotional aspect, that is the most difficult for partners who are separating, according to research from Susan Pease Gadoua (2018). In this post, we help you understand the feelings you are experiencing, based on our work with Denver-based clients, and what can be done to overcome the emotional highs and lows that accompany a divorce.
Susan Pease Gadoua shared in her 2018 training “To Divorce or Not to Divorce” that the emotions related to a divorce are so difficult due to the way humans filter them. Information is not expressed in heated conversations without attaching a story to it, or “filtering” the information. When information is internalized, it becomes more intense. It also becomes more complex and might result in strong filtered emotions like confusion, resentment, anxiety, rage, or depression.
How does this happen? Susan Pease Gadoua, LCSW, reminds us that stories create and feed the filtered emotions. For instance, if you have information that you’ll have less money post-divorce, you might internalize that fear and make up a terrifying story like “I’ll be homeless”. That’s an example of a filtered emotion, the kind of emotions that are most detrimental in a divorce. Instead, work to own and honor your raw emotions, or those that aren’t attached to a story. Get comfortable with the truths and facts, without spiraling them into something more or feeding a story. For example, get comfortable with the fact that having less money post-divorce is scary, period, without believing that it could lead to homelessness.
During a divorce, it’s common to vent frustrations, spew emotions, and overreact due to filtered emotions. Why? This is a time of very heightened sensitivity, resulting in these types of outbursts. And, divorce sends people to lower level functioning. While stuffing emotions is never a good thing and results in delayed healing, managing emotions is essential during this time.
According to Susan Pease Gadoua, it’s important to calm emotions down and have the opportunity to reflect and respond, rather than react, when situations are tense. This is true during the actual divorce and prior to the divorce when a couple is trying to evaluate the potential of the relationship. Understanding the emotional thermometer in this situation, and when it’s time to take a break, can help lead to more productive and less emotional conversations around the hardest topics, such as infidelity, custody, unmet needs, or other tough relationship dynamics. Managing, without controlling, one's emotions is key to success when discussions get heated, and leads to better outcomes for the couple.
Strategies for managing emotions
You likely know that managing emotions is important, but you might not have the tools to make that a reality. Below, you’ll find some important reminders about the logistics of managing emotions:
Know your emotional thermometer and be willing to end the conversation
Agree to set aside time for a focused conversation
Take deep breaths and use visualization
Consider having a difficult conversation outdoors or in nature where it’s easier to be calm
Keep a journal of your unfiltered emotions instead of sharing them outloud
Work to recognize when you are reacting, and pause long enough that you can respond
Understanding how to deal with emotions can make a huge difference in the outcome of your divorce. Learning to calm emotions down, recognizing when emotional filtering is happening, and using strategies to manage emotions are ways we help clients regularly. If any of these challenges resonate for you and your divorce, contact our team in Denver, Colorado to talk more about your unique situation and learn how our therapists can help.
Pease Gadoua, S. (2018). To Divorce or Not to Divorce: Helping Clients Get Out of Marital Indecision. A Training for Therapists.