Center for Shared Insight, PC

Grief After Divorce: Taking Adult Steps

October 11, 2021
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Posted By: Kristen Hick, Psy.D.

If you ultimately wanted your divorce, you may have felt moments of relief and happiness as you finalized plans to move forward in life without your former spouse. And even in this case, there can be unexpected moments and stages of grief - ranging from anger, disbelief or denial, sadness, depression, bargaining to change it, and finally, acceptance - with the change in your and/or your family’s life. On the other hand, if the divorce wasn’t your idea or you fought hard to keep your marriage intact, you may have experienced days of sadness, regret, and confusion. Either way, you will likely move through stages of grief if you are in tune with your healing process and willing to feel all emotions that you’ll move through post-divorce.

In this post, we highlight particular moments in your post-divorce life where you might feel intense feelings of grief and remind you that the best way to overcome these feelings is to experience them fully and move through them with intention.

Moments of Grief

After your divorce is finalized or in the final stages of settlement, you’ll likely have experiences where your grief is more intense. These are often during “adult” tasks that must be completed during this phase of your separation, including experiences like:

  • Getting your own cell phone plan 

  • Having to change your life insurance beneficiary to someone new

  • Having to transfer half your retirement savings to your former spouse

  • Buying a new house on your own

  • Learning how to fix things that your former spouse took care of

  • Having to update emergency contact information (without a good, new option)

  • Learning how to cook meals if your former spouse took on that responsibility

  • Learning how to do everything from mow the lawn to sew a button

  • Doing your own taxes

  • Being the primary, reliable parent for your kid(s)

These are unexpected adult moments that might seem ordinary but can be extremely painful as you acutely feel the absence of your former partner in your life while you do your best to take on new responsibilities. They might look like trivial tasks on the outside, but while they are actually occurring, don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself emotional as you realize all the little things that your former partner did in your life - some of which may have been underappreciated. For others, it may feel less trivial, for example, having to go back to work after being a stay-at-home parent for years, or having to parent without the sense of having “back-up,” even if deep down you know it was you parenting all along. Be willing to feel the emotions that come up, recognize them, and move through them with any coping mechanism such as joining a divorce support group, creating a yoga practice, journaling or calling supportive friends who will listen to your experience.

Milestones of Grief

Like unexpected moments where grief might come creeping back into your day-to-day life, there also will be milestones that also trigger your pain and sadness, and possibly even your anger about what happened with your former partner. Watch for moments that are aligned with key dates and milestones. Examples include:

  • Your first holiday season without your ex-spouse or without your kids

  • Your anniversary

  • The day you got engaged or the day you met

  • Visiting places that were special to your relationship

  • Visiting the place you got married, got engaged, etc.

  • Your divorce date

  • Birthdays without your ex-spouse or not seeing your children

If you feel grief on these days in year one, you’ll likely continue to feel similar in subsequent years, though it can also evolve. Plan for it and give yourself space and time to feel into the edges of those emotions with appreciation and reverence for what you shared and the good times, even if they were few and far between, you experienced together. Focus on the lessons and the learnings of your relationship. Be willing to be sad and uncomfortable instead of numbing those feelings with alcohol, busyness, or other distracting activities. When you are willing to move through the feelings instead of preventing the fullness of them, you can move beyond them and arrive in a place of healing, gratitude, and forgiveness.

At Center for Shared Insight in Denver, Colorado, we work with divorced clients who are struggling with the grieving process or having difficulty fully moving through the stages of grief and onto the true phases of healing. In our work with these clients, we can help them recognize patterns and behaviors and ways they can make choices that will support their grieving process. If you are struggling with similar feelings, we can help. Contact us for a free consultation and learn more about our therapy practice.

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