If you've taken Psych 101, you'll probably remember Elizabeth Kübler-Ross's Five Stages of Loss, which we tend to associate with the death of someone close. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. I've experienced the DABDA cycle as fluid and not fixed. We don't seamlessly transition from one emotion to another. And the emotional roller coaster of grief can apply to any type of loss, from a relationship or job or even our expectations.
The death knell of a marriage typically peals long before you hash out who gets the china and the dog. I went through an abridged version before my first step down the aisle. Plenty of divorced folks have shared they had an inkling but chose to proceed, bargaining in the process. A guy once told me he had married his (ex) wife because he thought she'd be a good mom since she baked cookies. Lots of marriages hinge on timing and the nearest warm body after you've hit the biological snooze button a few too many times.
Dysfunctional relationships can be a series of DABDA moments linked by some decent memories. Both parties likely see the end on the horizon. Fear can paralyze us to move forward from an unhappy, tense situation because we don't know what to expect on the other side.
When one partner feels ambushed by a spouse who either has found another dance partner or feels the relationship has run its course, the one left standing tends to go through a more abrupt and intense variation of these feelings. I've long suspected these things don't really happen in a vacuum. It's like when we close one eye because we know we can't stop short fast enough to avoid a fender bender or we hold each and every angry moment inside till the big blowup.
No matter who initiated the final process, divorce can feel like a loss, shares Stephanie Haen, Director of Clinical and Outreach Services at Family Centers in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Haen who oversees the general counseling and bereavement programs at the centers says the loss depends in part to how contentious the divorce is.
We are not just losing a partner but people in our circle, which may include nuclear in-laws and other relatives or friendships developed through a partner. Uncoupling is also the loss of a way of life when you may have been accustomed to a partnership.
When I've gone deeper to examine my emotions about my divorce, I find the most cutting are the loss of my own expectations that stem from how I was raised and societal norms. Haen shares, "No matter how progressive we think we are, we still focus on being in a partnership and not being alone. It's getting better but being single, especially for women, is a stigma at times."
What can we do to help us transition to about 90 percent acceptance (because there will always be weddings, family events and lonely times when we barrel through the range of emotions)?
Haen suggests finding a support group in the community to be with other women struggling with the same issues. Individual therapy may help you work through feelings.
"It's totally normal to feel anger, guilt, wanting to get back at someone for what was wrong in the relationship. Having someone in your corner as you go through the process can help," the therapist says. "Change is hard for everyone. It's hard to leave the known for the unknown, even if it's better and healthier."
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