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Marilyn Stowe


Emotions Run High: Stereotypical Reactions To Divorce

Posted: 08/20/2012 2:00 am

Let's face it; divorce attorneys don't enjoy a great reputation. I have always thought this to be more than a bit unfair, because we do care about our clients and their well-being. We never see clients at their best; in fact, we usually see them at rock bottom as we try to help them through one of the worst experiences of their lives.

But what happens when the client finally turns the key in the lock, after the final papers have been signed, and is home alone? There is no one to speak to, no one with whom to exchange the briefest "hello". There is no one to go out with. Even the arguments, however unpleasant, were a form of social contact. Now it's all ended.

How long does it really take to get over a divorce? The process is far from straightforward, and many can struggle with emotional turmoil during the process and for years to come. Over the past three decades in legal practice, I've seen the reactions of hundreds of people and spotted many patterns of behavior.

Understanding how you or another are coping with the emotional impact of divorce can be the first step to recovery and a brighter future. The understanding that your reactions are shared by others and you are not alone may also help. In some cases, medical help may be needed to lift the depression, so don't be afraid to consult your doctor or therapist.

Here are just a few examples of how some people deal with divorce and the subsequent fallout:

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  • The Denialist

    They refuse to believe it is happening, won't appoint an attorney and haven't moved out of the family home. This can't be what it seems. There must be something wrong with their spouse. Perhaps they are ill or going through a mid-life crisis. They are subconsciously (or consciously) delaying the process to defer the emotional fallout they know is coming their way. In doing so, they are prolonging the breakdown of their marriage and the tidal wave of pain and angst that will inevitably hit them. Of course, this can simply be a natural reaction to shock and will pass in time.

  • The Projectionist

    Their emotional pain is channelled into concerns about their physical health. Outwardly they seem fine, but they are constantly plagued with an apparent illness, convinced that their increasing trips to the doctor must mean they have a serious and potentially life threatening illness. They are projecting their emotional pain -- or distracting from it -- by making more of real or imagined illnesses.

  • The Pragmatists

    This couple jointly accept their marriage is over after years spent drifting apart. The pain of divorce only hits home when the deal has been quickly done. They have not had time to mentally prepare for what comes next, and it's at that point loneliness and the prospect of creating a new life hits them hard. Facing up to a future without your close companion means no last minute trips to the neighborhood restaurant or cinema, while you must also shoulder the burden of more mundane tasks like grocery shopping and household finances.

  • The Victim

    Most people in describing their pain will tend to focus on the other spouse. That person's breach of trust, the consequent sense of shock and devastation they feel and the difficulty of coming to terms with the truth. They will talk about their realization that the person they are divorcing is not who they thought they married. While this may be a wholly justifiable viewpoint from their perspective, it means they can blame the transformation of their spouse, and their consequent estrangement, for all their ills --making recovery a much slower process.

  • The Revisionist

    Some accept that their spouse has finally had enough and called time on their marriage. They accept that decision with resignation, believing in their heart of hearts that it was their own fault anyhow. So for them, the pain afterwards may be even more intense because it is mixed with huge regrets and thoughts of "what might have been" and "if only". But it is too late for their spouse, who may have taken many years to reach a decision -- and too late for their marriage.

  • The Winner

    They decide the marriage is over and manipulate their spouse into a divorce to get they want. In the divorce process, their emotions are kept on a tight rein. They got what they wanted: a new life with a new partner. They should be over the moon, but can't help but feel a nagging guilt. How could they do this to their ex-spouse, a person they loved for so long? Knowing that they have forced the family apart and the impact on any children may only deepen those guilty feelings. That "victory" may feel pretty hollow to them at times and can even destabilise their future relationships.