THE BLOG
02/28/2013 12:36 pm ET | Updated Feb 24, 2014

Braving Divorce

bsterling via Getty Images

Let's talk about bravery. Merriam-Webster defines bravery as the quality that allows someone to do things that are dangerous or frightening. We often think of our soldiers fighting wars overseas as being brave, or firefighters entering a burning building as being brave, or police officers knowingly confronting dangerous criminals as being brave.

Richard Gere once said, "I don't think that bravery is about skin. Bravery is about a willingness to show emotional need."

I like what Richard Gere said. Let's talk about bravery in the context of divorce. I spoke with a group of caregivers last week. Many of the people they support are going through a divorce, and we had a great discussion about the absolute need to show emotion, and to confront those emotions, when going through a divorce. The big question was this: How do we help the people we are giving care to when they refuse to show any emotions? Our sense is that they are ignoring their emotions, and trying to "be brave" but something feels amiss.

Absolutely! Good instinct. People who push all emotions aside, and who show "bravery" in terms of just getting through things without honestly addressing certain emotions are doing themselves a disservice. Showing emotion is not a crutch. It's not a weakness. It's not a sign that you aren't a strong person. In fact, I would argue that the opposite is true.

Our conversation centered around the need for people going through a divorce to be brave enough to confront all those feelings of rejection, and anger, and pain, and sorrow and mourning for what they really are -- true feelings that need to be dealt with. I have often said that if feelings are brushed under the rug and not dealt with head-on that they will resurface as unfinished business in the future. Who wants to deal with unfinished emotions related to a divorce years or decades after the divorce is over? Not me!

Richard Gere is onto something. He said that bravery is about a willingness to show that emotional need. It's about letting those walls of defense come down a bit and allowing yourself to feel the full range of emotions, as painful as they may be, so that you are able to deal with them fully and completely, and more importantly, to heal from them and move on without any lingering baggage.

The group and I talked about the fine balance between someone who becomes a basket-case, unable to function because they can't stop the barrage of emotions from controlling their every move, to those who become robots, completely devoid and detached from all emotion.

People need to try to land in the middle of those two extremes. Clear those emotions. Let them come through, but don't let them control your life for too terribly long. Deal with them. Address them. Let them heal you. Just make sure that at the end of the day, you are making forward progress with your emotions and that they aren't constantly pulling you under. I recall feeling like I would take two steps forward, and then one step backwards, but at least I was ultimately making forward progress.

The other important discussion we had was that the timing to deal with these emotions will be different for everyone. There is no rule -- people go through change at their own unique and individual pace. The rule would be "as long as you are being brave and showing emotions, you need to continue to move forward in your healing." That may take you a month, a year, or a decade, but at least have forward momentum. Staying stagnant or being sucked backwards is not a healthy option.

Divorce is not fun. The feelings it brings up aren't fun. Anger. Animosity. Hatred. Rejection. Fear. Guilt. Loneliness. Grief. Sometimes it does feel easier to just pretend that all of these feelings don't exist. It's easier to push them down and ignore them. They will resurface at some point. They will come back to haunt you. And, like I said earlier, who wants to deal with these emotions again? Isn't once enough?

What do you think? How were you "brave" and how did you deal with the emotions that accompany divorce?