Take Control Blog

The Emotional Aftermath of Divorce

The emotional response to divorce has been repeatedly described by people everywhere as equal only to mourning.   That is because you are mourning:  you are mourning the death of the marriage and there is the vacancy of your once-constant partner to remind you of it day after day.

A divorce can be consuming and so many daily routine life matters can change that it can feel like a spiral effect is dragging you down.   Your emotional state and recovery is vital during what many call “divorce grief”, because it can lead to physical symptoms that interfere with your quality of life, like insomnia.   Nearly 60 percent of people who recently went through a divorce suffer migraines, eczema or severe neck and back pain resulting from increased muscular tension.

There are certain general rules to the emotional reactions of people who are going through, or were just divorced.  Everyone is different, but experts have found that the emotions commonly shared by people going through a divorce come in stages:  while there may be a little relief at first – like opening a pressure valve – it is followed almost immediately by anger and resentment, then sadness and grief, then doubt or denial or guilt, then anxiety and stress and, finally acceptance.  There are exceptions to the rule, buy very few people are giddy about getting divorced.

Recent studies have also shown trends in how men and women suffer the consequence of divorce differently.  Mars is apparently loud and disturbed. Venus is more quiet and pensive.

Women tend to feel less stress and anxiety after a divorce.  That’s probably because they are the ones who more often than not see the marital discord and initiate the legal action.  It’s only natural that they would feel a sense of relief when the marriage ends. They are also more likely to seek out support systems and ask for help or go online for information (statistics show that you are more likely a woman than a man).  And while some mothers may be nervous at the thought of returning to the workforce – and certainly some resent it — their new independence and changing roles can boost their confidence and self-esteem.

Men can initially take divorce harder than women.  They stress far more about their financial matters, especially when they have to pay child support, and can become irritated with the sudden lack of parental control or just presence.  In many cases, they lose social connections – relatives of the former wife and mutual friends.

“Despite stereotypes, men are more likely to start questioning themselves—their looks, their signature traits, their ability to provide for their family, even their masculinity—after a divorce.  Especially since many of them never saw it coming,” says Dr. Jerome Poliacoff, PhD.

Maybe that difference is the reason why men are quicker to remarry.

In children, boys and girls tend to react differently to their parents’ divorce, too.  Boys have more academic problems at school than girls and they are more likely to express their anger verbally and physically, getting into fights over nothing with peers and at home.

“Girls internalize their feelings and may become moody or depressed.  If she was chatty before, she may become quiet.  They may withdraw from their friends or lose interest,” according to Dr. Howard Chusid, a counselor and Supreme Court Certified Mediator.

They may also manifest their anxiety physically with headaches or stomach aches, some experts say.  That could be because they are apt to have problems with their eating and sleeping patterns.  But, contrary to popular culture, there is no proof that daughters of divorce are more likely to develop eating disorders than girls who live with both parents.

While there has been much hand-wringing over the effects of divorce on children, the newest research indicates that the doom and gloom scenarios of the past are a bit of a stretch.  Experts now agree, for example, that the so called “negative side effects” among children of divorce – the depression, acting out, alcohol or drug use, trouble at school or with police – may have generated during the bad marriage.

Today, behavioral experts believe that marital conflict, not the divorce, is what drives the post-divorce behavior of children – as well as the once-married couple.  While a change in their financial status may cause a bit of stress when they can’t have the newest iPhone or top-of-the-line sneakers, kids can adapt well if they have solid relationships with their parents and get regular reinforcement of that from both of them.

“It’s plain and simple, the better the parents are able to communicate with their children and with each other, the better the kids will adjust,”  comments Dr. Howard Chusid.  “In fact, if parents can focus on the needs of the children, that can also help them in their own transition.”

Divorce can initially lead to a feeling of mourning for the death of the marriage and fracture of the family, according to both Dr. Poliacoff and Dr. Chusid.   And let’s not paint a too-rosy a  picture here – at least a quarter of adults and children who go through a divorce never fully get over the loss.

But, with communication and if the right steps are taken to mitigate and lessen the impact and burdens associated with divorce, those painful feelings make way for acceptance that the marriage was broken and created more conflict than peace, for a growing sense of regaining control of your life, for the excitement of new plans for your future and of learning new things about yourself.