Divorce Agony – The Wild Horse

If your divorce has lasted longer than a year, you will eventually stumble upon divorce agony.  There are so many emotions that are wrapped up in divorce.  I have described them as an emotional jungle and the 5 stages of grief, but once your divorce hits the long-term divorce mark such as over a year you will eventually reach divorce agony.  When you have been in a period of prolonged pain that twists your insides into new shapes, this feeling is agony.  The pain is intensified if the estranged spouse is an abuser (neglectful, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, etc.).

Divorce agony is like a wild horse confined to a cage and looking out to see a beautiful green pasture beyond its reach; the longing to be free is a desire that goes unsatisfied.  Confinement creates a sense of claustrophobia.  Things are cramped.  Space is closing in.  Turning around and around, but there is nowhere to go, but to stand in the same place looking out from the same viewpoint.  Sweet scents come in on the breeze which provide some minor relief; however, no real resolution to the situation.  There are moments when freedom seems obtainable; maybe someone from the outside looking in gives a glimmer of hope, however the moments are short lived and quenched quickly with reality.

Divorce with children is that reality in a contested divorce.  Divorce with children are those steel bars that do not seem to go away.  Children themselves do not create the steel bars that pin in the wild horse that longs to be free, the courts do.  The divorce industry calls these steel bars coparenting.  These steel bars are the constant reminder of the divorce state of your life.  The issues that caused the divorce in the first place are still active and relived through coparenting and regular interaction with the person that caged you in the first place which creates agony.  Coparenting itself is not the problem; however, the system does not customize coparenting according to relationship challenges.  Happy coparenting cannot and will not exist in a contested divorce, do not be fooled.  Also, it is common for a divorce to morph from an amicable divorce to a contested divorce very quickly when emotions run hot, be very careful there is no way to predict the outcome or plan for this switch.

Everyone will respond to divorce agony in their own way.  If you are susceptible to substance abuse, stay clear of any situation that will expose you or tempt you.  Do not let divorce agony impact your relationship with your child or children.  If you can afford counseling consider it and schedule it.  If you cannot afford counseling find an outlet, so that you are not facing this dreadful emotion alone.  By joining a divorce group, talking with friends, starting a new hobby, writing or journaling you can better cope with divorce agony and tame the wild horse.

5 Stages of Grief in Divorce – here’s the clincher, they’re still living

There is no way to grasp the concept of divorce until your entire person is submerged and it does in fact feel like DEATH within an emotional jungle; however, every hiccup in the process feels like they are continually dying.  This constant dying situation creates a sense of alternate reality.  There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for anyone involved which leads to difficulty moving from one stage of grief to another with bouts of despair in between (length of time in one stage varies by individual); and for others, there was so much turmoil in the relationship under one roof, the separation leads to immediate acceptance due to the stark contrast in daily living.  However, the acceptance people are not out of the woods; they end up experiencing every stage of the grief sequence as time goes on in a different order. Let’s jump in and talk about the 5 Stages of Grief from losing a loved one from divorce.

First Stage – Denial

It doesn’t seem real at first.  In some cases, it will never seem real; you feel like you are in a perpetual revolving door.  Some questions that you’ll ask yourself include: is this happening? Tomorrow I am going to wake up and things will be different, right?  He or she doesn’t really mean it.  How can this be happening to me?  It almost feels like an out of body experience or a bad dream.

 Second Stage – Anger

No matter what side you are on.  Whether you are filing for a divorce (petitioner) or responding to a divorce (respondent).  This is true for both sides.  Inside you feel like you are going to boil over or explode from the other person’s actions and words.  No matter what don’t be THAT person.  Take steps to prevent that from happening.  Find an outlet for your anger.  Sometimes it helps to scream at the top of your lungs when no one is around or put ten times the effort into your workout that day, when your lifting weights or when your jabbing and upper-cutting put all your energy into the action.  Anger stems from being out of control, could also originate from betrayal and/or the natural response to the instigating spouse.  The Family law system also triggers anger, because it is so incredibly broken and no one seems to care.

Third Stage – Depression

No one is immune to this stage.  There are so many reasons why this stage is unavoidable.  Your life as you know it gets turned upside down.  If you have children, they are extra irritable from the divorce and it is difficult to identify whether their behavior is from abuse or the instant transition which makes you even more depressed.  Your eyes glaze over.  You can’t sleep.  You sleep too much.  You can’t eat, because you have no appetite or you overeat to increase the feel-good hormones like serotonin. Your limbs at times feel like they each weigh a ton.  You don’t want to experience anything good, but instead want to wallow in your misery.  The sudden departure of your loved one leaves a void of presence, even if that presence was rarely good most of the time.  Holidays and birthdays are especially challenging at first, because your family and friends also must make the adjustment.  No one really wants to talk about the divorce, but it is looming in the background of everything you do which also contributes to the grey cloud that seems to hang over your head.

Fourth Stage – Bargaining

Someone in some relationships always wants the other one back (that’s not the case in my experience).  Spouses will make threats, they will beg, they will plead with you to change in the hope of getting back together.  I think of this stage as the optimist stage, because whoever goes through this stage wants things the way they used to be and will say or do anything to get the other spouse to comply or bend to accommodate their need to be together again.  They want to sacrifice something for the good of the relationship and are willing to put everything on the line at this point to make it happen.  If you’ve responded to a bargaining spouse, let me know what that is like in the comments.

Fifth Stage – Acceptance

You finally feel relief in this stage and a hint of sadness.  Some people may even feel a level of happiness and wholeness or resolve at this point.  You no longer feel like your spouse is controlling you and you are confident that you will no longer be manipulated by your spouse, because as time progressed you became stronger and resistant to their old ways.  At this stage, you come to terms with your divorce and know that the divorce happened for a reason.  You no longer want your spouse to be yours.  You no longer feel the need to continue arguments.  You no longer let your estranged spouse impact your state of mind.  At this point you are ready to begin life again, and holy cow, it feels amazing.

The most difficult part of the 5 Stages of Grief (denial, anger, depression, bargaining & acceptance) is reaching continuous acceptance, because the other person is still alive and well.  If you’re able to move or minimize encounters, this helps; however, if you have children it is almost impossible.  If the person changes and becomes civil and respectful there’s lots of promise that acceptance will be maintained.  Sometimes you hear of stories where the parents have this jaw dropping co-parenting arrangement that they even take annual pictures together like the CBS News story or live together; these people aren’t human, do not believe the hype.  In fact, the alternate reality scenario is even more relevant in divorce situations where the parents somehow stay active in each other’s lives and can’t seem to move on with their life.  Don’t be that parent, you’re not helping the children, but giving them false hope.  The emotional jungle is intense as you keep reliving the 5 Stages of Grief; this is normal, keep working through it each day is a new day.

Divorce? BEWARE, it’s an emotional jungle.

Emotions in a divorce are far more intense than emotions during an unhappy marriage. If a person has a challenging time with their emotions (this can be described as: difficulty expressing emotions verbally or physically, avoids emotional encounters, has sudden outbursts, acts passive aggressively, etc.) they are going to have a rude awakening and a hefty attorney bill if they find themselves in the middle of a divorce. Here are some suggestions on how to navigate the emotional divorce jungle.

The emotions in divorce are intense; so much so, the people in the middle of divorce are not themselves.  The friends and family of people that are divorcing get pulled into the dissolution and even their emotions are affected.  Some friends divorce their friends for going through a divorce, others stop communication altogether and if the divorcing parties are lucky, there will be a handful of people in their lives that stick by them to listen; because they are loyal friends with emotional intelligence.  Emotions in a divorce are far more intense than emotions during an unhappy marriage.  If a person has a challenging time with their emotions (this can be described as: difficulty expressing emotions verbally or physically, avoids emotional encounters, has sudden outbursts, acts passive aggressively, etc.) they are going to have a rude awakening and a hefty attorney bill if they find themselves in the middle of a divorce.  Here are some suggestions on how to navigate the emotional divorce jungle.

Whatever you do, only communicate necessary information. Often, spouses and sneaky attorneys will use communication with the opposing party to manipulate them before a hearing date.  Manipulation before a hearing is multipurpose.  The attorney wants fodder, because this gives the attorney more hours to accumulate and the spouse willing to manipulate wants a leg up for control.  FYI, if one spouse antagonizes another, the court does not step in.  If one spouse manipulates the other spouse, the court does not step in.  If one spouse threatens the other spouse with conditions, if you don’t do this I won’t do that, the court does not step in.  If one spouse, harms the children according to the children, the court does not step in.  If one spouse displays, irregular forms of communication, constantly contradicts themselves and admits general guilt to something heinous, the court does not step in.  If one spouse violates a court order, amazingly the court only steps in on rare occasions even if you file a motion or ex parte.  These scenarios are all possible.  Are you scared yet?  How does this happen you ask?  It happens because no one is holding the system accountable. Only communicate necessary information, because anything more puts fuel on the fire and no one in the judicial system cares if you or your children have been injured unless a crime has been committed.

Whatever you do, turn your hot buttons off. Your spouse knows which buttons to push, when to push them, the frequency they need to be pushed and how hard they should be pushed.  Rewire your brain so those stimuli have zero impact on your response.  This is extremely difficult when divorce is new; because you are adjusting to new circumstances, but the sooner you shut the hot button circuit off the better off you’ll be.  This is especially important if you have children and you’re the custodial parent.  Divorce is the worst on children. Be sure you’re dialed in to your children’s emotions.  If you don’t turn your hot buttons off, your children will get the brunt of your emotional response that’s meant for your estranged spouse.  DO NOT let your estranged spouse have that much control!  Be in charge, 100% of the time for you and your children.  Setup boundaries in your new divorce relationship to protect your sanity, keep your emotional well-being in tact and to stay in the present.  Turning off your hot buttons is critical to minimizing collateral damage.

Whatever you do, complete as much paperwork as you can outside of court. Every hearing you have creates stress.  Every hearing costs money whether you have an attorney or not.  Every dollar that you or your spouse pays is a dollar less for the children if you have children and there is always a chance either spouse can request the court to order the other spouse pay while your case is open.  All promises that are not submitted to court and filed with the court are fly-by-night promises; so no matter what, make sure all signatures on a decision are filed with the court.  Time is valuable, court is as fun as the DMV, don’t waste those precious hours.  If you have an attorney, have them negotiate for you outside of court or try mediation for better cooperation and communication.  If your spouse is compliant and respectful, try negotiating with your spouse directly (with any outside party, there is a price-tag attached).  Most of all make it a priority to come to a decision, make concessions, make reasonable suggestions and get your division of assets wrapped up as soon as possible especially if you have children.  Don’t let the legal paperwork or family law forms be a burden, get it done outside of court.

Everyone needs to care about their neighbor’s, their friend’s, their family’s quality of life, any person can be touched by divorce directly or indirectly.  If you are considering divorce, going through a divorce or know someone who’s going through a divorce help them understand how to navigate the emotional jungle.  Divorce is one of the most difficult circumstances people deal with in life and people should not have to do it alone.  If you’re going through a divorce or know someone who is; keep these emotional strategies top of mind: communicate only necessary information, turn your hot buttons off and complete paperwork outside of court.  The emotional divorce jungle is filled with booby traps, predators and acts of God; be prepared and stay alert.