When getting married, you don’t expect to separate in the upcoming years, nor do you predict the flood of emotions accompanying such a separation. However, divorce is extremely common, with more than 700,000 occurring each year, so it’s important to know you’re not alone and there are substantial resources available to help you through this life-changing event.
Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit dedicated to promoting overall mental health, recognizes that divorcees will go through myriad emotions ranging from exhaustion to anger to confusion to intense sadness to anxiety. It recommends allowing yourself to experience these feelings, and recognizing it’s OK to quickly jump from one to the next. Such sentiments may fall in line with the typical seven emotional stages of divorce: shock, denial, anger and blaming, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and rebuilding. Mental Health America also advises you to share your feelings with loved ones, think positively, avoid arguments with your ex, and take care of yourself emotionally and physically.
One of the major ways you can tend to yourself is through counseling, which can be especially helpful if you have children. Therapy ensures you and your ex are in the best headspaces to fully support them through this tumultuous time. Whether you attend on your own or with your soon-to-be ex, it can help you effectively navigate the split in a healthy manner.
Divorce counseling can begin pre- or post-divorce, or both.
Prior to dissolution, counseling can teach you and your partner how to effectively communicate in a civil manner. The therapist will provide the necessary tools to discuss important issues such as child schedules and religious preferences without name-calling, yelling, and blaming. For instance, founder of mental health service Power Couples Counseling, Gabrielle Usatynski, utilizes a psychobiological approach to help couples communicate and “learn to negotiate and bargain with each other so they can create win-win solutions for divorce and co-parenting,” explains a Counseling Today article titled “Helping Clients Rebuild After Separation or Divorce.” Usatynski employs a technique called staging, in which couples act out an argument to facilitate learning.
For divorcees interested in attending counseling on their own, sessions can teach you to deal with your emotions and provide healthy coping mechanisms. For instance, Jennifer Meyer, a divorce coach and member of the nonprofits American Counseling Association and International Association of Marriage and Family Counselors, utilizes “emotionally focused therapies to help clients turn inward to process their feelings about the separation or divorce,” states the aforementioned Counseling Today piece. Using role-playing exercises, she helps her clients process their feelings and find a way to move forward from the relationship. Meyer also has clients write goodbye letters to their exes, to let go of their anger and hurt.
A counselor can also provide you with the skills to talk to your children about the impending divorce.
Post-divorce counseling is more of a long-term process meant to guide you through this next phase of your life. It focuses on life after divorce, a time when you may feel alone, uncertain, and confused. Each session provides techniques to improve your self-esteem and confidence. Your therapist will share recommendations on how to productively cope with your feelings and reclaim your life. As you rediscover yourself, a counselor can assist you through single parenthood and dating.
Although many can handle the separation process without third-party intervention, others may find the additional advice and assistance beneficial. However, a third group may need this added support. Some divorcees exhibit warning signs indicative of a need for help. Those symptoms include problems sleeping, feelings of self-loathing and unworthiness, sudden and dramatic weight loss, social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed, chronic depression, or suicidal ideation. If you experience any of these, contact a professional immediately.
Gregory C. Frank is the CEO and Founder of DivorceForce.