Dealing With Grief

Man coping with grief after divorce.

These practical tips will ease the struggle you face in coping with grief after divorce.

Coping with grief after divorce is not unlike coping with grief after death. Both death and divorce are “loss of life,” whether life in the physical realm or life as you know it.

In terms of coping with grief after divorce, it really matters very little who initiated the split. Even the reasons for the split have little bearing on the journey through grief.

Sure, there are situations and violations that will naturally cause greater pain and more intense feelings than others. But the stepping stones of grief will be the same, as will the recommendations for coping with grief after divorce.

First and foremost, acknowledge that there is going to be a grieving process. By giving yourself permission to experience grief — with all its ins and outs, ups and downs, messiness and unpredictability — you can come through with a new and hopeful lease on life.

So get ready to feel, and trust that the feelings themselves carry sage insight and benevolent gifts for your future. You are entitled to your feelings — all of them — just as you are entitled to the blessings stored in them.

Let’s review the stages of grief so you know what to look for and how to respond. Note that you may see lists of five to seven stages, depending on the source of your information. Here are the seven signs of grief I outlined in a previous article:

  1. Denial
  2. Pain and fear
  3. Anger
  4. Bargaining
  5. Guilt
  6. Depression
  7. Acceptance

And here are 12 tips for coping with grief after divorce:

  1. Accept that your marriage and relationship is over.

    This level of acceptance is really just a starting point for all the work of grief en route to the final acceptance of a new reality and the ability to live into it.

  2. Expect the grief process.

    Allow it. There are a lot of individual losses contained in the one big loss of your marriage. There is the loss of physical companionship, the loss of emotional and financial support, and the loss of your hopes, dreams and plans for the future.

    If you have children, there will also be an enormous shift in your family paradigm. You and your ex will likely have to split the time with your children, creating a new sense of ‘home’ and ‘family.’ This, too, will carry its own grief.

    The stages of grief are necessary and ultimately inevitable. Embrace them and trust that they are there to guide you through the darkness and into a bright future. The pain of grief will help you with the next tip.

  3. Let go.

    Even though you will experience a rollercoaster of emotions, make it your goal to release negative emotions like anger, resentment and vengefulness. When you experience the same feeling coming up again and again, make it your goal to shave off a little more of it each time and release it. The goal here is not to get stuck in the negative emotions.

    However, if you do find yourself getting stuck in the negative emotions, reach out for help in processing them so you can let them go.

  4. Skip the blame game.

    There is nothing to be gained from dwelling on blame, whether for your ex or for yourself. It is important to examine and acknowledge the role you played and the choices you made that contributed to the end of your marriage, but only for the purpose of learning and growing.

    Having a mindset of blame will find its way into your attitude and language. And it is especially damaging to children who are going through divorce with both parents.

  5. Forgive.

    Forgive yourself and -- if only in your heart and for your own ability to go on -- forgive your ex. Forgiving your ex doesn’t mean you condone anything that has happened. It’s just an acknowledgement of the fact that things happened and that you’re not going to let those things control you any longer.

  6. Create a support system.

    Surround yourself with people who value, support and energize you. You are already living a big downer -- you need people who are going to lift you up. And if you have children and/or are having to re-enter the job market, you are going to need the proverbial village to help you.

    Family, friends, church, support groups, neighbors…. Yes, it is common for connections to fall away as a result of divorce, but you might be amazed by the new and lasting connections that show up.

  7. Take care of yourself.

    Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a dear friend coping with grief after divorce. Monitor the voice inside your head. Make sure it speaks gently and compassionately to and about you. Eat healthful foods, get plenty of rest, exercise, do things you enjoy, be creative, say “no” when you mean “no.” And look for reasons to smile and laugh every day.

  8. Establish a routine.

    Divorce turns your life upside down, inside out and all kaddywampus. At a time when you are likely to feel tossed around blindfolded, every bit of regularity can be a stronghold. And if you have children and/or pets, predictability and routine will provide an anchor for their adaptation and healing too.

  9. Get it out.

    Keep a journal...or two...or three. The practice of doing Morning Pages is a wonderful way to “dump” everything waiting for attention when you wake up. Write a minimum of three pages upon waking, without thinking or editing. The idea is to “get it out” -- feelings, hopes for the day, dreams you had during the night, reminders. Just. Write.

    A gratitude journal is one of the loveliest ways to balance the negativity in your life with an awareness of all you have in your midst. It also provides an ongoing, subconscious current of trust in the Universe or God or your Higher Power or whatever supports your beliefs.

  10. Go pro.

    Having a therapist or divorce coach you trust can be one of the greatest gifts you give yourself while coping with grief after divorce. Knowing that you can safely talk through your conundrum of feelings can be both liberating and validating.

    Someone who specializes in divorce will know how to guide you through the emotional stages, while compassionately directing you back to self-love and self-confidence.

  11. Write good-bye and hello letters to yourself.

    This ritual will provide both catharsis and hope. Writing a parting letter to all the expectations, dreams and plans that will never manifest with the person you married will open space for all that now can be. Remember to say good-bye to what didn’t serve you, as well, and use that as inspiration for the qualities you will welcome into your new life.

  12. Don’t rush romance.

    Give yourself the powerful, healing gift of time spent regaining your sense of self. There is no rule that says an adult has to be attached to a romantic partner at all times (or ever, for that matter).

    Over 45% of adults are single, so not only is there no rush, there is no shortage. There has even been a shift toward elective singlehood. And the statistics boast a boost in happiness and health because of it. So allow this time to be about you -- and if you are a parent, your children.

Coping with grief after divorce is a commitment to your faith in the promises imbued in loss. You may think for a long time that all grief promises is pain. But if you embrace it as necessary and temporary, you will one day look back at a person only a fraction as strong and wise as s/he is today.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people make it through their divorce journey and create a happy post-divorce life. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. And if you’re interested in taking the first step toward working with me, you can schedule an introductory private coaching session.

Looking for more about information about getting over your divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Dealing With Grief.

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