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The Emotional Cost of Divorce

Grief and Loss

Divorce is by its very nature, emotionally painful. It is the end of something that began with a milestone event in life – marriage, usually a time of happiness, hopefulness, and great expectations.  Even if right now you are at the point of “I can’t wait for it to be over,” there will probably be feelings of sadness, anger, grief and possibly even a sense of failure as you go through it and when it is done. 

The level of grief may even be similar to how you might feel at the death of a loved one.  These are all very natural and normal reactions and virtually everyone who has gone through a divorce experiences them - no matter what they say out loud; not everyone experiences these emotions at the same level or in the same way, however.

Social and Family Network Effects

There will be upheaval in your social circles as well.  Family relationships on both sides will almost certainly be strained; friendships may end depending on who friends are closer to; work relationships may suffer as you deal with the ongoing turmoil (especially if you have to miss work for multiple court dates, attorney meetings, etc.) and your workmates try to deal with you.  If you have children, your relationship to them will change drastically and most likely unpredictably as they also try to come terms with the changes. 

Effects on Children

As a therapist, I have seen the emotional effects of divorce on children and into their adult lives.  As you might imagine, the problems that children experience are related to how much stress and anger they were exposed to by their parents as well as by how their parents treated each other during the divorce. Custody issues that are openly contested in front of children can be devastating to them in the short and long run, no matter what their age.

Many children feel the divorce was somehow their fault, that they have to “choose sides,” or are not wanted especially if the custody "battle" involves saying things like "your mother/father only wants you so she/he doesn't can collect child support (sadly, children and adults have told me in therapy they heard these types of things during the divorce). 

They may also wind up feeling incredibly angry at the parent who wouldn’t allow contact with the other parent (again, I have heard that children were told for years that the other parent didn't want them when this was not at all true.)

Note: If safety is a valid concern, then safeguards absolutely have to be in place for contact with the potentially violent parent, regardless of how the child may feel about it.

Using mediation will not prevent children from having emotional reactions to the divorce. But, since you won’t be involved in “fighting” over your divorce, it will hopefully keep the anger out of the day-to-day interactions with your children, allow for the opportunity to make joint rational decisions that are truly in their best interests, and provide a structured parenting plan.  As a parent and therapist, I can tell you with full confidence that the use of this structure will go a long way to begin to alleviate their inevitable fear, sadness and anger.

Anger and Its Effects

The adversarial process will introduce higher levels of anger and stress into your life as you argue/fight over details of the divorce settlement. Over time both of you will become less likely to “give-in,” cooperate or compromise.  Anger may look like a more attractive alternative to grief and sadness, but it is not a more "understandable" emotion for your friends and family to deal with and it will neither replace nor drive away your grief and sadness. 

Anger may provide some temporary respite from your grief and sadness but these emotions will return and probably when you least expect it. What is more likely to occur is that the anger will amplify and heighten your other feelings of grief, sadness, and failure - each “round” of fighting over the settlement will be reminders of what you are losing and have already lost.