, Gloucester, MA

August 30, 2013

Dealing with divorce's devastating effects

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — Marriage creates one of our three most powerful life relationships. The others are, of course, our relationships with our parents and our children. We have a strong and deep emotional investment in these bonds, involving not just primal connections, but our sense of personal identity and worth.

As a result, with the high number of marital breakups in American society (about one of two marriages ends in divorce), divorce remains one of the most traumatic life events anyone might face. For most people, divorce is a long, painful journey with no instant healing or quick recovery.

Often, the prevailing feeling during a divorce is one of failure. Many blame themselves for having made a bad choice. They may feel that their divorce is somehow the result of poor judgment, weak character or something else that reflects negatively on them as an individual.

This point of view is damaging for two reasons: first, it usually springs from unconscious feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem rather than a clear view of the contributions of both spouses to the relationship; second, those self-flagilating thoughts can create situational depression and anxiety which drains their emotional energy, and can prevent them from getting on with the necessary grieving and gradual healing.

If you are divorcing, you may feel as though you have moved to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. You’re not a citizen but an alien. You were part of a couple, part of an extended family, part of a couples community. Now, you are suddenly none of those things. You have lost not only a relationship but also a significant portion of your larger social identity.

The changes that occur during the divorce process can shake your confidence at a time when you need it most. Single parenting, financial hardships and legal decisions — to name just a few — require energy, creativity and tenacity. It is extremely difficult to be effective in all these areas at a time when you are emotionally devastated.

Divorce can feel like a death and requires emotional healing which can take much time as you move through the loss and healing stages. Depending on the length of the marriage, it can take from two to five years for people to regain their usual energy and effectiveness.

It is helpful for those going through divorce to know that recovery will take time. Well-meaning friends may advise them to “get over it and get on with your life,” but it’s not that simple. Marriage is an enormous emotional investment. It cannot be written off just because it has come to an end.

Based in Rockport, psychotherapist and life coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship issues, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at or 978-546-9431.