The Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale is a tool used by mental health professionals to gauge the difficulty of a life event, and divorce is second on the scale only to the death of a spouse. Divorce attorneys and other professionals warn that divorce is an extremely traumatic process for which most people are unprepared. Fortunately, there are resources available and strategies that people can use to heal, regain their individuality, and move forward with their lives in a positive manner.
Ending a marriage can be big, painful, stressful, emotional, and traumatic. Divorce lawyers warn that this is true even when the process is amicable. Everything is just heightened when there are animosities involved and the divorce is contested. It’s for this reason that many family lawyers recommend counseling as soon as a person is aware that divorce is a possibility. Any marriage therapy can transition into separation counseling, and the spouses should also opt for individual counseling in order to prepare for what lies ahead. Entering counseling may also meet some of the requirements that the court will have for you anyway in finalizing your divorce.
Your family law attorney will likely recommend three stages of divorce therapy: pre, during, and post. Divorce therapy can be both couples therapy and individual therapy. During couples therapy, the partners explore, recognize, and resolve conflict in a nonconfrontational setting. Individual therapy is also important and the only aspect of this counseling that you can control. The goal of individual therapy is to provide you the knowledge and tools to cope with stress and other challenges of not only getting divorced but moving forward in life as an individual. The difficulties will be different at each stage, but the core goals are the same. Therapy provides you:
Pre-divorce counseling takes a number of different forms. There is couples counseling, which is conducted by a discernment counselor. This may involve determining whether divorce is the right path forward. When it is clear that it is, the goal is to reach an understanding between the partners to make everything easier moving forward. There is also individual pre-divorce counseling, and the focus here is to help the individual be aware of the upcoming challenges and have the tools to deal with them.
While couples counseling during the divorce focuses on maintaining a productive and collaborative relationship, individual counseling during a divorce focuses on the emotional journey that is underway. The individual will be experiencing significant stress due to the divorce itself but also the fallout from it, such as moving into a new apartment and the cost of living on one’s own. The counselor will provide stress-management techniques appropriate to the difficulties being faced.
Post-divorce therapy focuses on the individual. The therapist wants to help the person maintain a strong support network outside of therapy. Their role is also to help the client complete the grieving process and heal, which often requires forgiving the other spouse, all while maintaining everyday life, which involves being there for the children, working, and managing a household. As the person heals and gains control over their life as an individual, the focus shifts to growth and moving on to new goals.
Co-parenting is among the greatest challenges divorced couples who have young children face. A healthy relationship and a unified parenting approach is necessary for the mental and emotional well-being of the children. It also makes it more difficult for the ex-spouses to move on. Many divorce attorneys advise agreeing to a parenting plan during the divorce process as a solid foundation for success. Parenting plans can be formalized in certain scenarios, such as parallel parenting, but it is generally recommended to avoid this if possible as it makes it easier to update the plan based on the child’s needs.
Divorce is as stressful as it is because it is a real loss. The separation from someone you were so intimately connected to is devastating. Divorce lawyers warn that even couples who seemingly hate each other need to recognize that they are grieving and go through a healthy grieving process. Counselors recommend allowing yourself to feel the pain and sadness and not try to suppress those emotions. Experts also encourage people to be patient. This is usually not a fast process and can take upward of 24 months for some.
During a difficult time like this, many people respond by withdrawing, but this is the wrong time to cut yourself off from the socialization we all need. That doesn’t mean you need to start dating again or even think about it. But you should remain in contact with family and friends. Lean on them for support, but also push yourself to perhaps go to dinner with them or take in a movie.
If you feel you need additional support beyond therapy, consider divorce support groups. These are available online as well as locally. It can help to talk with people going through the same things you are. Ask your family lawyer and your therapist to learn about the local options.
It is essential to focus on self-care as well. Dinner and a movie with family or friends are an example of that, but emphasize the smaller moments as well. You may want to avoid alcohol for the time being. Take relaxing walks, and maintain a regular exercise schedule for your body but also your mind. Treat yourself with small rewards on occasion and particularly after you have achieved one of the goals set during therapy.
Forgiving your former spouse is imperative to freeing yourself from all the negative emotions you still feel. Your anger may very well be justified, but if you never let it go, then you maintain yourself in a perpetual state of victimhood. Forgiveness will also make you a better parent to your children, and it will position you to better co-parent with a partner that is no longer your enemy but your child’s parent.
Growth is an essential concept in divorce therapy because divorce is change. No matter what you do, you will come out the other side of the process as a different person. If you have agency in that transformation, you can become an independent person who is happy and fulfilled and ready to move onto to the next phase whether that is advancing your career or finding someone new to love.
If you are considering a divorce or if the process is already underway, Lawrence Law would like to help. Our New Jersey law firm has offices in Red Bank and Watchung and has assisted many clients navigate different types of divorces, including mediated, collaborative, and contested. If you would like to meet with a family law attorney from our firm in order to discuss your situation, you can reach us at 908-645-1000 or contact us online through the form on our website.
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