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Darlene Lancer, JD, MFTDarlene Lancer, JD, MFT
A blog about Women’s Issues, Self-esteem and Relationships

Divorce - Moving on and Letting Go

Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT Updated: Nov 5th 2010

Even if you wanted the divorce, it entails loss. Aside from the ending of the relationship with your spouse, you may be losing your home, time with your children, in-laws, extended family, and even friends. There are inevitable financial losses, loneliness, a change of lifestyle, imagined losses of what might have been, and of memories of what once was. It may involve a move to a different city, a change of jobs or schools, or a homemaker entering the work force for the first time.

depressed manDivorce is harder one the spouse who is less prepared or feels "left." It can shatter one's self-esteem, particularly if it was unexpected, or if a spouse leaves because he or she loves someone else. Not usually talked about is the loss of identity that occurs - as a wife, a husband, and possibly as a father or mother. To successfully move on, each loss must be mourned. Much of the grief work can precede the physical and legal divorce and smooth the way. It can be useful to recognize Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Not mentioned is fear, which is a predominant emotion in times of transition. All change is stressful. Facing the unknown is provokes anxiety. So many important elements of ones life are in transition all at once, that the stress is enormous.

Divorce frequently rekindles the pain associated with past losses, such as an abortion, a death, immigration, or your own parents' divorce. One man so looked-up to his late father who had died when he was only four years old, that when his own son reached four, he not only divorced, but moved out of state, claiming he needed to get away from his ex. But the proximity to his ex-wife was not the real motivation. It was the painful, hidden memory of his father's abandonment and the prospect of tarnishing his father's idealized reputation by meeting his own son's needs.

Many times, there have been both a prior loss and lack of separation from a parent, as in the case of a woman who was overly close with her mother following the death of her father. With such spouses the threat of loss is overwhelming. She hadn't finished grieving her father, and hadn't separated emotionally from her mother. This made "letting go" of her marriage nearly impossible. She created disputes and obstacles to settlement in order to postpone the divorce, thereby avoiding their grief, feelings of helplessness, emptiness and abandonment. In such cases, anger helps to separate, yet on-going fighting is a way of staying in contact. Often spouses fluctuate between attachment and separation, sometimes being compliant, then resistant. They cannot cooperate without feeling they are giving up a part of themselves. For example, everything can be agreed upon but one insignificant item - one piece of art, or custody on Halloween. One couple had everything worked out; father would pay for the children's daycare, named in the agreement. When the facility unexpectedly went out of business, he refused to pay for an alternative daycare and instead wanted to take custody. This endless struggle for control over every last detail represents the spouses' last-ditch effort to avoid finality of the marriage and the pain of separation, loss, and abandonment. In therapy, spouses can work through their fears of separation and losses. They learn to distinguish the earlier trauma from the present and resolve their anger and grief towards their parents and spouses, which helps them to heal and move on.

Social support is especially important. Newly divorced people may not be ready to date or feel uncomfortable dating after married life. Creating a single lifestyle takes time. For some, they may have never lived alone. You may not be used to attending cultural and social events alone or have a companion with whom to go. Church and support groups, such as Divorce Anonymous, Parents Without Partners, and New Beginnings all can provide both support and a social network.

Take time out from your stress. Make time for yourself and find an activity that involves and relaxes you. Exercise that is fun, such as dancing, hiking, sports, or biking give you double benefits. A creative hobby will nurture you. Try meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises for deep relaxation.

The worst will pass, and you will be stronger.


Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s counseled individuals and couples for 27 years and coaches internationally and is the author of two books: Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies. Her ebooks include: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind - Become Assertive and Set Limits, Spiritual Transformation in the Twelve Steps and Codependency Recovery Daily Reflections. Ms. Lancer is a sought after speaker at national conferences, on radio, and to professional groups and institutions. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, and, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.” Find her on, Twitter @darlenelancer, and Facebook.

Reader Comments
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Marriage & Family Therapist - Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT - Oct 16th 2011

Hi Confused.

Thank you for your comment. Unfortunately, I just discovered it, and hope you're doing much better by now. Women suffer more from the effects of divorce for many reasons. The shrink probably thought you weren't mentally ill, which you're not, but depression can be seriously debilitating. Hopefully, you contacted a family therapist who is more sympathetic and supportive. Next month, I'll be publishing a post on my blog regarding women and divorce. Meanwhile don't be hard on yourself, since that worsens the normal grief you may be going through. Be gentle with yoursef.

Confused - - Dec 27th 2010

Very well written, Darlene.

In my case, I left my husband and filed for divorce. He has completed cheated me. He has previously been into substance abuse (alcoholism, smoking, tobacco, drugs), had a previous broken engagement and never confided anything to me prior to getting married. For 3 years of our marriage, he kept everything under control during which time my mother in law harassed and criticized me continuously for no fault of mine. Then things started getting worse between me and him. I tried my level best to get him to seek treatment but he refused to change his ways. I underwent a lot of emotional abuse and when physical abuse started, I left him.

For the 1 year of our separation, I was relieved and much happier. I was doing very well in my job as well. Now that I got divorced, I am finding it very difficult to even concentrate on my work. I recently left my job as I couldnt do my work. I sit for hours staring into space and do not feel like socializing or meeting people at all. I went to a psychiatrist but he says nothing is wrong with me and that I'm fine. I just cant believe all this has happened. I cannot move on with my life. I think I'm even having short term memory loss. I feel awful all the time!!!! I feel like this is something I cannot face the world with. Everyone wants to know what went wrong in the marriage and I dont want to speak a word against him or his family.. I"m confused. Why am I feeling this way? Why cant I concentrate on my work or dont feel like doing anything at all? I should be thankful all this is over but I'm not feeling that way. Please advise.

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