Divorce is a very painful life experience. It implies the interruption of a life project oriented towards the creation of a family, a project based on mutual affection that is initiated with great enthusiasm and on which expectations of accompaniment and personal development are placed, as well as involving patrimony. It is not easy to accept that the partner to whom we have given so much love and trust for so long, will embark on a new path that we will no longer be part of, with new people, experiences and situations that we will not be able to share. Nor is it easy to accept that the upbringing, if there are children, will no longer be joint and that the father’s or mother’s partner will be involved in it, with values that are not always compatible with our own.
The adaptation to a new reality marked by loss and conflict generates a profound psychological impact on each of the members of the broken couple. On a physiological level, the lack of love activates the same neural circuits as when suffering from drug addiction, unleashing a cascade of hormones that provoke intense, sometimes oscillating and extreme emotions. The real problems derived from the separation of the couple, such as the stress of the judicial process, the economic decline, the worries about the custody and welfare of the children, the need to look for a job or a new home, mean that people who separate do not have until long after the final judgment has been handed down any real opportunities to work out their grief and take the necessary measures to heal the wounds that a breakup opens up (rejection, abandonment, etc.). If the divorce is conflictive and it is judicialized, there will be frequent relapses, with fluctuations in the state of mind in the form of sawtooths.
It is common to detect four emotional phases in the divorce process: denial and isolation, which are nothing more than forms of temporary protection against the impact of what has happened; anger, with intense feelings of hatred, revenge and resentment; negotiation, with attempts to understand what has happened and, sometimes, to recover the relationship; depression, linked to the awareness that it is no longer possible to recover the relationship; and, finally, acceptance that the couple cannot be recomposed and we must look ahead with optimism, organizing our life in a constructive way, filling the gaps with new projects.
As we can see, the phases of divorce are identical to those of grief for the loss of a loved one. Healthy grief can last about eighteen months. Post-divorce recovery can, however, be much longer, especially if the conflict is prolonged over time.
To go through these emotional phases of divorce, it may be convenient to ask for medical and psychological help or to rely on an expert in couple’s breakup, even to attend groups of separated fathers and mothers if that helps us to heal. Believers can rely on their confessor, who will listen without judging and help to work on forgiveness and compassion. Even if bitterness and sadness overwhelm us, what began with love must be ended with love as far as possible. It is worth the effort, for our own sake and that of our children.