How to Look on the Bright Side of Divorce

Ending a love relationship is a difficult task. Even when both parties are handling it in a mature, respectful manner, divorce inevitably stirs up a host of negative emotions. If you've just begun the process of separation, you're probably experiencing feelings of sadness, guilt, loss, and a terrible isolation; it may seem like this is a journey you must make, or at least begin, all alone.

The breakdown of a marriage can be the single most stressful and traumatic event in a person's life. But like any other life-crisis -- such as losing a job, a home, a friend or family member, or even a religious belief -- there are several relatively predictable stages of adjustment you must experience to complete the healing process. The opportunity here is for you to learn and grow as an individual along the way.

The first stumbling blocks to overcome are fear and denial. "This can't be happening to me!" was Karen's first thought when Frank, her husband of 20 years, told her he was leaving her for another woman. "I was very fearful about the future," she remembers. "My thoughts were: 'Where will I live, how much money am I going to have, what's going to happen to our children, and what if no one ever loves me again?' "

Frank, who was raised a devout Catholic, felt extremely guilty on two counts: first, for the pain that Karen and the children were feeling; and second, about what his church had to say on the subject of divorce. "I felt torn in two directions," he says, "but I really wanted to be with Beth. So I told myself that my leaving was for the best; that the kids would get over it; that I shouldn't be ruled by the dictates of a religion I wasn't even sure I believed in anymore." Frank spent five years ignoring his feelings of guilt and sadness over the end of his relationship, covering them up with a much more "acceptable" feeling for him: anger. "I was angry so much of the time," he recalls. "When the kids would say 'we miss you Daddy,' I'd get mad that they were spoiling my happiness. When my parents gave me the cold shoulder because of their religious beliefs, that made me furious." Until Frank recognized and acknowledged the guilt and grief behind his rage, he remained stuck in a pretty unpleasant emotional stage.

If you've recently become separated, you can probably empathize with either Karen's or Frank's feelings -- depending on whether you were dumped or the one who did the dumping. And until you acknowledge and work through the painful stages that accompany the end of your relationship, they're going to be stumbling blocks that will trip you up time and again.
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