Tending To Your Mental Health During A Divorce
Content warning: This article includes references to topics that may be considered triggering. Please proceed with discretion. If you are in need of immediate support, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Going through a divorce, no matter the reason, is rarely easy. Ending a marriage often represents a major life upheaval, a change in relationship dynamics, and a point of reflection on what a person wants from love and life. Children, family members, and other complicating factors may also be involved. For these reasons, divorce can often come with a range of intense emotions, from devastation to anger and everything in between. It’s not uncommon for people going through divorce to wrestle with their emotions or struggle to identify how they should be feeling. While these experiences can all be normal, they are also another reason it’s so important to take care of your mental and emotional well being when you’re getting a divorce.
With this in mind, let’s dive into how divorce can affect our mental health, and what you can do to tend to yourself during this major life transition.
The Mental Health Effects Of Divorce
Many people are familiar with the emotional and existential side effects of getting divorced. Often, ending a marriage can force you to reexamine your place in the world, your feelings about love and romance, your life goals, and your needs. It may also come with legal challenges, custody disputes, and other sources of significant stress. This, combined with potential feelings of relief, anger, resentment, or depression, can make for an emotional rollercoaster ride.
What fewer people realize, however, is that the effects of divorce can go beyond just confusion or conflicting emotions. Divorce can lead to a range of mental health symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and stress. In some cases, it can even affect physical health, with a 2020 study from Frontiers in Psychology finding that recent divorce can lead to lowered vitality, reduced emotional and social functioning, and worse overall health than in the general population.
How To Take Care Of Yourself During A Divorce
Given how challenging and taxing a divorce can be, it’s critical to take care of yourself during what may be a confusing and emotionally raw time. By taking steps to tend to your mental health, you may be able to counteract some of the negative impacts divorce can bring. Strategies for taking care of your mental health during a divorce may include:
- Nurturing your other relationships: Although your marriage is coming to an end, that doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationships. By setting aside time to spend with friends, family, and others in your community, you can continue to foster meaningful social connections and avoid isolation in the aftermath of a divorce.
- Practicing self-care: Self-care can be easy to neglect during stressful times, but it can also be crucial for ensuring your body and mind are at their best. Make a point to practice good hygiene, get physical exercise, and engage in pleasurable activities in order to help offset the potential stress of a divorce.
- Broadening your horizons: It’s not uncommon for people to find themselves looking for a purpose or after getting divorced. Consider seeking a new source of meaning in your life, whether through work, volunteering, a hobby, or your other relationships. By expanding your horizons, you can take the first step to building an identity independent of your relationship and ex-spouse.
- Avoid relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms: It can be tempting to deal with the stress of divorce through the use of alcohol, drugs, or excessive time spent on social media. As pleasurable as these things can be in the moment, they may be creating the potential for future mental health and substance challenges. Instead, focus on finding constructive, safe outlets for your emotions.
In addition to these strategies, it’s also important to seek help if you need it, either through your own support network, a mental health practitioner, or a hotline, such as the Crisis Text Line, which can be reached by texting HOME to 741741.
Getting Support Through Therapy
The previous section highlighted just a few of the ways you can take care of your mental health during the stress and confusion of a divorce. However, even with these strategies in mind, some individuals also choose to seek out the guidance of a mental health professional. A licensed therapist or relationship counselor can provide a safe, neutral space for exploring the emotions surrounding a divorce and provide strategies for moving forward in a healthy way.
That said, because divorce can lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can make it difficult to leave the house, in-person therapy may not always be an ideal option. Online therapy, through platforms like Regain (for couples) or BetterHelp (for individuals), has been growing in popularity for its convenience and accessibility, allowing clients to schedule and attend therapy sessions wherever is most convenient. For those whose divorces have taken a significant toll on their mental health, this may make online therapy an appealing alternative to commuting to a therapist’s office in-person.
Online therapy’s effectiveness has been studied in both individuals and couples. One study, from 2017, found that internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was effective at treating mental health conditions such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Another study, from 2022, found that couples who received counseling via video conference saw similar improvements in relationship satisfaction, stress, anxiety, and depression as couples who received in-person counseling.
Divorce is rarely ever easy. Due to the upheaval it can bring, it’s not uncommon to experience emotional and mental health challenges, such as anxiety, stress, or depression, while going through a divorce. That said, it may be possible to reduce the impact of divorce on your mental health by practicing self care, tending to your other relationships, expanding your horizons, and seeking help when you need it, while avoiding unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the final stage of a divorce?
Even for those who want a divorce, it’s something that generally comes with many changes and feelings. It can be tough to wonder why you might experience stages like bargaining and depression, even if it is all for the best. However, it’s very common, regardless of the situation, to experience the stages of grief during or after the divorce. To reiterate, the stages of divorce (or grief) are:
During the acceptance stage, which is often the final stage, people can accept the event and begin to envision a new future moving forward. While divorce can be seen as an end, it can also be seen, in time, as a beginning. Even the acceptance stage isn’t always a linear experience emotionally, but you will often notice that things get easier to accept in time. Therapy or counseling can be a helpful asset for those who are struggling to see a happy future ahead or who need help working through the emotions and tangible aspects of divorce. Support groups for those enduring divorce and books or literature on the subject may also aid a person through the process.
What are the five stages of a divorce?
When a couple goes through the actual divorce process, it is common for them to grieve the loss of their significant other. This often means that they go through the five stages of grief. While these stages are the same for a lot of people who go through a divorce, individuals can experience each stage of grief with a different level of severity or in a different order than their partner. Here are the five emotional stages of grief that those who have experienced divorce commonly go through:
The first stage in the process of grieving a divorce is denial. This is often experienced by the person who did not initiate the divorce. However, both partners can experience this stage. Denial is a common coping mechanism used to suppress one's feelings about the marriage. It can be a means of escaping reality and dealing with the initial shock of the situation.
The second stage in this process is anger. Once the initial shock and numbness begin to wear off, both partners may start to experience anger. Again, the severity of how these feelings manifest will vary from person to person. Anger is often expressed to mask other emotions that may still be too difficult to face. Partners during this stage may start to blame each other for the state of their marriage.
During this stage, individuals going through a divorce often start to think about things they could have done differently to create a different outcome. They may also consider trying to change their partner’s mind. There could be promises made or concessions offered in order to salvage the relationship.
The next stage in the process of grieving divorce is depression. This stage is often experienced the longest for couples, as they finally come to terms with the reality that their marriage is over. People often experience great sadness, stress, and loneliness, as they feel as though the life they had envisioned for themselves as a romantic couple is over for good.
People's acceptance stage often also comes with feelings of relief that the divorce process is finally over. People hopefully begin to feel as though they can restart their lives and discover their sense of self once again.
Why does divorce hurt so bad?
Many people fail to realize before they begin going through the actual divorce process the overwhelming emotional pain they could experience. Often, this is because divorce represents the end of an internalized expectation of what life will look like. As discussed above divorce can bring about feelings of grief similar to those experienced by the bereaved.
People often experience their emotional divorce at various rates and severities, which can depend on some of the following factors:
- How long you were married
- Whether there are children involved
- Who initiated the decision to divorce
- Whether the decision to divorce involved infidelity
- Whether the decision to divorce was mutual
- Whether there was emotional, mental, or physical abuse* involved in the relationship
- Whether there were concerns related to substance use**
- Whether there were financial issues
- Whether an emotional connection still exists
*Abuse is never okay. Please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text “START” to 88788 if you or someone you know is or could be experiencing abuse. For additional resources and information, go to https://www.thehotline.org/.
**Please contact SAMHSA National Helpline 1-800-662-4357 if you or someone you know is facing concerns related to substance use or a substance use disorder.
Can my husband divorce me if I don't agree?
The stages of divorce can be especially difficult if both people are not on the same page. Divorce often means there’s a fundamental difference between a couple. One possible scenario occurs when you have initiated a divorce and your spouse refuses to sign the divorce papers. Many people wonder whether it is possible to get a divorce rather than a separation if their partner disagrees. If you or your husband refuse to sign divorce papers, here are options that are available to begin the stages of divorce legally:
- You have the right to file for an uncontested divorce in divorce court. This is still a certified divorce; however, a judge usually must sign off on your permission to file your papers and serve your partner.
- If your partner has stated that they will not sign the papers before you have filed them, you can speak to your divorce lawyer about applying for a no-fault divorce. This may affect whether you can receive benefits such as spousal support or custody of children.
- If you have filed your divorce papers properly and served your partner legally, they may think they can put the divorce on hold if they do not respond to your documents. However, if they have failed to file a divorce court response after a specific period (varies by state), you can potentially contact your divorce lawyer and file for a default judgment.
- Don't feel pressured to delay your divorce stages because your partner is refusing to file the papers. There are options available to you to get a certified divorce without the cooperation of your partner.
- When in doubt, it’s usually best to communicate through lawyers. And keep it civil when possible!
Is lack of intimacy grounds for divorce?
Many people consider a lack of intimacy to be grounds to initiate the beginning stages of divorce. In fact, some feel as though a lack of intimacy has already helped initiate an emotional divorce in their minds, as they may no longer feel a connection to their partner. However, while lack of intimacy can be grounds to initiate the beginning stages of divorce, it doesn’t have to be if you and your partner can and want to work it out. Here are some ways to potentially initiate change:
- Speak to your partner and get to the root cause of your lack of intimacy. If they do not wish to speak on the subject, or your conversations are not helping, try counseling, where a professional can mediate your discussions.
- If your concerns are mostly related to sexual intimacy, consider seeing a sex therapist.
- Take steps to work toward closeness and nurture the relationship as a whole. Try new things, have open, honest conversations, reserve quality time, and consider books or other resources that might help.
Relationship troubles like a lack of intimacy don’t always indicate the end of a relationship, and they’re definitely fixable in many cases. If it ends up being the case that divorce is what you want, consider divorce counseling. Counseling can help you both get closure, establish confidence and certainty surrounding the situation, and move forward as healthily and amicably as possible.
What's considered abandonment in a marriage?
Often called desertion, abandonment usually happens when a partner leaves a marriage without warning or consent. Depending on your state, courts may require both partners to be separated from each other for over a year, one of the partners to have failed to agree or consent to departure from their home and family, and/or for the spouse that departed to be unable to pay support to their family upon leaving, among other possible qualifications.
Some people abandon their marriage if they feel there was no other way to get a divorce through more conventional means. These people may feel like they have already experienced an emotional divorce from their partner but cannot leave any other way. However, abandonment in a marriage is not the same as going through a separation. For example, if a spouse gets a job in a new state and the other spouse refuses to uproot their life, which causes problems in the marriage, this is usually not considered abandonment. On the other hand, if one spouse makes living in the marriage so tricky that their partner feels they need to leave, the other spouse can often apply for constructive desertion, which could be used as grounds for the divorce.
What is the most difficult stage of divorce?
Whats the fastest divorce process?
How long do the stages of divorce last?
When divorce is the best option?
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