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I don’t know about you, but in my experience, whenever the topic of divorce comes up, no one ever talks about divorce being complex.
But divorce is complex and multi-faceted.
Most of us think of divorce as a one-time event, but actually, divorce is really a process. And a series of events within that process.
Or you can think of it as consisting of different phases, and for this reason it’s complex.
In the post, Divorce is Stressful. Protect your Kids, there’s a list of several different areas of your life that will be impacted by divorce.
It makes sense. Think about it.
You have spent years building a life together with your spouse. It also takes time (years maybe) for the breakdown of a relationship; it takes time to separate and let go.
And often the break up of a marriage begins long before the divorce.
Have you ever heard the story about the frog in the pot of boiling water? As the story goes, if you put a frog into a boiling pot of water, it knows to instinctively hop out, but if you slowly heat the water up, the frog doesn’t notice that the water is gradually getting warmer, and unfortunately it won’t jump out of the water in time to save itself.
A breakdown of a marriage is often like that. Small breakdowns over time.
So what are the phases of divorce?
The phases of divorce look something like this:
- Emotional divorce – this phase happens over a period of time. It has to do with the feelings associated with the marriage. In the beginning of the relationship, these feelings start positively, as love and affection. But then over time turn there is more and more negative feelings, such as anger, resentment, hurt and even hatred. At the end stage, you have the perception that the positive feelings that you initially felt, are gone forever. The traits that attracted you to each other begin to either become annoying or the traits become more difficult to appreciate in the face of all the negative feelings you start to feel towards each other.
- Legal divorce – this is the phase that we usually mean when we talk about divorce. It’s the grounds for the divorce, and the process of filing paperwork with the courts to determine the details of the divorce. There is always a plaintiff (person filing for the divorce) and a defendant. Today, incompatibility is accepted by the court system as a common reason for divorce. This doesn’t put the blame on any one person. Not so long ago, one of the spouses was considered to be at fault and it had to be approved by the court. Yikes! The final ruling of a legal divorce ends with you and your spouse no longer being married.
- Economic Divorce – this is usually one of the most stressful phases and often results in a lot of conflict that can last for a long period of time. As you probably guessed, it has to do with money and property. Since we don’t go into a marriage thinking “hey we might get divorced some day, let’s buy 2 of everything,” it can be painful having to give up things that might mean a lot to you. Practically, it often means now you have to fork out more money to set up another home. Money that you might not have. Things that were acquired together as a couple now have to be divided up, “fairly,” which is most likely impossible to do. In some cases, where couples can’t agree, the court will make a decision for them.
- Co-parent divorce – hands down, this is the one phase of divorce that brings people back into court, time and time again. It’s no wonder, deciding which parent your child will live with is a very tough decision, and one that’s always made with a lot of emotion. Not so long ago, mothers were instantly awarded custody (unless they were unfit), but today, it’s decided on a case by case basis and fathers are getting custody more often than in the past. It’s not an easy decision as judges try to decide which environment is best for your child. For this reason, if possible, it’s best that YOU, as the parents can decide together on a plan for your children as you know your family situation best. Get your free parenting plan guide and template here to create a strong co-parenting plan.
- Community divorce – this is one that a lot of people don’t think a lot about when going through a divorce, and that is, how this divorce will impact friendships and community you have built together as a couple. Often, if you are in a community of other couples, then when you become single, it can feel awkward going back into that community, especially if it was just casual friendships. Interestingly, often closer friends tend to be very loyal to one of the spouses in the relationship and feel uncomfortable talking to the other spouse. Attending church together also falls under community divorce and usually one or both of you ends up leaving the church. Reminders of spending time in the community together can often be painful.
- Psychic divorce – this phase is also not spoken about very often. It’s the idea that you lose that part of your identity that made you the other half of the couple. It’s moving from being together and making decisions together about your life together, to making decisions on your own as an independent individual again. For some people, this is a welcome phase. For others, it’s a very painful part of the divorce. But for everyone, unless you were already living separate lives, it’s definitely an adjustment to your sense of self that you may not have realized.
Be Kind to yourself
Ok, so now that you know more about these different phases, it’s time to cut yourself some slack. Yes, really. This can be a tough time.
And some of these phases can take some time to get through. That’s normal.
It’s different for everyone. So don’t get too hung up on comparisons either.
You might be wondering, how does this impact my kids?
That’s a good question. The answer is your kids go through these phases with you. They experience the stress that you are experiencing. So not only are they experiencing their own grief and loss, but absorbing yours as well.
So be realistic about your expectations. Take really good care of yourself through this difficult time. And while you are often struggling, my dear parent, and just trying to get through each day, try to remember to take extra good care of your kiddos.
Divorce is stressful and divorce is complex but you are going to get through it. It’s going to get better. You got this.
Which phase or phases are most problematic for you? Let me know in the comments below.