Newly Divorced? Don't Forget to Grieve

A central aspect to working through the pain of a relationship's end is grief.
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At we acknowledge and encourage that a vital step in healing after a relationship breakup or divorce is releasing negative thoughts and feelings in order to clear out space for bettering yourself, your life and your future. Some of us believe that if we ignore our pain or push through it, we'll heal faster. Unfortunately, such quick fixes rarely work and only serve to shove pain into the background until it eventually makes its way back to center stage for its day in court. This isn't to say that we must sit at home wallowing in a flood of negativity before beginning the work of healing; it's just a reminder to pay attention to the negative and work through it so that it doesn't sit below the surface and fester.

A central aspect to working through the pain of a relationship's end is grief. Most of the time we equate grief with death, but various situations in life involve grieving, including leaving a job or giving up on a dream. Grief is our reaction to loss, and a relationship ending is arguably one of life's toughest losses.

A lot of people wonder how to grieve, or how to stop grieving. The answer? Let it happen. Grief happens differently for everyone. I would say that a balance of proactivity (self-care, connecting with others, expressing feelings, learning from the past, focusing on personal growth) and allowing ourselves to grieve is ideal. "Allow" is the hard part, because grief can be erratic. It's unpredictable, it doesn't follow a schedule, and there's no timeline for predicting when it will fade.

That said, there are certain aspects of grief that you can expect as house guests, although the order in which they arrive and how long they stick around is different for everyone.

According to "The Five Stages of Grief", introduced by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in the 1960's, grief is a process involving various universal stages. She developed these stages in order to address end-of-life loss, but they can be easily adapted to other types of grief. It's not a roadmap. You might experience some of the stages and not others, or perhaps you experience them out of order or simultaneously. The take-home message is that there are common elements to grief, and it's important to acknowledge them and to allow yourself to feel whatever you're feeling.

Here's a look at Kubler-Ross's stages and how they might manifest after a relationship ends:

• Denial-- We don't believe or accept that the relationship is over. If we initiated the split, we might feel ambivalent; we might believe that maybe our significant other is capable of change, after all. If the split was not our decision, we might believe that it's only temporary, that our significant other will realize that he or she made a mistake, and that reconciliation is possible. Denial can also be a general feeling of not believing that a relationship is over, even if we know that reconciliation isn't likely.

• Anger-- We're, well, angry. We're angry at the other person or we're angry at ourselves. We might be angry about what we perceive as wasted time, or how the other person is handling the relationship breakup. This stage can also be exacerbated and prolonged as we deal with legal issues related to divorce or child custody/support.

• Bargaining-- We might try to bargain with a higher power ("I'll never do such and such again if you bring him back to me") or literal bargaining with our ex ("I'll never do such and such again if you come back"). This could also be figurative bargaining ("I'll change this and that about my lifestyle and she'll come back when she realizes I've changed").

• Depression-- We understand that the relationship is over, and we face the reality that we have lost not only our significant other, but also the dreams attached to the relationship. Oftentimes the dreams are the hardest aspect of a relationship to let go.

• Acceptance-- We acknowledge that the relationship is over and begin to feel that we are capable of dealing with it, healing from it, and moving forward.

If you're a parent, your kids will likely experience these stages as well. The more attuned you are to what they're feeling, and the more you provide them with opportunities to express themselves, the better. Just as you to allow your grief to run its course, it's important that you allow your children to grieve without pressure to get over it quickly.

Aside from these stages, you and your kids will likely experience a host of other feelings, too. Shock, guilt, fear and self-doubt are no strangers to grief.

What can help?

• Support-- None of us wants to be the one who monopolizes conversation with our woes, but there's a reason trusted family and friends are called your 'support system'. Allow your nearest and dearest to be with you, listen to you, and comfort you. It's vital that you don't go through this entirely alone. You can also seek out online divorce support, a support group for the newly single, or start one if there aren't any in your area. You can advertise on craigslist or at local community centers, and all you need are three or more people willing to get together on a regular basis to share stories and support. If you feel especially overwhelmed, a therapist might be able to offer additional support, objective reflection, and guidance.

• Journal-- A great exercise is sit for five or ten minutes and write whatever comes to mind without stopping to think about it. Don't worry about spelling or grammar. The idea is simply to get whatever is inside of you out.

• Self-care-- When we feel down, self-care is often one of the first things we set aside. Be sure that you're eating well, sticking to a sleep schedule (this one is hard, but try not to sleep during the day and talk to your doctor if you can't sleep at night), and getting out of the house for some sort of physical activity a few times a week. If you start a support group and there are only a few members, you can combine support with exercise by talking while walking in a park.

Mary Darling Montero, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Santa Monica, CA. She specializes in relationships, life transitions, trauma, depression and anxiety, and is certified to practice EMDR for trauma resolution. She is a contributing therapy expert for

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