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How to Deal with Divorce Stress

Updated on March 18, 2011

As Holmes and Rahe described, different events will be bound to cause some stress. There has never yet been a divorce, whatever the participants in it may say, that doesn't cause some stress to one or other partner. Usually there is stress not only for the two principal actors in the drama, but also for all those with cameo roles. Divorce and death produce the same reactions because they both occasion loss.

In both instances, however difficult life was before the separation, there is a grief response. In the grief response, the initial reaction is one of disbelief; just as many people are unable to admit that a loved one has died and may go on behaving as if he or she were still alive, so after a divorce they can't believe that their erstwhile husband or wife has left them.

After this is accepted, there is a realization that their lives will never be the same again, as many aspects of it will inevitably have been changed. In time feelings of disbelief are replaced by blame and anger. The man or woman who was once perfect is now an absolute monster. If or when this phase of the grief response has moved on to the next -depression and self-pity - recovery is starting. Hopeless depression should only last for a few months before becoming bearable. Thereafter there should be an acceptance of the situation and a new and different life can start to be lived.

At any stage, the process may become stuck. There are people who are still resentful, angry and bitter years after a divorce. Others will become stuck in the depressed phase. This is easier to treat, and the time when treatment is required has to be fully judged. In the past it was always considered that the man had it easy after a divorce had occurred. He had his job, his interests, perhaps a new, younger woman, whereas the wife was left lonely, miserable and bereft. Research shows that this was never the whole story. Many men were torn between two people and had overwhelming guilt. They were poor and having to keep two households, and they missed all the day-to-day rituals and mundane activities to which they had become accustomed over the years they had been with their first partner.

Now courts tend to favour the women involved. They have the children, they often have the family home, they have their share of the pension, they don't have to pay for the children's upbringing and often have a lump sum for themselves. The truth is that Holmes and Rahe were right to put divorce next to death in the scale of life's disasters. Nobody is going to come out unscathed.


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