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Ask Dr. Zoe – Grieving Divorce

‘Running Turtle’ Asked:

My marriage broke up about 7 months ago. In the last few days, we’ve been seriously discussing divorce. I’ve been grieving the last 7 months, but these conversations have brought on new, almost overwhelming waves of grief, how do I cope?

Running Turtle

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Dear Running Turtle,

I’m glad you used the word grief because that’s exactly what you are doing—grieving. Grief sucks always, but it is a necessary and healthy process when dealing with your loss.

This is your season for grief. Feel it, eat some ice cream, wallow in it for a minute, scream, cry—get it out! Stop telling yourself it is overwhelming. It just is. Saying your grief is overwhelming is like saying water is too wet. Water is wet and grief sucks, but you will get through this.

So, how do you cope? You need to set an intention for your grief. First, I want you to understand the stages of grief in relation to your possible divorce. This is what you are and will be going through:

1. Denial/Disbelief. I think you are just coming out of this stage after 7 months of separation because it is finally hitting you that this is happening. And I know it feels like you have been hit by a brick and the whole world has shifted. That’s how you are supposed to feel. It’s an emotional trauma response.

2. Pain/Fear. This is where you are right now. It hurts, and it hurts, and you are terrified of more things than you can even vocalize. That’s okay too. Your brain is spinning a bit, trying to re-adjust and make sense of this.

3. Anger. Angry at your spouse, angry at yourself, angry at the world, angry at friends and family who aren’t as supportive as you hoped, angry at the legal system. I can go on and on. Your job in this phase is to figure out how to get it all out in super healthy ways: exercise, punching a punching bag or pillows (not walls or your spouse), journaling, talking to supportive friends or a therapist, diving into a new or previously abandoned passion.

4. Bargaining. Either with yourself or your spouse. You may make certain promises to yourself or make promises of change to your spouse. You are trying to figure out a way that you can bend yourself into a pretzel to make this pain go away.

5. Guilt. You question whether you did enough to try to save the marriage or how you could have done things differently. You obsess over how this is going to affect your kids.

6. Depression. This is one of the toughest ones, and some people get stuck here. It is totally healthy and expected that you will be sad and may have trouble feeling motivated to do anything. You may feel hopeless, angry, irritable and have trouble sleeping or concentrating. You may eat too much or not enough. Lean on your friends and family as much as possible during this phase. If it lasts more than 6 months, get professional help. Otherwise, ride it out, girl! It’s going to get better.

7. Acceptance. The most beautiful part of your story is that point where you move on! And that’s what’s going to happen in your story. Acceptance is the place where you start to see the gifts in your loss, where you recognize that you have developed an amazing strength you didn’t know existed in yourself. This is the time where you can finally say, “I’m going to be okay,” and you believe it. In the acceptance stage, you have developed a new normal, and you feel connected with your life.

You get over grief by walking through it. There is no healthy shortcut. So, here’s your homework: get some tissues (maybe a whole box) and write down as many things (big and small) as you can think of that you are losing (or fear you will lose) in this divorce. Spend some time and get them all out—at least 25. If you can come up with 50, even better. Then, put the paper up and away. In 6 months, go back and make a list of all the gifts you have gotten from this marriage, and yes, even from the divorce. Put it away. Wait another 6 months and add to your list of gifts. You will see the growth, and you will be well on your way to acceptance.

The tricky part is that this grief process is not a linear thing. You can cycle back to an earlier phase and cycle through the phases a few times before you get to your new normal. Have faith that God has something amazing for you and your family in this next season of your life, which will come in due time when you honor this season of grief.

You’ve got this! It just takes some grit and grace.

Dr. Zoe


To hear more from Dr. Zoe, listen to this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: Is it Time for Counseling? A Therapist Helps You Decide (with Dr. Zoe Shaw) – 004!

Read what some of our writers have to say about grief, divorce, and walking through life changes: What Your Grieving Friend Really Wants You to Know, Divorce Was Not in the PlanWhen Dreams Die… Grieving What Should Have BeenWhat This Strong Woman Did When Her Husband LeftWhen Life Gives You a New Normal, and Marriage Advice That Will Change Things More Than You Think…
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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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