What is Divorce Counseling?
Like marriage, divorce is one of life’s most significant relationship transitions. Despite its prevalence, divorce is extremely painful for all members of the family. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost half of all marriages end in divorce, and one-third of all breakups occur within the first five years of marriage – the time when most couples start families. Divorce is a highly stressful and life-changing event. The sheer volume of legal, emotional, and logistical issues that need to be addressed can be monumental. In addition, the idea of creating an entirely new life for yourself can feel paralyzing.
It is important to realize that things do get better with time and there are professional divorce counselors that provide valuable advice and support through this process. A divorce counselor will guide you through this painful and uncertain time and give you the tools you need to move on in a positive and healthy way. Divorce counseling teaches you how to resume a fulfilling and successful life after divorce, minimize the impact of your divorce on any children you may have, and better understand where the relationship failed so you don’t make the same mistakes again.
Marriage and Divorce Counseling
Many couples seek marriage counseling to improve a troubled relationship and prevent a divorce. As experts in relationships, marriage and family therapists can help couples develop their communication and conflict resolution skills. Marriage counseling can also help couples get through issues like infidelity, addiction, loss of intimacy, and parenting challenges. However, if divorce is the inevitable outcome, there are pre- and post-divorce counseling strategies that can help you and your partner navigate through the painful process.
The involvement of a divorce counselor before a divorce can help both parties learn to communicate effectively and civilly during the process. If there are children in the family, a civil, healthy divorce is imperative for the well-being of all family members and will minimize the trauma of divorce for the children. Pre-divorce counseling can assist with parenting issues related to divorce and provide a forum for how to best tell your children about your impending divorce. Pre-divorce counseling will prepare you for some of the feelings and emotions you may have throughout the divorce process, and pre-emptively teach you coping strategies that you can apply when you have trouble over the coming months.
No matter the reason, the break-up of a long-term, committed relationship can disrupt your world as well as trigger some profound emotions such as sadness, stress, and grief. Life after divorce can feel overwhelming, and for many, the uncertainty about the future can sometimes seem worse than the unhappy relationship itself. Speaking with a post-divorce counselor allows you to talk through your feelings rather than keeping your pain inside. Post-divorce counseling will help guide you through the confusion and anxiety of marriage loss using a variety of techniques.
Many people, especially those who have been married for many years, will have a difficult time finding who they are outside of their marriage. Divorce counseling will help you discover your identity as a single person so you can begin to move on and accept your new life without your partner.
How to Tell if You Need Divorce Counseling
Many people can successfully navigate divorce on their own, despite the pain and uncertainty they feel. For others, divorce can be crippling, and overcoming the feelings of sadness and loss can seem insurmountable. As with any major life change, divorce can affect all aspects of your life, from your emotional wellbeing to your physical health. When the pain of divorce becomes too much to handle on your own, seeking divorce counseling is an important step in self-care. If there are children involved, your emotional health is an important part of being able to support your children through the pain they will face. When you take care of yourself, you will be better able to take care of others.
If you’re unsure about whether divorce counseling is right for you or if you need the support of a therapist as you go through your divorce, there are a variety of warning signs that indicate that you may need professional help. These symptoms may range from mild to severe, and while each person is different, these are some of the common signs that you should consider seeking divorce therapy:
- Trouble sleeping
- Self-loathing or feeling like a disappointment
- Feeling unworthy of love or happiness
- Dramatic weight loss or weight gain
- Social isolation
- Loss of interest in activities that you used to enjoy
- Uncontrollable anger
- Increasing feelings of depression
- Thoughts of suicide or death
- Anxiety or excessive worry that interferes with your ability to perform everyday activities
Emotional Stages of Divorce
Divorce is a loss, much like death. When a person is grieving a loss, they move through several stages as part of their mourning process. Divorce follows a similar pattern, although it has its own unique phases. To help you to prepare for your impending divorce or to navigate a divorce that has already taken place, a divorce counselor will walk you through these emotional stages of divorce to give you an understanding that what you’re feeling is normal and natural when a marriage ends. The emotional stages of divorce are:
- Denial: In the denial phase, you will attempt to carry on with life as normal, trying to ignore the fact that you are going through a divorce. People in the denial phase refuse to acknowledge what is happening and your attempt to ignore the situation is a way of dealing with the shock or numbness you may feel.
- Pain and Uncertainty: As denial wears off, and reality begins to set in, you will feel pain and sadness as you mourn the loss of your marriage. If you weren’t the one who initiated the divorce, you may feel hurt and rejected. The uncertainty of the future can bring up feelings of fear and anxiety
- Anger: In the anger stage, you want to assign blame. It feels good to get angry and transfer your negative emotions to someone else. Your anger may be directed at your ex, but you can also feel it towards other family members and even your children. While no one person is to blame for the end of a marriage, you are justified in these feelings, as they are a natural part of the divorce process. Anger becomes problematic when you can’t control it, or you lash out at your children. In this case, professional help from a divorce counselor can assist you in working through and managing your anger more constructively. You may also experience the anger of your ex or your children towards you.
- Bargaining: In the bargaining phase, you are anxious to correct past mistakes in an attempt to get back what you once had. This stage is characterized by regret and a desire to change your behaviors so that you can have another chance. Bargaining is another way of dealing with the pain you feel.
- Guilt: Guilt occurs as you turn the blame for your divorce towards yourself. You will think back to all the mistakes you made and wish that you had done things differently. You may believe that if you had tried harder or been a better person, your marriage would still be intact.
- Depression: Feeling depressed is a normal progression as you move through the stages of divorce. In this step, you may feel sluggish, have difficulty getting out of bed, lose your appetite or start overeating, and you may lose motivation to do anything. You may feel fatigued even though you are over-sleeping and you might find yourself becoming irritable with those around you. These symptoms of depression are natural as you work your way through a divorce, but they can become problematic if they increase in severity and they persist. If you find yourself stuck in the depression stage, speak to your divorce counselor so they can help guide you through your emotions and can recommend that you see your doctor for medication if necessary.
- Acceptance: In the final stage of divorce, you will come to accept what has happened and come to terms with the fact that your marriage has ended. You may still feel sad and mourn the loss, but you will feel more at peace and ready to move on. Although starting a new life can be intimidating and overwhelming, you will approach it with strength and resilience instead of regret, anger, and blame.
How Can Divorce Counseling Help?
It is important you allow yourself time to fully grieve the loss of the relationship, the companionship, the support, and any plans you had together. This process is not meant to be accomplished alone – friends, family, support groups or a professional divorce counselor are important in the divorce recovery process. Specifically, a divorce counselor can
- Help you work through the stages of divorce
- Teach you the necessary coping skills to deal with the emotional pain of divorce
- Provide a forum for the entire family to receive counseling and support
- Provide relationship coaching to help you understand the reason the relationship failed and prevent future relationship problems
Types of Divorce Counseling & Recovery Strategies
There are many types of psychotherapy, but divorce counselors most commonly use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in their sessions. CBT combines cognitive therapy with behavioral therapy and focuses on how a person’s thoughts and beliefs influence their actions and their mood. With CBT, individuals are taught to recognize their negative and unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors. When a person becomes aware of their destructive thoughts, they can begin to challenge them and change them to a more realistic reflection of a situation or view of themselves.
As a complement to CBT, there are many other therapeutic endeavors you can use to help alleviate your sadness and channel the pain of divorce more constructively. Some of the alternative therapies that you can add to your divorce recovery plan include:
- Movement therapy, such as yoga
- Art therapy
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Relaxation breathing
- Music therapy
In addition to sessions with a divorce counselor, there are many things you can do to take care of yourself and protect your well-being. While it may be tempting to skip some of these actions, especially in the depression stage of divorce, they can be an enormous help in how you feel. If you are a parent, remember that taking care of yourself allows you to help and support your children. Some of the ways you can practice self-care are:
- Regular physical exercise like brisk walking or going to the gym
- Eating regularly and choosing healthy and nutritious foods
- Aiming for eight hours of sleep each night and avoiding oversleeping
- Spending time with friends and family who are supportive and positive
- Engaging in relaxing and enjoyable activities that nurture you, like reading, knitting, or cooking
- Practicing gratitude and noticing the positive things around you
How to Find a Divorce Counselor
Every day the pain will subside a little, and emotionally you will start to move on. For professional guidance as you move through the stages of divorce, search the TherapyTribe directory to find a therapist specializing in divorce counseling in your area or consider online therapy.
Look for a counselor who has experience in family counseling and someone who you feel comfortable with. Going through a divorce is emotionally difficult, and it’s important to find someone you can trust and open up to so you can get the most benefit from your divorce counseling sessions. A divorce counselor is there to support you, so ensuring that you find someone who is a good fit is imperative. Consider your children too, if you are planning on taking part in family sessions together. A therapist with experience with children is an asset if you wish to seek child counseling.