What is Divorce Counseling?
Marriage and divorce are two of life’s most monumental experiences. The main difference between them is that divorce can be extremely painful for everyone involved – children, in-laws, relatives, and even pets.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017), a little less than 50% of marriages end in divorce, and one-third of all breakups occur within the first five years of marriage – the time when most couples start their families. The truth is, divorce, regardless of how amicable it is, is a highly stressful and life-changing event. The sheer volume of legal, emotional, and logistical issues that have to be addressed can be overwhelming. In addition, the idea of creating an entirely new life for yourself can feel…paralyzing.
But, the good news is that things will get better with time.
And, with the help of a trained divorce counselor, you will gain invaluable advice and support through this trying time in your life.
How Can a Divorce Counselor Help?
Well, a divorce counselor can guide you through this painful and uncertain time, while providing you with the tools you need to move on in a positive and healthy way. In addition, he/she can teach you how to resume a fulfilling post-divorce life and minimize the impact on your children. He/she can also help you better understand why your relationship failed, so you don’t repeat your mistakes.
What is Marriage Counseling?
The goal of marriage counseling is to address “troubled” marriages. More specifically, marriage and family therapists are relationship experts, who can teach you how to effectively communicate with your spouse. They also can teach you and your spouse how to strengthen your conflict resolution skills so small disagreements don’t blow up into catastrophic arguments.
Ultimately, the main goal of marriage counselors is to help you identify, address, work through, and resolve a variety of issues, such as infidelity, addiction, loss of intimacy, and/or parenting challenges. Keep in mind that even if your original intention was to get married and stay married forever, sometimes divorce happens.
The good news, however, is that if this happens, there are pre- and post-divorce counseling strategies that can help you successfully navigate this process.
What is Pre-Divorce Counseling?
A divorce counselor can teach you and your partner how to effectively communicate and civilly behave, while you try to figure out the emotional, physical, and financial legalities that often accompany a divorce. This counselor can also help you and your partner decide if you really want or need a divorce. In other words, they can help you decide if your marriage can actually be saved.
Keep in mind that if children are involved, it is imperative that you keep things classy. In other words, it is important that your children experience a civil and healthy divorce – one without blame, name-calling, or disrespect. The best way to minimize your children’s trauma and safeguard their well-being is by being civil towards your ex and vice versa.
Pre-divorce counselors are beneficial because they can help you address any divorce-related parenting issues while giving you tips on how to tell your children about your impending divorce, in a way that causes them the least amount of trauma and emotional pain.
Pre-divorce counseling can also help you identify and address any conflicting and/or confusing divorce-related emotions. Lastly, this form of counseling can teach you healthy coping strategies that you can apply during challenging and stressful experiences.
What is Post-Divorce Counseling?
Regardless of the reason, the dissolution of a long-term, committed relationship will disrupt your life and trigger some profound emotions like sadness, stress, and grief. The truth is “life after divorce” can feel heavy for many. In fact, an uncertain future often feels more daunting, than being in the midst of the deeply unhappy relationship.
The good thing about post-divorce counseling is that it can guide you through the aftermath of your divorce. More specifically, divorce counselors use a variety of techniques to improve your self-esteem and self-confidence and accept reality, so you can reclaim your life.
They also help you cope with any residual feelings towards your ex – in a healthy and productive way. Thus, speaking with a divorce counselor can provide a release of these feelings, so they do not remain bottled up inside.
Truth-be-told, it is common for people, especially those who have been married for many years, to have a hard time figuring out who they really are outside of the marriage. This is where divorce counselors come into play. These professionals can help you re-discover your identity, so you can eventually move on and embrace your new life.
How Will I Know If I Need Divorce Counseling?
The truth is, most people can successfully navigate divorce with by themselves, despite the pain and uncertainty. However, for some, divorce is crippling, and overcoming the sadness and loss can seem insurmountable. And, as with any major life change, divorce can affect all aspects of your life – from your emotional well-being to your physical health.
Seeking divorce counseling is an important step in self-care if or when the pain of the divorce becomes too much for you to handle on your own. This is especially true if you have children. Remember, your emotional health must be sound if you want to fully support your children during this time. So, take care of yourself, so you can be better equipped to take care of them.
But, Do I Really Need Divorce Counseling?
Possibly. If you’re unsure if divorce counseling is right for you, there are some signs that can point you in the right direction. More specifically, there are warning signs that may indicate you need professional help. These symptoms range from mild-to-severe, and although everyone is unique, these are common signs you should consider when seeking divorce therapy.
- Problems falling or staying asleep throughout the night
- Self-loathing or feeling like a disappointment
- Feeling unworthy of love or happiness
- Sudden and dramatic weight loss or weight gain
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Uncontrollable anger and rage
- Chronic depression
- Suicidal ideation (thoughts) and attempts
- Anxiety or excessive worry that interferes with your ability to perform everyday activities
What are the Emotional Stages of Divorce?
Divorce is a loss much like death. When you are grieving a loss, you move through several stages as part of the mourning process. Divorce follows a similar pattern, although it has its own unique phases. The goal of a divorce counselor is to help you traverse through the emotional stages of divorce. He/she also aims to help you understand that what you’re feeling is normal and natural. Lastly, divorce counselors help you prepare for your impending divorce, navigate the divorce process, and/or move on with your life once you are divorced.
Listed below are the emotional stages of divorce:
During the denial phase, you will most likely try to “carry on” with life, as normal. You may also “try” to ignore the fact that you are going through a divorce. People in denial typically refuse to acknowledge what is happening. They “attempt” to ignore the situation, as a way of dealing with their shock and/or numbness.
Pain and Uncertainty
The next emotional stage of divorce is pain and uncertainty. As the denial wears off, and reality sets in, you will probably experience pain and sadness. During this stage, you will mourn the loss of your marriage. This is especially true if you weren’t the one who wanted or initiated the divorce. If this is the case, you’ll more than likely feel hurt and rejected. Furthermore, the uncertainty of what lies ahead can cause anxiety and depression.
During this stage, you want someone to blame. The truth is, for many, it feels good to transfer their negative emotions onto someone else, namely their exes and/or their new partners. The anger you feel may not only be directed at your ex, but also at yourself, other family members, friends, co-workers, strangers, and even your children.
While no one person is to blame for the end of a marriage, it’s normal to feel like you need someone to blame for your loss. The truth is, “blaming” is a natural part of the divorce process. The anger only becomes a problem when you’re unable to control it – i.e. lashing out at your children.
In this case, you may be in need of a good divorce counselor, who can help you work through and constructively manage your anger. Moreover, a divorce counselor can also help you cope with your exes’ and/or children’s anger in a healthier way.
During the bargaining phase, you probably going to want to “correct” past mistakes. This is your attempt to get back what you once had. This stage involves regret, and a desire to change how you “behave,” so you’ll get another chance with your ex. Bargaining is another way of dealing with the emotional pain of a divorce.
The guilt phase occurs when you blame yourself for the divorce. During this phase, you’ll most likely recall all of the mistakes you made during your marriage. You’ll wish you had done things differently. Moreover, you may honestly believe that you didn’t try hard enough to save your marriage, and if you had, you’d still be married.
The next stage is depression. The truth is, being depressed is a normal progression, as you move through the stages of divorce. During this phase, you may feel sluggish, have a hard time getting out of bed, lose your appetite or start overeating, and/or lose motivation. You may also feel fatigued even though you have been oversleeping. As a result, you may become irritable around others.
These depression symptoms are also natural during the divorce process. However, these symptoms can become problematic if they worsen and/or persist. Therefore, if you get “stuck” in the depression stage, schedule an appointment with a divorce counselor, so he/she can help you better understand your emotions.
During this final stage of divorce, you learn to accept what has happened and come to terms with the fact that your marriage ended. You may still feel sad and mourn the loss, but by this stage, you are more at peace with what happened. Eventually, you will be ready to move on with your life. Starting a new life can be intimidating and overwhelming, but once you get to this stage, you have the tools, strength, and resilience to reclaim your life.
How Can Divorce Counseling Help Me?
There are many ways divorce counseling can help you. However, the first step is to give yourself time to fully grieve the loss of the relationship, companionship, support, and your future together. This process is not meant to be tackled alone, rather friends, family, support groups, and divorce counselors can all play a significant role in the recovery process.
A divorce counselor can help you in the following ways:
- 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
What are the Various Types of Divorce Counseling Approaches?
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
The most common divorce counseling approach is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT combines cognitive therapy with behavioral therapy with the aim of helping you see how your thoughts and beliefs are influencing your actions and mood.
In other words, during CBT, you are taught how to recognize your negative and unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors – so you can change them. The belief is that when you become more aware of how your destructive thoughts are influencing multiple aspects of your life, you can challenge and change them to fit a more realistic reflection of the situation.
As a complement to CBT, alternative therapies can use to ease sadness and cope with the pain of divorce in a healthier way.
Some alternative therapies include:
- Movement therapy – i.e. yoga
- Art therapy
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Deep breathing
- Music therapy
What Can I Do To Help Myself in the Meantime?
Well, in addition to divorce counseling sessions, there are things you can do to help yourself and protect your well-being. And, although it may be tempting to skip some of these suggestions – don’t do that! The suggestions may actually ease your despair and anxiety until you are able to complete the grief process and/or seek professional help. Note: If you are a parent, remember that by taking care of yourself, you are better equipped to support your children.
Ways you can help yourself before, during, and after divorce include:
- Regularly exercising – i.e. brisk walking around the neighborhood or going to a gym
- Eating regularly and choosing nutritious foods
- Aiming for eight-hours of sleep every night
- Spending time with friends and family, who are supportive and positive towards you
- Engaging in relaxing and enjoyable activities that nurture you – i.e. reading, knitting, painting, and/or cooking
- Expressing gratitude to others and surrounding yourself with positive people
How Can I Find a Good Divorce Counselor?
Just know this – Every day the pain will subside a little. And, eventually, you will feel strong enough to move on. If you need a little extra help to move through the stages of divorce, you can find trained divorce counselors in the TherapyTribe directory. You and also find more information about online therapy if that is a better option for you.
Note: Search for counselors, who have in-depth experience in family counseling. Make sure you feel comfortable with the counselor because if there is a disconnect, grief counseling will fail. Going through a divorce is emotionally-draining, so it’s important to find someone you can trust and talk to during sessions.
Remember, a divorce counselor is there to support you, so find someone who is a “good fit” for you. Also, consider what’s best for your children too, if you plan including them in family counseling sessions. Lastly, schedule a consultation with a child counselor, if your children appear to be “stuck” in a particular grief stage.
- American Psychological Association (APA). (2019). Marriage and divorce. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017). Faststats: marriage and divorce. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/marriage-divorce.htm
- Scott, S. B., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Allen, E. S., & Markman, H. J. (2013). Reasons for divorce and recollections of premarital intervention: Implications for improving relationship education. Couples & Family Psychology, 2(2), 131–145. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4012696/
- Uppsala Universitet. (2017). Fifty-fifty split best for children of divorce. Science Daily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170907104302.htm
- Connolly, M. E. & Green, E. J. (2009). Evidence-based counseling interventions with children of divorce: Implications for elementary school counselors. Journal of School Counseling, 7(26), 1-37. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ886140