Divorced and Grieving

Lindsay E. Vaughn, Psy.D

Grief is a normal part of the divorce process, regardless of whether the divorce was expected or unexpected, wanted or unwanted. Even when proceeding with divorce comes as a relief after what may have been a difficult period of togetherness, it is not uncommon to experience a grief reaction.

Grief is the response to a loss, and it can take many forms. There is no right way to feel, think, or behave, and there is no time limit to grieving. Also, contrary to the messages we have all received from society, grieving does not indicate that one is weak, dramatic, or negative, but it is rather a healthy response to loss.

While the experience of grief is as individualized as the people on whom it falls, the importance of allowing grief to unfold is universal. Grief may manifest as emotions, physical sensations, cognitions (thoughts), and/or behaviors. Paying special attention to, and allowing permission for, these experiences is crucial to a healthy resolution of the grief process. On the other hand, denying or disallowing these feelings may lead to long-term emotional, social, or physical problems.

In addition to attending to your own grief, it is equally important to attend to the grief of your children during a divorce. Allowing children to talk openly about their thoughts and feelings, while painful at times, is one way to facilitate a healthy grieving process for your children and minimize the long-term effects of the loss.

The Collaborative Process provides as much support as is wanted or needed by your family. Throughout the process, attention is given to the emotional impact of divorce on all members of the family, which usually allows for a smoother resolution of divorce matters. In addition, this often contributes to a healthier and more rapid resolution of grief when all is said and done.

If you find that you or your children are not receiving the level of care that is needed through the Collaborative Process, even with the involvement of extra supportive professionals, you may find it helpful to seek additional support through counseling with a mental health professional. Many therapists specialize in grief counseling and life transitions, and the right therapist may be just what you or your children need to move forward. For a list of mental health professionals in your area, reference the “Find a Therapist” tool on www.psychologytoday.com.

The following is a list of common grief reactions that may follow death or divorce. While these symptoms typically resolve on their own, please speak to a grief counselor if you have concerns or if they are significantly interfering with your functioning.

Feelings

  • sadness
  • shock
  • anger
  • yearning
  • guilt
  • emancipation
  • anxiety
  • relief
  • loneliness
  • numbness
  • fatigue
  • helplessness

Physical Sensations

  • hollowness in the stomach
  • breathlessness
  • tightness in the chest or throat
  • muscle weakness
  • oversensitivity to noise
  • lack of energy
  • depersonalization
  • dry mouth

Cognitions

  • disbelief
  • confusion
  • preoccupation
  • seeing the person lost (to death)

Behaviors

  • sleep disturbance
  • appetite disturbance
  • absent-minded behavior
  • social withdrawal
  • dreams of the person lost
  • avoidance of reminders
  • searching or calling out
  • sighing
  • restless overactivity
  • crying
  • visiting places or carrying objects that belonged to or remind one of the deceased

Lindsay E. Vaughn, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Vaughn Psychological Services
www.lindsayvaughn.com