Divorce can bring sense of loss and grief

A divorced man or woman is faced with many of the same things a widow or widower faces, and often must deal not only with anger or disparities, but a sense of loss, grief, upheaval, and disappointment.

Some of the changes and challenges a divorce brings include:

• Deciding where to live

• Money problems

• Building a new everyday routine

• Additional stress

• Emotional upheaval

• Isolation

• Changes in relationships with friends and relatives

• Changes in the way you celebrate holidays and special events

There is a movie called "It's Complicated" in which the main characters are trying to sort out their feelings, relationships and new lives post-divorce. The movie caught my attention because I wrote on this topic of family life after divorce. The book is called "Divorced But Not Disastrous." If you have children, then it is likely your "ex" is still at least somewhat a part of your life because you are connected by your children. So, yes, it's complicated.

There are many types of divorce - angry, sad, contentious, even "amiable." If it was an abusive or unhappy marriage, there may be a positive sense of relief and freedom after the divorce. But if a person feels they are the wronged party or the one who was "left behind," there can also be a great sense of loss and grief, not unlike death. And this must be coped with and managed over time.

Divorce is not death. But a lot of things may have died - dreams of what should have been, dreams of what might have been: a harmonious family, a future together. Financial security or at least financial well-being may be gone. Seldom is there enough money to support two households, or at least not in the way accustomed. There is trouble if the father doesn't pay his child support; trouble if the mother denies visitation to the father. Children can feel caught in the middle.

Often things are now upside-down from what was expected and finances are in a mess. Friends and relatives may "take sides." Even in the age of "no fault divorce," feelings get hurt and often the process is heartbreaking.

But what many people don't expect is that there can be long-term grief over these losses. And one must find a way to cope and manage - with emotional, financial, and practical issues.

Lots of the mistakes and missteps center around the children, child support, the house, visitation, and holidays.

Here are some basic tips:

• Don't get the children in the emotional middle around visitation, and holidays.

• Don't get children involved in who is right and wrong. Children figure it out for themselves years later, and figure out their relationships with both parents.

• Do try to figure out financial fairness, which many do not. Who gets the house, etc.

• Do resist forcing friends and relatives to "take sides."

The only thing that has really changed over the years since I did that research is that now there is a lot of joint custody, which does help the children and parents to temper down the tension and feelings of loss.

But many of the old things remain. Usually a woman with minor children wants to "keep the house" and keep the children in their same schools. A good goal, but many cannot afford to do so. This may not be clear at first, but becomes apparent not too far down the road.

The point is - divorce and its disappointments lead to feelings of grief and loss that may last for the long term. I suspect this is true for both "happy" and " unhappy" marriages.

One can use grief-coping mechanisms to help manage these feelings of loss, much as one would do after a death. Build a new everyday life; make new memories; get out into the community; don't be isolated; be with friends; try not to be angry; and be good to yourself.

Even though many dreams may have died, you can find a way to move forward.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a Ph.D. in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College, and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog

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