5 Tips for Surviving Your Emotional Divorce

By: Andra Brosh, Ph.D.
Last Update: October 29, 2016

The definition of divorce is “the legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body,” but anyone who has been through a divorce knows that the division of finances, assets, and belongings only represents a small portion of what it means to get divorced.

There is almost always an emotional divorce that coincides with the physical divorce, which often gets neglected during the process of ending the marriage. Not recognizing how powerful the emotional experience can be leaves couples vulnerable to the rollercoaster of unexpected feelings that surface once a divorce is final. Signing your divorce decree is just one milestone in the greater divorce process, and knowing this will help you prepare for the journey ahead.

The physical divorce is more straight forward than the emotional divorce. Separating belongings, living in separate homes, and not having daily contact are all ways to physically divorce. The emotional divorce is not as concrete or tangible, and it requires a lot more patience, compassion and understanding. The emotional divorce cannot be rushed; it’s a delicate matter that needs special attention and care.

Emotional attachments in a marriage are very powerful. The marital relationship is often one of deep connection and dependence. Over the course of a marriage, couples become attached to each other, to their commitment to marriage, to the fantasy of forever, and to the idea of being a family. These are all normal attachments, but they are also what make the emotional divorce painful and conflicting. The mind comprehends that the marriage is over, but the heart has strings that make letting go emotionally more difficult. When you got married, you organically began depending on your partner for many things, including emotional support and connection. This dependency becomes habitual. When the marriage ends, these old habits have to be broken, and the focus of your support has to be re-directed.

Start by asking yourself these questions:
• What might prevent me from emotionally divorcing?
• What are the emotional attachments I still have with my Ex?
• What emotions does my Ex trigger in me?
• What will I miss the most about my connection with my Ex?

The longer-term goal of the emotional divorce is to develop a state of detachment. Detachment doesn’t equate with not caring, and it doesn’t mean that you forget about everything that happened. Emotional detachment is a neutral state where you can respond without becoming overwhelmed with negative emotion. You will still feel many emotions, but your interactions with your Ex will not hold the same potency. When you make the choice to detach, you are accepting the circumstances of your life and the reality of your situation.

Here are 5 steps you can begin to put in place as you move toward detachment:

  1. Focus on the present. As you find yourself being pulled to the past or the future, gently bring yourself back to the present reality. This is where you need to be and where you are supposed to be right now.
  2. Do not engage in old dynamics and interactions with you Ex. If you feel the need to respond or to share some information with your Ex, pause and wait several hours or days. You will learn that everything can wait and has a time and place.
  3. When you become triggered by your Ex’s words or behavior, remind yourself that you are working on detaching and to focus on your breath. Walk away, politely hang up the phone, or say, “I’m not able to get into this right now,” and move on.
  4. Develop other forms of emotional support that begin to replace the support you felt with your Ex. Breaking those habitual ways of relating will be part of your detaching process.
  5. Educate yourself about healthy relationship dynamics. This will help you step back and to take a broader perspective of your relationship with your Ex. It’s easier to let go of a relationship when you realize that it isn’t working or that it’s not healthy.

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