Coping with Divorce and Post-Traumatic Marriage Disorder

Linda Simpson

Linda Simpson
Divorce and Parenting Consultant
Writer and Speaker

The end of many marriages can be very traumatic.

So traumatic in fact, that were you to visit a doctor and describe your symptoms they might say you have a form of PTSD.

I term it– PTMD (Post Traumatic Marriage Disorder).

Many symptoms of PTSD dovetail with the end of a traumatic divorce. Consider the remarkable similarities.

Re-experiencing the trauma through recollection is one similar sign. Our mind replays certain scenes over and over again. There are many triggers and life after divorce exposes us to those triggers.

Our family, friends, home, furniture and places can all be reminders of a certain painful time and place in the stages of the marriage breakdown. Twenty five years later there is still one place that triggers a very painful memory for me. Thankfully, the emotional affect has diminished with time.

From personal experience, I know that flashbacks and nightmares were a regular part of my life for years afterward.

The frequency subsided but for a number of years the emotional trauma was reignited quite easily with those distressing memories.

Even today, there are certain flashbacks that have never left me- arguments so painful and emotional that the scene is there in my mind in a flash.  The lens is filtered by time but in an odd way reminds me to be so very grateful for today.

Something I personally experienced was a jarring physical reaction.

At odd moments, when I wasn’t expecting it, I would get this sensation of being punched in the gut. Something triggered it. It could have been a fleeting memory and my senses responded. It points to the physiological effect that divorce can have on a person’s body as it responds to the stress.

There is probably much yet to be learned about the physical affects to our personal health created by a traumatic divorce.

The anxiety of facing the world is also something not forgotten. Avoidance behaviour is often part of those early days after a separation.  What struck me was that the world was carrying on in a normal fashion.

I recall being in the grocery store and trying to make relatively simple decisions about food choices. There was an ugliness I felt after years of having my physical appearance assailed and a feeling there was revulsion in the eyes of others.

A certain paranoia had been created by the trauma. I would wonder –were they laughing at me?  I felt disconnected to the world.

The single most important choice I made in the aftermath of the separation was putting myself in the capable hands of a very competent counsellor.

For two and a half years she gently but firmly moved me toward rebirth. She saved me.

The inability to concentrate and feeling irritable are certainly relatable. Your mind is consumed by this trauma and trying to get past it mentally is an enormous challenge.

Sleep deprivation is often another side effect of traumatic divorce. In that dark nighttime we are left to beat back the demons in our head. We can all recall being curled up, late at night, in what feels like a very empty bed wanting the hurt to go away.

Unlike a death ending a marriage, divorce is someone’s calculated choice to leave. It is deliberate.  That choice often precipitates a sense of guilt or shame by the partner left behind.

In my situation, I was consumed with shame over not seeing the lies earlier in the marriage. I lived a 25 year lie unbeknownst to me. I did not know about his secret life until shortly before the end of the marriage. In the aftermath, my attempts to process his deception was debilitating for a time.

Recently, research has been conducted on the theory of Post Traumatic Growth – described as a positive psychological change in the aftermath of adversity. Although there are critics of this theory, I find it quite credible based on my own experience. PTG in no way diminishes the emotional trauma but focuses on today – to survive and thrive.

One fact that kept me going was the desire to get better not bitter. I was not going to let this man who chose to be deceitful and abusive impact my happiness in the future. It was a deliberate choice I made to claim personal power and control over my life. There were many bumps along the road but I made it.

My personal experience supports the theory of PTG. The trauma of my divorce 25 years ago was in many respects the precipitating incident for enormous personal growth. My traumatic divorce is what happened to me. It does not define me.

I have chosen to live a life filled with gratitude.

“Joy was not made to be a crumb.”   Mary Oliver

ABOUT LINDA SIMPSON

“I take strength from your calm, your honesty, and the hope you give me for my future.” Cheryl 

Linda is a fresh voice in the divorce advice world. She offers a pragmatic, common sense approach to life after divorce issues based on over twenty years surviving and thriving following a very traumatic divorce.

As a single parent, her sons are an enormous source of joy in her life. She is a loving mother and grandmother to four delightful grandchildren.

She holds a degree from the University of Waterloo with concentrations in sociology and philosophy and guidance counselling certification from Queen’s University.

She is an accredited trainer for The Peace Education Foundation, a leader in conflict resolution training. The institute is ‘dedicated to educating children and adults in the dynamics of conflict resolution and promoting peacemaking skills in home, schools, and community.’

In a long and successful teaching career, she also served as a counsellor and workshop facilitator for SEL (social emotional learning) programming and The Peace Education Foundation throughout her school and school district and was a frequent conference presenter for SUNY Potsdam Faculty of Education USA.

She writes for The Divorce Magazine UK and her blog is seen regularly on Huffington Post Canada where the focus is life after divorce and parenting issues.

She is a writer and poet and is presently at work on a book based on her divorce experience.

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