Understanding Divorce Grief: 6 Key Insights

Understanding Divorce Grief: 6 Key Insights
Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Can divorce be as tough as a death loss?

During my studies in thanatology, the subject of grief and loss, I encountered differing viewpoints on whether divorce can be as tough as a death loss for some people. As a certified thanatologist who has worked extensively with individuals facing both divorce and death loss, I avoid judging which of these emotional journeys is harder, as each holds its unique challenges and emotional impact. What I have come to recognise over time is that both experiences share definite similarities as life’s most significant stressors, particularly within the realm of grief. My practical experience in the grief field, having worked closely with individuals navigating through divorce and coping with death loss, enables me to empathise and connect deeply with the complexities of the divorce experience as well as the deep pain of a death loss. In both, there is the profound sense of loss, emotional upheaval, and the journey of healing that individuals may encounter, which in both cases is a unique and personal experience.

Divorce is a deeply emotional journey that can manifest in many ways

For some, the experience resembles a slow decline, similar to dealing with a lingering chronic illness that eventually reaches its end after years of struggle by one or both parties. On the other hand, some face the abrupt collapse of an unexpected divorce, leaving them bewildered by the sudden loss of what they ‘thought’ was a stable relationship, or even if they had an idea the marriage was not in great shape they had not thought their partner wanted a divorce. These diverse paths of divorce highlight the complexities of human relationships and the range of emotions individuals may encounter when navigating through the challenging process of untangling their lives from a once-shared bond. Understanding the profound impact of divorce on individuals and families is crucial, as it shapes the way we approach support, and have empathy for those going through this life-altering experience.

In divorce, the experience of grief varies for each individual

It is the death of a relationship, yet both parties continue living on. In the realm of grief, this is termed ‘ambiguous loss,’ denoting the person’s physical presence but lack of psychological or emotional connection. It can be challenging to process, as the person remains in your life but in a different role, often limited to co-parenting communication. This situation can be especially difficult for some divorcing couples who once relied on each other but now have minimal contact. Some may feel relief, while others may feel profound pain and difficulty. Both the initiators and the ones that were left do generally grieve, just at different times in the marriage and divorce process.

Divorce encompasses multiple losses

It is necessary to reorganise boundaries and establish new ways of communication with the former partner to name a few. These profound changes and layers of loss often go unnoticed or underestimated, making the process complex and delicate to navigate. Most divorcing people have to go through a lot on their own without much support. In the aftermath of a divorce, it’s crucial to acknowledge and understand the grief that accompanies this significant life change. Each person copes differently and may require support to process emotions and adapt to new circumstances. Practicing self-compassion and patience with oneself and your children during this challenging time can facilitate healing and growth as both individuals move forward with their lives apart from each other.

Another critical aspect of grieving during divorce is recognising that you are indeed grieving.

Many people have come to me, unsure if what they’re feeling qualifies as grief. They may be experiencing anger, not realising that anger can be a form of grief too. It can stem from feelings of loss of control over your life and the drastic changes happening. Grief can manifest in different ways.

Grief has physical, cultural, social, emotional, physiological, and behavioural aspects

Some symptoms can be digestive issues, sleep disturbances, weakened immune system, deep sadness, moments of relief, headaches, changes in behaviour, feelings of isolation, and even jealousy towards seemingly happy married couples. Understanding these various manifestations can help you identify and address your grief more effectively.

About Karen Omand BASoc BAThan CT

Karen Omand, holding degrees in sociology and thanatology, specialises in guiding individuals through grief, drawing from her own experiences of high-conflict divorce, parental loss, and abusive marriage. Focusing on the often-overlooked realm of grief in divorce, she co-founded the Divorceworkshop in 2021 with Kirk Mosna, aiming to empower those on the divorce journey. As a certified Grief Counsellor and Divorce Specialist, Karen advocates for greater awareness of grief in divorce, aiding both recovery and pre-decision detachment. She is the co-author of The Divorce Workbook, coming out this summer.

Alongside Kirk, she assists individuals in informed decision-making, proactive preparation, and strategic planning for healing and recovery. Her story of resilience and empathy inspires others to navigate divorce with courage. Connect with Karen on  Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn check her website Divorceworkshop.ca, or sign up for the Divorceworkshop’s newsletter.

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