Someone you thought you knew intimately and forever, walks into the living room and announces, “I am leaving you and I want a divorce”. In that moment, the person being left loses their hearing, the world starts to go dark at the edges, your heart stops beating and suddenly you can’t breathe. The world, which only a moment ago was familiar and comfortable is suddenly a dark and forbidding place. Grief moves in.
Most of us are familiar with the typical aspects of roulette wheel of grief. Emotions that move from denial to anger, bargaining to depression, back to anger, soul crushing sadness and back to denial again. Divorce is a major life transition – the ending of the marriage, financial changes, belongings divided, moving, house sales and time with our children divided. But in addition to these obvious losses, there are number of what I call hidden losses in divorce that a coach brings to the surface to help people understand why they feel overwhelmed and so fearful.
The first is the loss of my projected future. Humans project tomorrow and tomorrow constantly. Even though it’s March, if someone mentions holidays I see my husband and my family putting up a tree, engaging in our typical rituals; I see us taking our annual vacation to Cannon Beach forever; I see no end to our selecting three concerts at St. Michelle every year. I see us having our friends for the usual BBQ’s, the fight we always have the first day of every vacation and someone to help me drag the ladder upstairs in the middle of the night to change the battery in the dying smoke detector. That is a projected future.
In divorce that future is torn away and the leavee faces a white screen. There is nothing in my future yet and it is a terrifying place to be creating high levels of anxiety and tension. I am easily triggered and generally on the edge of panic until my screen slowly starts to fill. I often need help recognizing that my screen is no longer completely blank.
There is the loss of history – no longer can I tell the story of our vacation in Hawaii at dinner with friends and look to my partner to fill in the details I forgot or add her hilarious description of when I filled the jacuzzi tub with bubble bath. No one will ever be able to go back and relive the death of my Mother and our favorite dog, the time our daughter was so ill she almost died, the celebration when we bought our first house, you got that promotion and we danced at our son’s wedding. It’s all gone.
There is the loss of extended family – I was best friends with your sister, your Mom thought of me as the son she never had. There is a baby shower and I’m not invited, the annual summer softball playoff between the in-laws and the out-laws goes on without me. I will spend my holiday alone because I always spent holidays with your folks.
My social status is changed. A single woman is rarely invited to a couples gathering. As a single person, my time obligations are not the same as someone who is in relationship or has their children full time. I lose social connections and have no idea how to build new ones.
The loss of physical touch. In my marriage, even if it was poor, there were still occasional hugs, kisses, maybe even sex. Humans are healthier when they touch and are touched.
The loss of our planned future. We were supposed to retire next year, we were going to hike Mt. Rainer for our 40th birthday, take a cruise for our 25th wedding anniversary. Buy a ranch, move to Arizona to be closer to family. All of that disappears leaving bitterness in its wake.
And there are more that are individualized – a favorite painting goes to the other spouse, my garden has to be left behind as I move, my community.
Time eventually fills in my future, I created new plans, I meet new people and I establish a new social identity but in the moment of divorce I don’t know that and I need support to get through it.