Dr. Sophie Soltani - Therapy, Consulting, Workshops


by Dr. Sophie Solani

Divorce is one of the most emotionally exhausting processes that an individual can experience in life. It is often compared to the death of a loved one. Dissolution of marriage usually does not end all contact with one's former spouse especially if there are children. Therefore, you need to establish a new way of contact and communication with your ex-spouse for two important reasons:

1) You want to co-parent effectively and minimize the negative effects of divorce on your children if you have any.

2) You need to allow yourself an adjustment period in order to weather the painful process of your divorce. Recovery requires time, patience, and faith in your ability to withstand the pain, fear, and confusion stemming from your divorce.

The process you may go through can be characterized as following:

I Am In Pain (The Grieving Phase):

Following your separation, you and/or your ex-partner may experience a period of denial followed by extreme feelings of sadness, confusion, loneliness, and disappointment. However, in the midst of grief, there may very well be relief, especially if one’s ex-partner was hard to live with.  In other words, there may be a sense of liberation as well as loss. 

At times, you may feel guilty ("If I just would’ve tried harder..."), shame ("How can I tell my friends and family that I failed..."), anger ("How dare he or she for ..." ), hurt ("How could he/she do this to me after all I ..." ), fear (I will never find someone else ...), and more. You may have a desire to accuse or blame your ex-spouse and even try to get revenge by fighting him/her in or outside of court. You also may self-direct your anger and blame yourself for everything that was wrong with your relationship and the divorce.

You may begin isolating yourself from friends and family. Your appetite and sleep may increase or decrease. You may feel hopeless and helpless. You may also stop paying attention to your appearance and diet.

Remember, this is a time in your life when you need to allow yourself to feel. Do not judge or suppress your feelings because they are normal.

Do not isolate yourself and try to speed alone through this grieving period. It is also important to talk to your children. Remind them that they are loved and your divorce will not have any impact on your feelings toward them.

You also need to know that your anger or frustration is neither directed at nor has anything to do with them. Assure them that your divorce will not affect their relationship with your ex-spouse or you.

I Need Help (The "Needy" Phase):

This is a very tricky period because new emotions may be arising while your strong emotions seemed to have diminished. You do not possess the same level of financial, emotional, and even social support you once valued . This change may develop a great level of uncertainty about your future which may lead to anxiety. During this period, you may feel, act or appear to others as "needy."

For instance, you may need your ex-spouse to partake in responsibilities they once assumed but you soon realize you can no longer rely on their assistance. You may feel rushed to "get on with your life" by your ex-spouse in order to be independent. However, you need financial help NOW, yet the suggested plans (entering or reentering the workforce) provided by your ex-spouse cannot produce the immediate relief from the problems you are encountering.

You need help NOW scheduling activities and providing adequate care for the children. You may have no choice but to care for your children during hours which you used to spend working, exercising, socializing with friend and family, etc. You may need help disciplining the children due to the nature of the crisis which demands both parents participation.

The situation feels urgent and needs immediate attention, NOW. If you are the one who feels burdened by the demands of your ex-partner, speak up and assert yourself.

If you are the one who feels the need for more support, it is time to expand your support system. Consider seeking counseling with a qualified professional, if necessary. This is the time to identify and expand upon your strengths.

Who Am I? (Shedding the Old Identity Phase):

The first time you confront the outside world as "I’’ rather than "we" may feel traumatic. You created rituals which are special and unique to you and your ex-spouse. You were used to spending special occasions, such as birthdays, major holidays, anniversaries, new years, thanksgiving, father’s and mother's days, or graduations, with your ex-spouse. You may have even traveled to special locations and included significant members of your social circle to these events.

The first year of divorce is often the most difficult because formed rituals and habits may not be practiced at the request of your partner or perhaps yourself. The first year of divorce is the adjustment period for attending every event or celebration without your ex-spouse. This is a period when your family as a whole will have to restructure itself and its rituals. At first, it may feel awkward, traumatic, or uncomfortable to tell a neighbor, friend, family member, or your co-worker that you no longer live with your ex-spouse. The first time you attend a gathering without your ex-partner, you may find yourself grief-stricken. The first time your ex-spouse does not partake in holiday celebrations, birthdays or anniversaries, you may feel devastated.

This is a pivotal time for you to develop your own interests. Remember, you were single once and successfully lived your life . Consider returning to school and obtain a degree, develop a new skill, or create a new interest or hobby. Try to participate in sport activities, join a single group or support group such as Parents without Partners, book club, walking club, or a religious or spiritual organization.

Once again, this is a time to seek support from friends and family. The process of shedding the old identity and developing a new one does not have to be all lonely and painful. It is important not to isolate yourself. You need the assistance of trustworthy people in your life to help you with important decisions such as selling your old home, purchasing a new house, choosing a school, seeking employment, and so on.

I Am Single and I Can Manage My Life (The Unveiling Phase):

You have already dealt with betrayal and disappointment. You also faced shame, guilt, embracement, and uncertainty about your future. You were lost, could not imagine what was ahead, and what needed to be done next. You were concerned for the well-being of your children. You felt like a stranger in your own body since what you knew about yourself and your lifestyle no longer seemed applicable to your daily existence. However, you tolerated the ambiguities, felt the pain, survived your needy phase, and endured the early frustration of your new "single" lifestyle. Hopefully, you uncovered and accepted your strengths as well as weaknesses.

You handled the pain of leaving your familiar lifestyle as a married person and embarked on a new journey. You may have met someone special and feel ready to introduce the person to your family without a great deal of guilt or resentment. Your feelings toward your ex-partner may seem more manageable. You have cultivated new friendships and created new hobbies. You may feel less guilty about your children not having both parents under the same roof. You have a better understanding of your abilities to cope with difficult situations and survive arduous circumstances. You may even feel excited about the future. Overall, you have come to realize that your divorce ended your married lifestyle and not your life.

What Can I Do To Help Myself During This Process:

Acknowledge your feelings. Do not attempt to rush through the grieving process. Do not isolate yourself. This is a time to be around supportive friends, relatives, and family members. Eat well, exercise, and get plenty of sleep.

Open the lines of communications with your ex-spouse, especially, if you have children. If you and your ex-spouse learn to manage your emotions during this period your children also learn to do the same and be less effected. During this period, your children need predictability, structure, and continuity in their life. Most of all, they need your guidance; do not allow your guilt to force you into over-indulging your children.

It is also unwise to confide to your children about your ex- spouse and the divorce proceedings. Set aside regular time to spend quality time with your children. Doing so will allow you to detect early signs of distress and help to calm their anxiety.

Remember above all to be kind to yourself. This is an emotional time and life may feel overwhelming. There's no need to create more pain in your life by unkind self talk and thoughts.

- - by Sophie Soltani, PsyD - published in the Alameda Sun