Why Is Divorce So Painful?

We have all been told the stories about how romantic love is supposed to be…we fall head over heels and then it lasts forever.  

We also add the belief…if it lasts, then it’s real.

We even assess the value based on the length of time we’ve been together.  If a couple reaches the 50 year mark they get gifted gold.

The collective mindset is that if a romantic relationship ends for any other reason than one or both people dying, then the relationship is a failure.

We live in a culture that assumes that break up is just another word for failure.  

We act as if feeling dishonored and humiliated is a normal part of the break up pain particularly if you are the one that is left.

“Failure is just another name for real life” Margaret Atwood.

What would it be like instead if when a love that was shared changes forms and instead of being looked down upon, it is accepted by the couple, family and friends? 

Or during a breakup, neither person feels blamed or shamed and instead both feel valued and appreciated for all they had contributed to each other.

Crazy concept huh!?!

It was introduced to the world by Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin when they publicly introduced conscious uncoupling by Katherine Woodward Thomas.

“It is with hearts full of sadness that we have decided to separate..we have come to the conclusion that while we love each other very much we will remain separate.  We are, however, and always will be a family and in many ways we are closer than we have ever been.”

Why Divorce Hurts So Much

“I’ve been married three times and each marriage was successful” Margaret Mead

Dr. Helen Fisher, renowned relationship anthropologist, reports that since serial monogamy has now become the norm, most of us will have two or three significant relationships in our lifetime.  

So now it’s just as common NOT to mate for life…over 40% of first marriages, over 60% of second marriages and over 70% of third marriages end in divorce.

I believe a lot of it has to do with our need to up-level and upgrade just about everything in our life.

Even in our relationships we have the desire to up-level.  

But in order to up-level after a breakup, instead of being concerned how long your relationship lasted, you could ask yourself instead, “What have I learned about love that I can now apply moving forward?”

Left With A Sense Of Shame

Often people feel a sense of shame after a breakup.  

The root of the word shame means “to cover” and for most people it feels like you want to run and hide from the world.

Shame and guilt are different though.  

Guilt is when you violate your own core values like honesty or integrity, so you feel guilty because you have done something wrong or bad.  

Shame, on the other hand, is what society imposes on you and leaves you feeling that “I” am fundamentally bad or wrong.

This happened recently with my client, Mary, who was having an affair with a married man for over two years.

As the old story goes he told her how much he loved her and how special she was…he kept promising he would leave his wife and marry her.

When his wife found out about the affair and they decided to reconcile, the man then turned around and blamed Mary for causing the affair.

She felt hot shame and disbelief and was devastated. 

She came to me after over two years of beating herself up.  She cried nonstop while she told me the story.

I am so glad she found me because, when you are feeling the most down and inadequate, instead of trying to hide and isolate yourself, it is THE most important time to reach out for support and perspective.

Expectations Are The Root Of Heartache

In a breakup, it is our expectation of living happily ever after, with that special person you love so much, that gets crushed.  

We all feel good when our life matches up with our vision of what should happen.  

We forget that what happens, happens and it could not happen any other way and so it IS what SHOULD happen.

But of course, we are human, so when our expectations are not met, our stress levels shoot through the roof, shifting our brain into an instant state of threat and fear, also known as fight or flight.  

Then your dopamine and oxytocin levels drop, which sends you into a feelings of misery and despair.

Feeling Rejected – From Soul Mate to Soul Hell

Hurt people, hurt people.

Most of us never think of ourselves as someone who will act out terrible acts of revenge.

According to Dr. Helen Fisher in her recent TED talk, our biology actually encourages it.

Our brain has fantasies of wanting to threaten, stalk, even harass the person we used to love so deeply.

I had a client whose wife, in spite of getting millions of dollars in her divorce settlement still wanted him to suffer for leaving her for another woman.  

She tried to turn his family and friends against him, hurt his business and his new girlfriend.  She remains bitter to this day.

Her bitterness is no longer hurting him, but it definitely affected her ability to move on and have her own loving relationship.

The part of our brain that becomes activated when we fall in love is the exact same part of our brain that becomes even MORE stimulated when we are rejected by a spouse or a lover.

Rather than turning our attention toward starting a new life that would actually lead to our happiness, our brains are hardwired to increase our desire for the one we are losing.

As the poet Terence once said, “The less my hope, the hotter my love.”

Feeling frantic and upset, you might find yourself driven to try and win back your lover’s affections.  It is the same heightened state when a baby animal loses his mother – fear and desperation.

Love withdrawal is similar to drug withdrawal and it often manifests the same reckless and destructive behaviors.

Our Primary Need Is Survival

Our brain’s primary mission is to keep us safe and ensure our survival.  It does not care about being a good person.

It is also hardwired to stay connected, so it does not easily let go of its primary attachments.  It would rather have a negative bond than no bond at all.

So our brain does not want to let go, even if we know deep inside leaving is the right thing to do.

Ironically, one way we try to keep the connection is through a hostile divorce that gets dragged out.  It looks like both people are obsessed with winning or getting revenge, but it also keeps them connected.

Another way we inadvertently keep the connection is when the relationship is cut off too quickly.

When a relationship gets blown up without warning by one partner, the abandoned person often ruminates over and over in great detail the shock of being left.  They have a hard time letting go.

I had one client who thought he had a great relationship, only to have his 15 year marriage end in one fight.

The external breakup can be quick, but the inner one rarely is.

Don’t Fan The Flames

A lot of times the hurt and anger gets intensified by well meaning friends and family who join in with your victimization by saying things like, “I never liked him anyway, he’s a loser and not worthy of you.”  “She was a conniving gold digger.”

They dismiss or try to diminish your former love, by trying to help you move on.

It is only a temporary bandaid that does not work.

Hating someone you loved will only leave you with a closed, hardened heart.

You do not want that!

Time Doesn’t Heal

“They always say time changes things, but YOU actually have to change them yourself.”  Andy Warhol

Prolonged or complicated grief, coined in the therapeutic world, makes you a victim and could diminish your capacity to love and be loved.

Having our heart broken often validates our worst fears about ourselves…

All the things you have turned your back on or denied is now staring you in the face like:

Feeling unloveable

Having given your power away

Putting someone’s feelings and needs above your own

Denied your own knowing about what to do

Let The Light In

In his song Anthem, Songwriter Leonard Cohen sang “There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”

Whether your relationship ended today, yesterday or many years ago, I can help you get perspective and head toward a happier divorce or a new healthy loving relationship and most importantly, a more powerful you.

Just click the graphic below to sign up for a free clarity session!