Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Emotional Freedom: Phases in Recovery from Divorce

Emotional recovery from divorce happens in phases not stages.

After helping hundreds of people bounce back from the challenges of divorce, I have learned that recovery happens in phases, not stages. While most people talk about the various components of emotional recovery using different terms or labels, there appears to be a general consensus about these 5 emotional components: denial, anger, bargaining, depression/sadness, and acceptance. Some people, mostly Christian writers, emphasize forgiveness as a critical component to recovery and freedom, and I agree with them, so I have included included it here. More on that later.

These are phases of recovery from divorce, not stages. No one moves through this process one component after another in a rigid order. Rather, the primary emotional focus changes over time and like most things in life, it's more like waves than stairs.  Successful recovery requires riding, not fighting, the waves until the storm passes.

I was trained as a psychologist, so of course, I have developed a self-assessment, a rating scale for each of the 6 components of recovery. Here's an example of someone in the early phases where the highest wave peak is feeling angry:

In my divorce recovery seminars, I encourage people to rate themselves at least weekly on each of the 6 phases of recovery during their journaling time. This provides a nice visual thermometer for how they're doing on the road to recovery. As recovery progresses, the bars on the left get shorter, and the bars on the right get taller.

A note about forgiveness: it's a choice. A difficult one, but still a choice. The research is quite clear about this: people who forgive their "ex" are able to move on; those who don't remain stuck in bitterness or depression that affects their entire lives from then on. The Bible makes it clear that forgiveness is not optional for Christians, it's required. Where there is no forgiveness, there is no recovery, and God knows that.

A few relevant factoids about recovery:

  • Most legal divorces take around 15 months to complete, at least in Texas. 
  • The divorce recovery process takes most people 18 months to 2 years, from the time they start. 
  • That usually means that the person who initiates the divorce has a head start of at least a few months over the spouse who gets the bad news. 
  • 90% of men, and 60% of women don't really recover and grow emotionally, they just go back to the old way of living and relationships, because they never forgive their "ex".
Decide to recovery completely; forgive your "ex". Do it for you, not them.