Change is a normal part of life, and so is the stress that change brings. When a radical change comes suddenly and unexpectedly, or when the challenges presented by change pile up and don’t let up, emotional resilience can give way, and normal stress becomes distress – without help, sometimes even debilitating distress. Very few experiences bring more changes, or more profound and far-reaching changes, than separation and divorce.
Everything is affected: from the most intimate and private aspects of life to the most pragmatic and public. Everything is put into question: from cherished memories of the past to expectations and dreams about the future. In the midst of it all, extremely painful emotions and disorienting confusion are, at least some of the time, pretty much unavoidable – but so are the demands of day to day life, which are only multiplied and intensified by the pressures of separation and divorce. Under these circumstances it can be hard to plot a course forward or know how to make the decisions, big and small, that have to be made.
This is the time to reach out for help. Supportive family and friends boost resilience, and are a blessing no doubt. But after a dozen years of leading a group for adults moving through separation and divorce, I have found that even family and friends often cannot provide either enough support or some of the kinds of support that are most needed. Why not? What gets in the way?
Lots of things. Family and friends can become polarized. If they take your side this can feel helpful and validating in the short term, but if they get stuck in a blaming stance towards your spouse the support they give often ends up getting stuck too. Sometimes friends and family are afraid to take sides at all. Either they distance themselves from the nitty-gritty of what you are going through emotionally and practically, or you hold back in sharing your real feelings and challenges with them. You might also hold back from sharing out of a sense of failure, shame or embarrassment, or because you don’t want to ‘burden’ others, or alienate anyone, or because you feel like a broken record.
Even when these sorts of dynamics are not in play, it is still the case that while separation and divorce may be increasingly common, what it takes to move through them – the emotions that need to be processed over time, the relationships that need to be tended to or reconfigured, the financial, housing and legal decisions that must be navigated and negotiated – are not widely or well understood by those without specialized knowledge, either professional expertise or personal experience.
This is where a service like the one provided by Divorce Angels can really be a godsend. Getting the right help, at the right moment, from the right person, can potentially save you and those you care about a lot of time, money, and unnecessary pain. More than that, getting the right help now can set a direction that may at least in part determine what your future will look like: in the short and medium terms, yes, but in the long term too.
My group, Moving Through Separation and Divorce, offered at The Centre for MindBody Health, is for individual adults (not couples) who are looking for the sort of personal support and professional guidance that will help them not only weather the massive changes that separation brings, but move through this period of transition with a strengthened sense of direction and agency. In the safety of a small and confidential group, over a period of 9 weeks, participants gain from sharing with other group members as well as from the orientation and knowledge offered through the group curriculum. Each weekly meeting is organized around a different, relevant topic. What do participants gain? What would you gain if you chose to join the group?
A sense of being understood and supported and a chance to learn from the experience of others; some helpful instruction in healthy and effective ways of coping with feelings of loss, anxiety, anger and shame; up-to-date knowledge about protective parenting and the family law system; some space, time and guidance to reflect on the past and contemplate the future without falling into unproductive rumination and worry, to get back in touch with your own, independent identity, to recognize your genuine needs, and to stay connected with the spiritual values that will help guide you now and into the future you want for yourself, even if you cannot yet see exactly what that future will look like.
Ian Singer is a Senior Clinical Counsellor at Catholic Family Services of Toronto, an Associate in Private Practice at The Centre for MindBody Health, and is on Faculty at The Centre for Mindfulness Studies. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone, at 416.275.3175.