Marital separation and divorce can be two of the most difficult events in an adult's life. Much stress comes from three sources:
Restructuring the family
For most couples with children, a divorce does not mean the end of a family. Instead, it means the family must restructure the way it handles household chores, family finances, parenting roles, and relationships with extended family and friends. This reorganization can create much stress.
Relationships with extended family and friends
Losing significant relationships, possessions and dreams
Everyone needs the love, security, closeness, and belonging that comes from relationships with others. Marriage is one of the most significant relationships. Its loss causes much of the stress and emotional turmoil of divorce.
Not all individuals experience loss with the same intensity, in the same way, or at the same time. Some people experience loss of closeness when they realize the relationship is ending. For others, the idea of separation can be overwhelming, and they hang onto the hope that the relationship can be saved.
Other losses resulting from separation and divorce undermine a person's sense of security and well-being. Although they do not realize it, many people become attached to a way of life, a home and possessions, pets, and daily contact with children.
Divorce is a crisis that affects a person's identity. Individuals no longer occupy the role of husband or wife. At the same time, they must rethink changes in their roles as parents, workers, and caretakers. People often are caught off guard by the need to reconsider questions such as "Who am I?" and "What do I want to do with my life?"
Detecting personal stress symptoms
People develop patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that signal stress. If you are not aware of these patterns, you might ignore their signals. On the list below, check the responses you make to stressful situations.
Thoughts and feelings related to stress
Taking charge of your life
One way to reduce stress is to take charge of your life. Here are some suggestions for ways you can regain personal control.
Control your environment by
Slow down by
Control your anger by
Schedule recreation by
Understand yourself by
Remember, if your negative emotions begin to interfere with your role as a parent or employee, it may be helpful to seek support from a professional counselor or therapist.
Adjusting to divorce
Although individuals are different, most adults need two or three years to adapt to the changes separation and divorce bring. People who also encounter problems such as job loss or illness during this period need additional time for adjustment. For adults, this involves three basic tasks.
Task 1 - Accepting the divorce
Individuals must accept that the marriage is over and establish an identity that is not tied to their former spouse. For this to occur, the individual must be convinced that there is no use investing further in this relationship.
Former spouses must make peace with each other. This involves realizing that continued nastiness only creates more nastiness in return. Often this realization creates a more balanced view of the relationship. An individual able to forgive the former spouse for the marriage's end is able to appreciate what is good about that person.
Individuals also must recognize their part in the breakup. They must stop blaming their former spouses and examine honestly their own role in the relationship. Such self-examination includes
Task 2 - Balancing being a single person and a single parent
Individuals must establish sources of support for each of these roles. They need to begin feeling competent as a single person and as a single parent.
Task 3 - Establishing future-oriented instead of past-oriented goals
People who are adjusting well are ready to move on. They begin to have new hobbies or leisure activities, or enter into new dating relationships. In contrast, those not ready to move on may need more time to mourn the loss of a spouse. These individuals may not have exhausted their efforts to rekindle the relationship. They may not realize that the relationship is over.
A final note
Dealing with the stress and change from a separation or divorce is not easy. It helps to become familiar with your sources of stress and your style of coping. Take time to think about ways that you can take charge of your life by controlling your environment and your anger with positive coping skills.
Realize that adjusting to divorce takes time. Be sure to pat yourself on the back occasionally as you move forward in reestablishing your life. Baby steps toward adjustment can sometimes be as significant as giant steps. The important thing is to keep moving forward.
Family Life 3
Originally developed as Parenting Apart: Strategies for Effective Co-Parenting by M. Mulroy, R. Sabatelli, C. Malley, and R. Waldron (1995), University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension. Adapted with permission for use in Iowa by Lesia Oesterreich, ISU Extension family life specialist.
Editor: Jolene McCoy
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nolan R. Hartwig, interim director, Cooperative Extension Service, Iowa State University of Science and Technology, Ames, Iowa.
. . . and justice for all The Iowa Cooperative Extension Service's programs and policies are consistent with pertinent federal and state laws and regulations on nondiscrimination. Many materials can be made available in alternative formats for ADA clients.
PM-1637 / January 1996
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