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How Long Should I Grieve My Divorce?

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Categories: Divorce, Self Care

The pain of divorce can linger for a long time.

Recently, I was chatting with a woman named Jenny, who I could tell was visibly upset.  She told me that she had a recent argument with her with one of her best friends who was not empathetic at all.  Jenny went on to tell me about a friend of hers who had been widowed twenty years ago, after being married for twenty-five years.  Shortly after her husband’s death, Jenny’s friend met another man and got married.  That marriage fizzled after five years.  That was two years ago.  Now the woman, at age 70, is out dating and having the time of her life.  Although the story was intriguing, I was confused as to why Jenny was so upset.

Jenny told me that her friend commented to her that she, Jenny, needs to get out and meet people, join clubs, and possibly date.  She was offended by her friend’s comment and that her friend did not understand how grief-stricken Jenny still is about her dissolved marriage.  Jenny asked me, “How can my friend be so insensitive to my pain?  Obviously, she never cared much about her late husband and can jump from one relationship to another with no problem.  I am different.  I have feelings.”  I asked Jenny how long she had been divorced and she said it had been a little over seven years.

Letting go of the pain of a divorce can be hard.

With a great deal of pain in her voice, Jenny shared how her friend made her feel as though she should just move on and forget about her marriage.  Her ex-husband left her for another woman; a woman he married three years ago.  It was evident that Jenny had not let go of the marriage and what had happened to her.  I agreed with Jenny that it was not fair that the man who promised to love her until death did they part, chose to leave her for another woman.

I didn’t want to spew platitudes such as “Life is not fair,”  or “It’s time to move on” because that would have thrown salt on a very deep emotional wound.  Jenny’s pain was palpable as she told her story.  It was hard to believe that the divorce was seven years past.  It felt as though it happened very recently.  Jenny’s inability to move on with her life, kept her locked into the pain of the loss.  As I listened to her talk, I began to feel as though I was doing her a disservice by listening.  On one hand, I wanted to allow her to vent.  On the other hand, retelling the story seemed to only heighten her sadness.

How long should you grieve?

After my conversation with Jenny, I pondered what is considered normal grief and when should someone be able to detach from it?  Elizabeth Kubler-Ross developed a model several decades ago and with five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, which has become the normative benchmarks of grief in the mental health world.  Although these stages have been generally accepted, the real question, in this case, was how long should someone grieve their divorce?  What is considered a healthy grieving period and when does it become pathological?

Over the next few days, I thought about Jenny and her friend.  Which one grieved their lost marriage(s) at a healthy pace?  While I don’t know if there is a standard generally accepted grief period, there is probably a time when it interferes with someone living their best life.  There is no doubt that divorce is a tremendous loss.  It’s number two (Death of a Spouse number one) of stressors on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale.  Divorce is a major life event that permeates into every fabric of someone’s life.

All of that said, there is a time when someone looks forward instead of in the past, put the divorce behind them and move on to a different life.  If the future, as scary as it may seem, can be viewed as a new opportunity, Jenny may not need to cling to her lost marriage.  Maybe Jenny’s friend can bring her along for the ride and show her how it’s done.

What is considered normal a grief period after a divorce?

Divorce is a major life event that permeates into every fabric of someone’s life.  Detaching from it can be difficult.  For more help, read The Divorce Recovery Ladder.

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