One of my clients once wrote:
“I am going through a divorce. I pride myself on being objective, upbeat and very good at my job. However, since the divorce began, I often feel depressed and sometimes paralyzed. I feel like I am firing on only one cylinder and it is only a matter of time before my employer and my children realize I am not fully functional. Does everyone who is going through a divorce feel this way?”
The short answer: Yes.
Most people believe the most awful psychological experience anyone could have would be one’s own death or the death of a loved one. However, for many who are separating after a long-term relationship, the separation is actually “three” times worse, as follows:
End of a Relationship
First, the end of a long-term relationship is, quite literally, the end of life as my clients know it. It therefore provides the same or a substantially similar psychological experience as that of my clients’ own death, and thereby the ultimate loss.
Happily Ever After
Second, ever since we were small children, we were taught to believe in the romantic notion of “happily ever after” for our domestic relationship. The end of that relationship provides the extraordinarily rude awakening of discovering the “happily ever after” clause is not valid. My clients discover they were tricked and fooled during their entire lives into believing something which turns out to be a giant hoax, a cruel prank. My clients thereby experience the ultimate humiliation.
Trust Your Partner
Third, we were also taught we could trust our domestic partner more than we could trust anyone else in the world. When the relationship ends, my clients usually learn the persons they trusted most have turned against them and are using my clients’ most intimate secrets against them. My clients thereby experience the ultimate betrayal.
Therefore, the separation process often involves the most extreme and awful experiences of loss, humiliation, and betrayal. Unfortunately, this does not include the full inventory of potential damage. For example, the majority of divorces and separations which go to court are ugly. They involve almost unbearable stress, ugly conflict, major losses of time and money, compromised integrity, psychological health and collateral damage to the psychological health of the children. Therefore, the end of a long-term domestic relationship will often be the most awful situation someone will experience.
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