Divorce: Dealing With The Emotions Of The Entire Family
Divorce can be hard on every member of the family when feelings go unaddressed. Men and women tend to express emotions differently and children may act out their feelings in ways that are hard to understand. Let’s take a look at some of the emotions members of your family are likely to experience during this difficult time — and how best to cope with them.
Dad’s Feelings During Divorce
Men tend to define themselves by their roles as breadwinners, husbands, and fathers. During divorce, they may feel that they’ve failed at fulfilling these roles, an experience that can create shame and confusion: if I don’t have an intact family, who am I? Further, the financial implications of divorce may make it harder to provide at the level men are accustomed, or resent having to subsidize an ex-spouse’s post-divorce lifestyle. It’s common for men to feel bitter over paying alimony and even child support — especially if they don’t get to see their children as often as they would like.
While men feel sad and depressed grieving the loss of their intact family, they tend to mask these feelings through anger, which is a more socially acceptable “male” emotion. Depression and anger typically manifest as:
- Hostile emails
- Verbal threats
- Seeking revenge by taking an ex back to court or playing games with support
Denying these feelings, or trying to escape them through drugs and alcohol, will just delay the important work of grieving the end of your marriage. You will feel better if you tackle them head on with positive coping strategies: therapy, exercise, mindfulness meditation, and learning more about how to co-parent with your ex.
Mom’s Feelings During Divorce
Traditionally, women drive self-esteem and identity through their roles as wives and mothers. Divorce feels destabilizing because they no longer have a husband, may no longer have a traditional family home, and no longer actively parent 24/7 due to shared custody time with an ex. While this upheaval can provoke the same feelings men experience — shame, depression, anger — women may express their feelings more internalized ways:
- Overeating or undereating (aka, the divorce diet)
- “Wine o’clock” habit
- Netflix binging
- Overwhelmed; difficulty completing tasks
- Not being able to get out of bed
Women tend to have more social support than men and are more comfortable leaning on friends and family. While it can be helpful to share your woes with loved ones, beware of chronic venting; spending too much time complaining about your ex and unfair divorce settlement is likely to make you feel victimized. Instead, focus on developing resiliency by attending therapy, practicing good self-care (eat, sleep, and exercise), and developing positive coping skills such as mindfulness meditation.
Kids’ Feelings During Divorce
Anxiety is the primary feeling children experience during divorce; although they were not part of the decision to divorce, they often feel that it was their fault and worry that their parents will stop loving them, too. They may also feel responsible for helping their parents solve adult problems. All these issues, on top of losing their family structure and perhaps their family home, can create a tremendous amount of insecurity. Young children may exhibit more somatic (physical) symptoms because they don’t have the command of language that older kids do.
- Physical ailments (stomachaches, headaches).
- Regressing to earlier developmental stages (thumb-sucking, bed-wetting).
- School refusal
- Separation anxiety
- Social withdrawal
- Acting out in school
- Conflicts with peers
- Meltdowns during visitation swaps
How kids fare during divorce depends in part on their native temperament and how effectively Mom and Dad co-parent. If their symptoms don’t improve after six months, or if they escalate, consult a mental health professional. The best antidote to your child’s anxiety is to assure them that they didn’t cause the divorce, it’s not their job to fix it, and that you will always love them.
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