Family Reaction to Divorce: The Therapist’s Perspective
By Evelyn Smith of Divorce Lifeline
Evelyn Smith has worked with the Divorce Lifeline program for both children and adults, for 26 years. She is also in private practice in Bellevue where she works with adults, children, couples, and families. Divorce Lifeline can be contacted at: 206/624-2959. Evelyn’s private practice can be contacted at: 425/453-1243.
Even though everybody in the family goes through the five stages of grief, they go through them in different speeds and in different ways. It is not a straight line for everyone. One stage is shock and denial. Sometimes one of the spouses has decided years before they tell the other spouse that they are planning to divorce. So the one who has not been part of this decision making is truly in shock and denial when the spouse shares this with them. The children of course may go through the shock and denial considerably after the parents. Likewise with anger sometimes people go through shock and denial and then they will be angry and then they will go back to denial again feeling like this can’t really be happening and then go back to anger. Another stage of grief is bargaining. Often at this stage one spouse will make all kinds of promises to be better or the children will make promises such as saying they will keep their room clean forever or their do their chores, etc… in their efforts to keep the family together. The last stage is depression and both children and adults experience depression when the family goes through divorce. Often people don’t recognize the extent of the depression of the children. So that is something to be particularly aware of and it’s hard for adults to focus on the depression of children when they themselves feel so miserable. The last and final stage of grief is acceptance. Coming to an acceptance of the fact that the divorce is going to or has taken place and that life is changing for the family but that people can go on and be o.k. in life. This adjustment period usually last from 2 to 5 years. People are continually surprised at how long it goes through the divorce process.
The First Year
The first year of the process after separation is usually very chaotic. There is a tremendous amount of loss and grieving that goes on and its amazing how one loss leads to another and the whole process seems like a domino effect to a family. It often feels crazy with different members of the family feel like their going crazy and there is also a lot of bitterness and a lot of fighting, a lot of depression and unfortunately its while everybody is feeling all upset like this that often the financial and custody battles take place and people really aren’t thinking as clearly as they need to be thinking to make decisions that will effect them for the rest of their lives.
The Second Year
The second year is usually much more stable and routines that had gone out the window in the first year tending to get reestablished. This is very important, again, helping a family get back to some feeling of normality and particularly for children to feel more stable.
The Third Year
The third year actually usually involves a feeling of real awaking for the family. There are new initiatives. Not all the energy is going into just daily survival as usually happens in the first two years. Obviously how long it takes a family to go through the adjustments of divorce depends a great deal on what other losses each of the parents have had during their lifetime and how successful they have been in handling those and what kind of support system they have around them. The better the adults are able to handle their divorce situation and their feeling and emotion the better the children will be. There is five function of the family all effected by divorce.