The Sadness and Persistence of Memory

One financial planner and divorce specialist calls the dissolution of a marriage “death without a body.” Even under the best of conditions, a divorce is normally one of life’s most traumatic experiences, ranking just below a serious illness or injury and the death of a partner. Some people who have lost a partner through death and one through divorce say that the latter is worse. In a divorce, usually one person leaves and the other is left, and this implosion of one of life’s most intimate human relationships creates a black hole of pain and suffering.

A badly managed divorce – one where the former spouses literally make war on each other fighting about everything – can do lifetime damage to the former partners. Divorce literature abounds with stories of the walking wounded of divorce – the battled-scarred who rebound in a subsequent marriage without coming to terms emotionally with the death of the earlier marriage.

Many newly divorced people, even those who wanted to end a marriage gone bad, struggle to come to terms with a phantom sense of loss that they cannot understand. Others become sexual athletes and hook up quickly in serial relationships that end in cul de sacs. Still others slip in a swamp of despair lubricated by alcohol.

A few points should be held in mind when considering divorce mental health. One, a divorce, even when it is inescapable, does not make many people happy. Two, no one, not even the spouse who gets a very generous settlement, wins in a divorce. Three, for those people who made a good faith effort at making the marriage work, a divorce means pain and suffering.

Thomas Jefferson, writing about the death of his wife Martha, called time “the Great Physician.” This is true, but for many divorced people some form of therapy. For some, it’s the company of others in a divorce support group; for others, it is professional counseling.

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