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Unraveling From Your Ex-Spouse

post-divorce Sep 29, 2016

By Karen Basmagy

You’ve gone to court, the divorce is final.  Perhaps it was a long messy ordeal or maybe it was simple, amicable and uncomplicated.  You think, whew…I’m glad that is finally over, now I can move forward with my life! You can finally put your former relationship with our ex behind you…or can you? Whether you have the divorce decree in hand or not, emotionally disentangling from you ex is not quite as cut and dry as signing the settlement agreement.

Divorce recovery happens in stages.  

Although you may be legally divorced the emotional divorce may take much longer. If you were in a long-term marriage or have children still living at home, disconnecting the ties doesn’t necessarily occur when you sign on the dotted line. The book “Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building  A New Life”, Abigail Trafford states that there are two parts to the divorce, the legal divorce and the emotional divorce.

“Getting an emotional divorce means you have to separate psychologically from your spouse. It’s a long and complex process. Your ambivalence reflects the attachment you still feel for your spouse as well as the inner turmoil over making major changes in your life”.

The circumstances surrounding the divorce also come into play when it comes to the emotional divorce.  

Who leaves and who is left may have a huge impact on the length of time it takes to emotionally divorce your ex-spouse. Were you the one initiating the divorce? Oftentimes the initiator, or “leaver”, had already begun detaching from the relationship before the actual separation, positioning him or her further along the road to disentanglement.

On the flipside, the leaver may have some guilt about ending the relationship due to co-dependency issues or an infidelity while still married. Guilt may keep a leaver somewhat connected to their spouse, continuing to maintain an emotional connection as a way to assuage their own feelings of guilt and their partners assumed pain at having been left behind.

 What about the spouse being left, where are they in the process of the “emotional divorce”?

Chances are they may have felt somewhat blindsided from the request for a divorce and at times were in denial about the state of the marital relationship up to the point of separation. Perhaps they were not willing to give up the relationship as easily as the one who requested to end the marriage. Being able to accept that there is no chance for reconciliation can be difficult.

Emotional divorce for those who see themselves as the “victim” may take much longer; there may be feelings of anger, resentment and bitterness to work through. Emotions may be still running quite high for the spouse being left even though the legal divorce is final.

A certain amount of ambivalence can be expected to creep in periodically when going through your divorce recovery. Unless you were in a physically abusive relationship, there may have been some very positive experiences that you shared with your ex over the course of the marriage. After all, you made a decision to marry in the first place and for the majority of us the decision was made out of love (or at least you thought so at the time).

If the divorce is amicable, sometimes couples find it difficult to establish new and appropriate boundaries surrounding privacy post-divorce. If it has been a split filled with resentment and anger between one or both parties, boundary issues might revolve around continuing to get satisfaction (consciously or unconsciously) in pushing the others’ buttons or conversely taking the bait when a button is pushed, thus engaging in old ways with your ex.

If you have children together, you remain connected.  The way in which you and your ex communicate while co-parenting may affect your ability to disengage emotionally. Finding a way to co-parent in a more matter-of-fact and business-like manner can be challenging, but is imperative for the sake of your children’s’ psychological health. When you consciously choose to renegotiate a new relationship with your ex and move on, you avoid the trap of playing out the same dynamic you had in the marital relationship.

What are the areas in your life that indicate you have divorced your ex emotionally as well as legally?

Take this short self-assessment- Answer these questions honestly to yourself, they are only here as a means of self-reflection: 

  • I have released any guilt over the break-up of the relationship.
  • I can interact with my ex without any strong emotions or anxiety coming up for me.
  • I can co-parent in a way that does not put my child(ren) in between my spouse and me.
  • I do not expect my child(ren) to deliver messages to my spouse about adult/parenting matters.
  • I have no emotion around the idea of my spouse moving on to a new relationship.
  • I have appropriate boundaries regarding what information about my personal life I share with my ex.
  • My ex does not have access to my home uninvited.
  • I have little/no anger or resentment towards my ex.
  • I no longer seek my ex’s approval but I would like to maintain a healthy friendship if possible.
  • When I think back on the marital relationship I can reflect on the good times with nostalgia and gratitude, and without regret.

The road to your new incredible life takes time.

Be kind to yourself and acknowledge the progress you have made so far.  If you are feeling stuck while reflecting on any of the areas within the self-assessment, congratulate yourself for being honest and able to look at yourself with clarity. These are the areas you can focus on working through to free yourself from your past.

Coach: Karen Basmagy

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Our team of coaches at JBD is passionate about helping men and women navigate the emotional difficulties of relationships, breakups and divorce. We work together with you to open the possibility that your current relationship challenges can lead to a rewarding voyage of self-discovery and an immensely more pleasing life experience. Together we create a path to clarity. Find out if Coaching is right for you, and accept my gift of one FREE session.


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