Recovering from a divorce can be painful and depressing even when it’s your choice.
People often question themselves if the pain will ever disappear. To help understand the emotional impact of divorce and how someone can recover from divorce I have interviewed Dr. Florence Rosiello.
JD: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
FR: "I am certified in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis from the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy in NYC. I also completed the Marriage and Family Treatment Program at ICP. In addition, I am certified as a psychotherapy/psychoanalytic supervisor from the National Institute of the Psychotherapies in NYC. I was an Adjunct Professor at New York University for nearly 10 years. I was also faculty/supervisor at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, the Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Study Center, and the New York Institute for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology in NYC. I maintained my private practice in NYC for over 30 years. In 2000, Jason Aronson, Publishers put out my book, titled: Deepening Intimacy in Psychotherapy. In addition, I have lectured throughout the country on issues of gender and sexuality. In 2007, I moved to Arizona, to marry a man who lives in Sedona. I now have my private practice in Sedona, as well as in Phoenix, AZ. I am currently, the President-Elect of the Arizona Psychoanalytic Society in AZ.
JD: What type of impact does divorce have on a person’s overall life?
FR: "Married life, for all individuals is different; and of course, divorce is easier if there are no children involved, and therefore no endless battles for custody, but that wouldn’t be true. Divorce is emotionally messy, no matter what the circumstances. But, let’s look at this question in a way that’s a bit different: What makes some people deal with divorce a tad better than other people? One of my patients recently getting a divorce mentioned that her lawyer had asked if she was divorcing because there was another man in her life, i.e., was she having an affair. She responded negatively and he said, ‘That’s too bad, it’s easier if you’ve got someone in the wings waiting for you.’ While I certainly don’t suggest that people who want a divorce go out and have an affair, what the lawyer was indicating was that we function best, emotionally and physically, when we are in a relationship. As human beings, we are fairly lousy at existing without another person in our lives since love, caring for another, emotional nurturance, tenderness, and intimacy with another person are our lifeblood. We function best at living our lives when we are in relationships. We function worse when we aren’t."
JD: What is usually the most difficult part of divorce?
FR: "The most difficult part of divorce is the anticipation of loss of the other person. That is why so many people stay in a love-less marriage. Lots of people just can’t emotionally tolerate thinking about going through losing their partner, or of not having the intact family that goes with it. It is the anticipation of loss that becomes one of the worst parts of divorce. When the actual process of divorce is in process, it’s a bit easier because by that time, we’re feeling anger and anger is easier to tolerate than abandonment from loss of a spouse. So, even losing a lousy partner makes us feel less alone, and it’s the aloneness and the anticipation of losing a partner in life, that can take us emotionally over the edge and into a flood of tears and angst. Perhaps that is why ‘the idea of divorce’ is often present in many functioning marriages as a compromise: partners sleep in separate bedrooms, take separate vacations, have independent lives from each other, but yet show up when there are family or business occasions. Emotionally they are divorced, but physically they still live under the same roof. In this way, divorce is a constant state of marriage, and to my way of thinking, this is the most difficult part of divorce."
JD: What often prevents a person from recovering from divorce?
FR: "Way, way back in the early part of the 20th century, when our soldiers were coming back from the wars, a lot of research began around how these men were recovering from their losses of fellow soldiers. Well, many of them just were not recovering, not getting better, and not moving on in their lives. How come? The research showed that people who had early losses in their lives, a death of a parent, or a sibling, or even just some powerful emotional losses, just couldn’t adjust to another important loss. Now, here’s an interesting statistic: Children of divorced parents (when they grow up and get married), very, very often, get divorced. It’s actually generational. Why? It’s because the loss of a parent through divorce, is a prototype for relationships for the next generation. Is there a recovery from this? Yes, but typically, the recovery from divorce gets sidetracked because we tend to re-marry and bypass the recovery from the loss of the previous spouse. So, that makes what the lawyer said in the first question of this interview, very interesting. Because the lawyer was advising to get into another relationship during the divorce proceedings and just bypass any sort of recovery within mourning or grieving. What that means is that recovery from the first marriage is usually begun in the second marriage and when the second marriage is in full swing and the recovery from the first marriage is winding down—typically, there’s a second divorce. So, is there recovery from a divorce? Not really, we rarely recover from any emotional issue in our lives; we just begin to factor it into what we’ve lost and, now, who we have become because we experience such a loss. In this way, our losses make up who we are, how we identify ourselves. We are just the result of all our life experiences. A little broken and a little mended, and that’s not too bad as a life goes."
JD: What can an individual do to help him/herself recover from a divorce?
FR: "It’s not divorce that is the problem in recovery from the loss of a spouse; it’s the people themselves and how they deal with really lousy feelings that is the problem. So, let’s count the lousy feelings: guilt, shame, abandonment, and let’s add guilt, shame, abandonment, and then, let’s add them again. How do we recover from feelings? We don’t and we shouldn’t. Feelings, even when they are difficult to tolerate, are just feelings. They won’t make our lives more difficult if we let them rip after a loss, a divorce. If you spend time grieving, crying your eyes out, then you’re on the road to recovery because feeling lousy means you’re allowing yourself to release what’s inside. Getting out feelings is most commonly done with friends, but sometimes they get sick of our telling them our feelings because, well, maybe they’re going through a divorce, too. Talking to a therapist is the probably the best way to feel what you feel and feel as though you are safe to discuss whatever you want in a way you need to and know that there is someone there who is listening."
JD: What advice would you like to give someone who wants to work on recovering from divorce?
FR: "Divorce is a part of life; it’s in our world, our culture, and our community. If you haven’t experienced divorce in some fashion, either having had one, or being the child of divorced parents, or just wishing you could get divorced or fearing that one is lurking around then, you’re not really alive. We all make mistakes, we choose the wrong person to marry or the right one wants to leave the marriage, it’s all just part of being in the world. There is this really great psychoanalyst who said, ‘We are all more human than otherwise.’ I tend to live by that notion because what it says is we are all struggling in the world because we’re not born to be perfect, but we’re born to be human and sometimes we might look a bit perfect, but not really; and sometimes we are just bumping into every relationship and breaking them. We mess up at times; sometimes worse than other times. In order to recover from divorce, or any loss, or really, recover from anything at all, then we have to keep in mind that we didn’t set out to make a mistake to marry the wrong person. We set out to do what we thought was right at that particular time in our lives and now, well, now things just got different, our spouse got different, or we got different and we made mistakes. Recovery means a type of ‘kindness toward the self,’ we recover when we feel that we can be kind about the fact that we are just merely human beings who mess up, sometimes; or sometimes too much; but, that’s what it takes to be a real person in a real world. Kindness toward the self is a pretty good idea to keep in mind no matter what we’re recovering from, and that would be my advice, just plain old kindness, just keeping in mind kindness, because as human beings, we need it."