When Divorce Still Hurts, Even Years Later

When Divorce Still Hurts, Even Years Later

Divorce specialist Brette Sember
Brette Sember is a former attorney from New York who specializes in divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates, bankruptcy, credit, and other related fields. She holds a degree in English and a J.D. in law from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Your marriage might be over when your divorce is finalized, but you will likely still experience the pain for a long time.

That's because there are three parts to a divorce: physical, which happens when you separate; legal, which occurs when the divorce is final; and emotional, which happens once you heal and have closure. Achieving that third part of a divorce can be a lengthy path.

Read on to learn more.

Key Takeaways

  • The emotional aftermath of divorce is complex and made up of many emotions.
  • Divorce recovery is similar to the grieving process and has specific stages.
  • The pain of divorce can linger if you are coping with other challenges and stressors in your life.
  • Using strategies to heal can help you move forward.
  • Accessing resources for healing can assist you on your journey.

The Emotional Aftermath of Divorce

Scientists rate life stressors on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale or the Life Change Index Scale. Death of a spouse has the highest score of 100, and divorce comes in second at 73, so it's not surprising that it is difficult to recover from a divorce.

It is common to feel a wide range of emotions after divorce, which may ebb and flow over time.

These include:

  • Grief: Although you may have wanted the divorce, you still must grieve the end of the marriage and many of the hopes and dreams attached to it.
  • Resentment: It is common to feel resentful towards your spouse for things they did or didn't do that led to the divorce or happened during the divorce process.
  • Anger: You may sometimes experience anger towards your ex for their behavior or choices.
  • Disillusionment: Getting divorced can make you skeptical about marriage and love. You may never find a new partner or be truly happy.
  • Stress: The process of ending the marriage can be stressful, as well as the life changes you make in the aftermath.
  • Loneliness: Even if the divorce was necessary, you may feel lonely without a spouse.
  • Guilt: You may blame yourself for the end of the marriage.

For some people, studies have found that a stressful divorce process can create feelings similar to those occurring in PTSD, which include all of the above.

beautiful young couple

Researchers have found that immediately after divorce, emotional distress is at a high. It gradually lessens, but it also has long-term physical health implications. Ten years after a divorce, women in the study had higher levels of illness than women who had not divorced.

Another study found that ten years or more after the end of a marriage, men and women had increased rates of death, illness, depression, and substance abuse.

The stages of recovery from a divorce are similar to those for grief and often follow this timeline (although it is not always linear, and it's expected to skip around):

  • Denial: At this stage, you try to ignore what has happened and not think about it if possible.
  • Anger: You may feel anger at your ex and towards yourself.
  • Bargaining: In this stage, you search for meaning, question what happened, and think about how you could have come to a different outcome.
  • Depression: Grief, loneliness, and sadness set in.
  • Letting go: You realize the divorce is final, you can't change it, and you can only move forward.
  • Acceptance: You accept that you are single and can be happy without the marriage.

Reasons Why the Pain Lingers

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel as though you can't get past the pain of divorce, there are a variety of reasons that could be contributing to this.

If you have other unresolved mental health or emotional issues in your life, they can combine with divorce grief and create ongoing pain. This could include an undiagnosed mental illness, childhood trauma, unhealthy relationships, substance abuse and other situations that are difficult to bounce back from.

If you find it hard to forgive others or commonly hold onto grievances, you may find it hard to recover from your divorce. It might be challenging to forgive your ex or yourself for what led to the divorce or the behaviors that occurred during the divorce process.

If you have children with your ex, you may still have conflict regarding your parenting plan and how you share time with your children. You could also have conflict over child support payments. If your divorce is over, but the conflict continues, it isn't easy to heal.

Even having to see or communicate with your ex about the children can cause the pain to linger and remain unresolved.

Divorce often leads to economic and social changes. If you lived in a two-income household before, you must make one income work for your budget. It is not unusual to see changes in your social circle since some friends side with your ex. These changes can add to your discomfort, making it harder to bounce back from the divorce.

If you moved as part of the divorce, living in a new place may lead to you feeling out of sorts and uncomfortable and compound feelings of loss and sadness.

The bottom line, though, is that divorce is hard for everyone, no matter their circumstances, and there is no specific time within which recovery is guaranteed.

woman worried about her family breakup

Moving Forward: Healing and Growth

Fortunately, various strategies are available to help you overcome divorce pain. Only some solutions suit some people, so consider what feels most comfortable. Be bold and try new approaches.

Strategies to consider include:

  • Therapy. Working with a counselor or therapist is one of the best ways to get help with your divorce pain. A therapist can help you identify and resolve lingering issues and help you find ways to move forward.
  • Support groups. Divorce support groups are a great way to connect with other people who have gone through similar struggles. Hearing other people's stories and approaches to managing divorce pain can be very helpful.
  • Friends and family. The support and love of your friends and family can be very healing. Talking through your feelings with people you trust and leaning on them in difficult times can help you resolve your feelings.
  • New hobbies. Trying new things can not only provide a distraction but can give you confidence, help you make new friends, and enhance your life.
  • Spiritual growth. Working with someone from your religious institution can help you find solace through counseling or prayer. Exploring other spiritual practices or alternatives can open your eyes to new things and provide extensive comfort.
  • Exercise. Taking care of your body can help to heal your heart.
  • Career achievements. Putting time and energy into your career can be a great distraction while helping you realize how skilled and accomplished you are in this area of your life.

To continue healing, it is essential to set new goals, try new things, and accept the new directions life may lead you to. You're likely to find new interests, friends, ways of coping, and new things about yourself that can help you move on.

A List of Resources for Support and Help

The following resources can help you as you move toward recovery:


Divorce Care recovery support groups

Online Divorce Recovery Groups

Therapist Locator


The Divorce Recovery Workbook

Parenting Together Apart: For the Residential Parent

Parenting Together Apart: For the Non-Residential Parent

Rebuild Your Financial Life After Divorce


How to Recover from a Divorce You Didn't Want

TedTalk: How to Recover After Divorce


Divorce recovery is personal and individual. Each person heals at their own pace. While you might feel frustrated to not be over it as quickly as you wish, you will recover in your own time. Better days are ahead for you, and you will find peace and resolution for your feelings.

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