Sadly, there seems to be a competition for first place between losing a spouse through divorce and losing a spouse through death. Some feel that the loss through divorce is worse because it does not have the finality of death. The former spouse is still out there, maybe already with another partner, and seemingly happy while you may still be wallowing in pain and low self-esteem.
Some of the Similarities
The two events are similar in that they may each foster feelings of abandonment, anger and grief. In both cases, people experience periods of mourning, but those periods will occur at different times, and wildly vary in length. There is, however, a necessary path to take in order to come to terms with either loss. And in both cases, moving forward with your life can feel daunting, and often impossible.
Some of the Differences
With the death of a spouse, we hear about survivor’s guilt, or about the “unresolved issues” that the survivor is left with, much of which was unspoken during their life. We know that divorce may often occur because of too many “unresolved issues” and a build up of resentment. But divorce is a decision made by one or both parties. Death takes one away, often with no warning.
However, the death of a spouse does not usually affect the survivor’s self-esteem, unlike divorce which frequently does. It leaves you with feelings of failure: failing your spouse, your children, your family, and most importantly, yourself. These feelings are painful and very real. Even the party who was the initiator of the divorce may at some point ask him/herself where he/she went wrong, why he/she was not able to make it work. All of these questions affect one’s outlook on life and cause anxiety about facing the future.
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help
In either case, if you are not able to take this road alone, you must get support. Consult a professional, go to support groups, take care of your physical and mental health. In the case of divorce, your mediator can also help you with referrals. You owe it to your family and your friends, but mostly, you owe it to yourself. You are a worthwhile person and should not let others define who you are.
Don’t wait. Tomorrow is a clean slate, filled with hope and new adventures. Sure, you don’t know what they are, and you may not be able to imagine there is happiness out there for you, but there is! You are the only one who can take charge of making a better life for yourself as you go forward.
You may enjoy reading a previous blog that I wrote “When one door closes …..”
If you have had any experiences that you would like to share to help others during their hard times, please feel free to do so in the reply box below.
Comments from Social Media
I agree with your article, Jennifer. However, it should be noted that sometimes divorce is initiated without warning — even if there were signs of trouble. A unilateral decision to divorce often throws the other spouse for a loop. Remember, they are in different stages of the grieving process and the spouse that files had typically been grieving in silence for quite some time before filing.
The other important distinction is that a person can’t act out on their deceased spouse for leaving them because the spouse is dead. The same is not true in divorce and similar break ups.
Mark B. Baer
Agreed mark. Clients often express they never saw it coming. They are left shell shocked and in some cases act irrationally. If the leaver has no appreciation of what is going on for them conflict and grief amplify. The difference between death and divorce as you have rightly pointed out is the other person is still there and the left in some cases holds out hope of reconciliation.
On a professional note, your blog is a thoughtful and constructive consideration of grief and loss. You’ve noted helpful similarities and differences. I would like to suggest one further difference: We acknowledge death with with rituals and rites. We enter a period of mourning in which friends and family offer comfort. We are given the grace of time to come to terms with the loss–for example, we may be excused from showing up for work. Few people experience the same sense of comfort and connection following a divorce. We show up for work–often the same day. There is no prescribed ritual. And, few see the finalization of a divorce as a moment for reflection.
On a personal note, I lost a long-time friend and colleague this week–suddenly, shockingly and unexpectedly. Geography (he lived nearly 3000 miles away) limits the opportunity to share in the grief of this loss with his family. I am slowly finding ways to come to terms with his death. So, a reminder of the beauty of life and the importance of grieving is comforting. Thank you.
They’re both really really hard, aren’t they? I would have to say death is worse. It’s so sudden and final. No second chances to tidy up loose ends. You can recover from divorce and move forward. Sudden death just slam dunks you with grief. But both are really hard.
jennifer safian. divorce and family mediator divorce and family mediation upper east side of manhattan (nyc) new york, ny (212) 472-8626 email@example.com connect on