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Going Gently Through the Grief of Divorce

My heart felt like an empty hole in my chest . . . I was in so much pain I could hardly breathe—was it a heart attack? Kind of, it was a broken heart.

I was in tears on and off for days as grief washed over me in waves. Was I fresh out of my divorce? No, it was 18 months later when my Ex told me he met the love of his life.

No matter who leaves whom, or if the decision is mutual, divorce is a breathtaking ending with long-term reverberations. And, as I found out first hand, divorce grief isn’t a one-time event, it’s a process. There are several milestones that can trigger it long after the fact including the day the divorce is final, when your Ex starts dating, and your first holidays on your own. No matter when or how it’s triggered, grief is an opportunity to heal your wounds and fully move on.

Grief is Different from Depression

Grief after divorce is expressed in many ways. Sometimes it shows up as stress, anger, or other physical symptoms. In fact, It’s surprising how physical grief can be. Your heart literally aches as mine did. A memory comes up that causes your stomach to clench. Use this checklist to identify ways that grief might be affecting you:

  • Crying
  • Mood Swings
  • Social withdrawal
  • Changes in appetite
  • Low energy/fatigue
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Lack of motivation
  • High-risk behavior
  • Anger/irritability
  • Poor sleep
  • Sadness
  • Numbness
  • Confusion
  • Racing thoughts
  • Poor concentration

In grief, the sad thoughts and feelings typically occur in waves or bursts followed by periods of respite. You retain your sense of humor, and capacity to be consoled or distracted from the pain. People who are depressed often experience many of the same things while also struggling with feelings of guilt and worthlessness and a limited ability to experience or anticipate pleasure or joy.

With depression, getting a diagnosis and seeking treatment can literally be life-saving. Experiencing grief due to a significant loss is not only normal but is ultimately very healing.

Good Grief

We can’t and shouldn’t bypass divorce grief. Until you really let yourself grieve the ending of your marriage, you may find it difficult to truly move on because part of you remains tied to the past. While you can’t circumvent it, there are things you can do to help you move through it with grace.

  • Be gentle with yourself as you begin to accept the finality of the end of your marriage. Acknowledge and express the full range of feelings you experience as a result of the loss.
  • Have a good cry whenever you need to.
  • Take care of your body with plenty of sleep, regular exercise and healthy food.
  • Take it easy on yourself—expect that you may not be as efficient or “with it” as you are normally. While you probably still need to go to work, don’t make this the time that you volunteer for extra projects.
  • Actively and regularly nurture yourself with activities that you find pleasurable like massage, walking in nature or hanging out with friends.
  • Find someone to talk to—a coach or therapist or a good friend or family member you can trust to listen and be supportive.

Be with the grief, acknowledge it, recognize it, and know that it will pass and you will move on.


Deb Purdy, is divorce coach, workshop leader and author of Something Gained: 7 Shifts to Be Stronger, Smarter & Happier After Divorce.

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