« CHALLENGES FOR THE NON-CUSTODIAL FATHER | Main | LAST DITCH EFFORT »

DEFINING THE TRANSITIONS OF DIVORCE

By Constance Ahrons, Ph.D.

Unlike other transitions that occur, more or less, on predictable chronological timetables, divorce is an unscheduled transition that can occur anytime during the adult life cycle. Even though not everyone experiences divorce, it's similar in many ways to the biological-chronological life transitions. For many of those who do experience it, divorce is a developmental transition. It marks the end of one distinct stage in one's personal life and the beginning of another.

A number of years ago, based on my research, I identified five different component processes that together form this giant transition we call divorce. By breaking down the process into common developmental steps, I could then explore the ways we choose to adapt at each of these distinct stages. I realized that as with the biological life transitions, knowing where they fit along the spectrum of normal divorce would make my clients more comfortable. Their path from one stage, marriage, to the next, divorce, could be made more orderly and less debilitating.

The most grueling disruptions occur during the first three transitions - the decision, the announcement, and the separation. Deciding to divorce, telling your spouse and your family, and leaving your mate form the core of the emotional experience. These three transitions are characterized by ambivalence, ambiguity, power struggles, soul searching, and stress. Even childless partners feel out of control and crazy during these initial transitions. For couples with children, they're even more complex and difficult.

The fourth transition - the formal divorce - can be every bit as emotional as the decision, the announcement, and the separation, but it doesn't need to be. If the early emotional tasks of uncoupling have been settled, the divorce transition can be contained within its proper limits; terminating the marriage contract legally in a fair and equitable manner.

The last transition - the aftermath - infuses life for many years. Well after the legal divorce is completed, you'll still be building your postdivorce binuclear family. Just as issues emanating from our family of origin become woven into our personality and lifestyles, so do the issues and relationships that were created in our former marriages.

In divorce, as in any human relationship that involves a large personal transition, there are changing currents of parting and rejoining, misunderstanding and understanding. At each transition there are also changes of social role, relationship rules and rituals, and appropriate coping behavior.

Along the way, important marker events occur. These marker events spark common, predictable feelings in the participants. You can identify where you are, either from stepping back from your feelings for a second,, or by moving the marker point. For example, if you're furious enough to leave, you might be approaching physical separation; if you know you're about to separate, you might expect to feel fury, confusion, loss. I call all these transitions crisis points because at any one of these markers the situation has the potential to become volcanic; a full-blown, debilitating crisis may erupt. But if the process is understood, couples can be shielded with knowledge, options, and some good models. They will then stand a very good chance of surviving the ravages and of growing stronger. Recognizing the normal feelings, identifying the marker events, it's more likely that you can set up a clearly designated path to a good divorce. As impossible as this might sound, it means having to look to the future at a time when the present is overwhelming.

Each time we face change, we tend to clutch more tightly to what we know. In the case of divorce, each transition is heralded by increased stress. At the end of each transition, the stress tends to plateau or to decrease.

Even through the pain of the earliest transitions, couples can set the groundwork for a good divorce. They can begin to identify where to let go, and they can begin to see which part of holding on is due to insecurity and the desire not to face change.

Posted on Saturday, February 24, 2007 at 02:42PM by Registered CommenterSite Administrator in | Comments Off

Share this Article:

del.icio.us | Digg | Google | Ma.gnolia | Reddit | Stumble Upon | Technorati

 Discuss this article at He Said... She Said

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend