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The dissolution of a marriage is almost always an upsetting event, at the very least marked by disappointment and the loss of dreams and expectations.

In addition, there are legal, financial, parental, emotional, and practical challenges that require time, energy, and changes in responsibilities. It can take people years to regain equilibrium. Nevertheless, divorce serves an important function legally and emotionally.

Why People Get Divorced

One of the most significant events of the 20th century was a change in the roles women could take on in private and public life, allowing women more opportunities for satisfaction and happiness. With a shift in roles inside and outside the house came a necessary—and often contentious—shift in the division of responsibilities inside the home, one of many factors fuelling a highly publicised rise in divorce rates and liberalisation of divorce laws.

Infidelity has long been a leading cause of divorce, along with financial upheavals. But one consequence of liberalised attitudes to divorce is a major addition to that list—the search for emotional closeness. Individuals today have high expectations for relationship satisfaction.

What are common reasons for divorce?

Research suggests that common reasons for divorce include lack of intimacy, lack of commitment, infidelity, and basic incompatibility. Other prevalent causes are constant conflict, financial differences, addiction, and abuse. Many people articulate the root of their divorce as a betrayal—of expectations, hopes, and dreams for the marriage.

How do I make the decision to divorce?

A therapist can help you reach a decision by exploring the struggles you’re facing, identifying whether or not those problems can be resolved, creating a realistic picture of what life would look like afterwards, and how your children could be affected and protected. In the process of answering these questions, a moment of clarity often emerges.

How to Heal from Divorce

Divorce is as much an emotional process as it is a legal process, and it takes courage to start the process of splitting. One or both partners may experience waves of self-doubt. Both need an array of skills to work out the inevitable conflicts and disappointments that arise.

During divorce, two people must come to terms with the relationship failure, set up emotionally and usually financially independent lives, and put the relationship firmly in the past. It is important to understand and accept the role each partner played in the relationship breakdown. It is often helpful for divorcing partners to set up rules of engagement to limit contact with each other. The outside perspective of a professional counsellor can be especially beneficial.

Eventually, the emotional turbulence subsides and it becomes possible—and necessary—to incorporate a richly nuanced story of the relationship, its failure, the divorce, and the resulting emotional growth into one's identity. Many exes find it helpful to adopt some kind of ritual—such as an exchange of letters or gifts—to mark the end, acknowledging a past together and moving toward a future apart.

What are the hardest parts of getting divorced?

A divorce can lead to deep or surprising losses. For parents, spending less time with children often hits hardest, in addition to the partnership of sharing in a child’s successes and disappointments. People may feel that they’ve lost their best friend, family traditions, financial security, and vision for the future. Acknowledging these losses is the first step toward healing.

Why can’t I let go of my anger toward my ex?

It can be incredibly difficult to release the anger that can accompany rejection and divorce. People may resist moving forward because they aren’t ready to detach from their suffering. Letting go of anger means letting go of the hope that the other person will ever feel remorse, see their perspective, or come back to them.

How Divorce Affects Children

Divorce usually breaks up a household and its routines. Children need assurance that they are still loved by both parents and that they will not be abandoned. They also need to be spared any conversations in which one parent denigrates the other for any reason. It is usually not the actual divorce that harms children but seeing their parents fight and in distress.

Because every child reacts differently to divorce, the parental response is best tailored to the needs of each child. Often, kids are scared, confused, angry, or disappointed in one or both parents. The stress of the split and readjustment to change—especially if a household move is involved—can heighten anxiety, increase irritability, create behaviour problems, beget social withdrawal or difficulty sleeping. There may be a drop in classroom attentiveness, and grades may suffer.

Many of the effects of divorce on children are short-lived and resolved within a year or two. But others may be longer-lasting and play out in later attitudes toward romantic relationships.

Research shows that children are not necessarily affected by living with a single parent. Family conflict, however, can lead to struggles with mental health, self-esteem, school, and future relationships. The more parents work to reduce conflict, the better off children will be.

How do I tell my kids that we’re getting divorced?

Tell your child soon after the decision has been made, and have a conversation together as a family. Explain the facts that matter to them—where they will live, who will pick them up from school—so that they know what to expect. Continue to emphasise your love for them and the fact that that will never change.

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