May is National Mental Health Awareness month, and it is a great time to remember that the stressors that led to divorce, the process itself and life after divorce each offer major challenges that can impact your mental health. According to Mimi Brodsky Kress, President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness – Montgomery County (NAMI MC), “Divorce is a major source of depression and anxiety for individuals, and it is important that they take care of themselves and their families when it comes to mental health.” Whether you have children or not, and regardless of how amicable the decision might be, divorce is a transition that has inevitable painful aspects. To better navigate the journey, it is helpful to understand the dynamics and get adequate support. In an exchange between Marjorie Kreppel and David Christy, therapists at the Counseling Center of Maryland in Bethesda who specialize in working with couples, some important considerations were raised about the emotional aspects of divorce. Here are some key take-aways.
Don’t Go in Hot
Making a major life decision like a divorce needs to be thoughtful. While there will always be strong emotions involved, the time to call an attorney or proceed with filing for divorce should be after some consideration of the entire situation. Right after a fight, when you are angry, you may not be in the best place to make decisions about how to proceed. Instead of a reactive place, try to work through your decision from a regulated calm space. Consider doing some couples work – whether you tell your spouse you are considering divorce or not. Take some time to weigh the pros and cons of marriage or divorce and consider working with a mental health expert to make a reasoned decision about what is best for you.
Acknowledge the Challenge
Even if divorce is the right decision, it is never going to be easy. Marriage affects many details of your life, and unwinding the union takes work. You will be changing your living situation, your finances, and so many other aspects of your daily life, some of which might have been working for you. It’s important to be aware that transitions and endings are a source of sadness and allow the grieving process to occur. It’s also important to have resources for your own care, including friends, hobbies, and other places you can turn. Kreppel and Christie recommend working with a therapist or going to a group so that some of your support comes from a place of experience and understanding.
Consider Your Children’s Needs
Just as you are going through a transition, your children are also experiencing a major, traumatic change. They will need your attention and focus, which you cannot provide if you spend all your time ruminating about the divorce. Regardless of the level of cooperation between parents, the new, separated dynamic places strain on children, who may feel they have to choose. You need to be present for your children and not involve them in the strife between the adults. Being thoughtful about details like two of the same items kept in the divided households will prevent tense moments from occurring when something is left behind.
Work With the Right Experts
In a divorce, there are going to be significant struggles – feelings of anxiety and depression. A marriage, even a bad marriage prevents some degree of loneliness, and that is going to be felt during and following a divorce. We feel pain and sorrow physically and we want it to go away. We make it go away by talking about it. Better to talk about it with the right people. You want a therapist trained specifically in couple therapeutic interventions. Basic licensure in counseling or social work does not require training in this area. Be sure to ask a potential counselor about their training and experience working with divorce.
If you and your family are going through a divorce, you need to take mental health into consideration. Our office can help identify your legal issues and make referrals to mental health providers in Montgomery County who specialize in couples and family therapy. Contact me for a consultation about your options.