Police Psychology: Divorce Part 3
by Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
“At first I was afraid, I was petrified. Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side.”
So starts the 70’s anthem song about the breakup. Gloria Gaynor in 1978 found silver, gold and platinum, and became the singer of the only song to ever win a Grammy in the Best Disco Song of the Year category (it was only given one year before disco died in the charts). It spoke to every woman “thinking how he did me wrong” and she “grew strong” and learned she had to survive. It was excitement, passion, and most of all, something a large part of the record buying population could relate to. And it was for men too. Not too shabby for the “B” side of a small record by a Newark “New Joisy” girl.
Why did so many people relate to it? It was a theme of recovery from a bad breakup and the mantra “I Will Survive” rang out for anyone who has had the experience of the severe wrenching pain when love turns into despair. Survival is the most important thing through divorce. Survival through terrible emotional ups and downs, through some severe depression, through grief. What happens when you don’t survive? You become bitter towards others. You check out at work or overemphasize the role of work in your life, and you may not be ready for another relationship in your whole life. Most suicides, especially in police populations, are stimulated by relationship breakups or relationship problems. So, surviving a divorce is very important, in fact it is paramount to your future as a healthy individual. How do you survive and how do you help your friends or a person that works for you survive during this most critical time in their life? Let me give just a couple of principles of survival during divorce.
Relationships that end in divorce are seen by the parties as a monumental failures. Two people make a pact and should stay together forever and live happily ever after. Frankly that doesn’t happen very frequently. It does happen sometimes, but people have a tendency to change from the starry-eyed person in love when kids come along or just through the fact of growing older. In fact, just the process of having kids changes women physically, as their bodies prepare them to be mothers. Men don’t have that metamorphosis and that often becomes an issue in relationships as sometimes the lifestyle doesn’t make the changes needed to prepare for another human in the home. Sometimes men make the changes but women don’t. You tend to draw a little into your own needs when there is a lot of stress in your life and then it becomes that no one cares about your needs. All this is part of the failure that surrounds divorce. You are afraid you will be seen as a failure to co-workers, to friends and sometimes afraid to lose respect in your own family or lose your spouse’s family. The failure factor is the reason many people stay “married and miserable.” Seeing a divorce as a failure needs to be taken down in your big board of thoughts. Sometimes the mix just doesn’t last, or there were too much changes, or there was too big of an interaction effect (read the third to last paragraph). You weren’t aware of the changes when you started the whole thing. You weren’t aware of the interaction effect.
Too often the spouse wants to blame the other person for the whole failure of the relationship. I spoke about that in the Blame Game article. But what I didn’t speak about is the fact that many people get serious side effects of blaming and they lose all sense of self. They accept the blame and have a terrible view of themselves because they screwed up and they alone destroyed the relationship. Not quite that way. You lose your trust in your own moral character, your trust in your making decisions and even your trust in your problem-solving ability. You see yourself as a hunk of turtle dung and stop functioning with any self-esteem at all. The best thing to do is remind yourself or your friend of the good you’ve (they’ve) done in the world. Have they been a good father or mother? Have they been a good employee? What have they accomplished? You need to give them a constant reminder that the divorce is regarding the relationship and not in other parts of their life. Build up their self-esteem, remind yourself or the other person what good has been done in the world because of their (your) work.
If I was to say there are only three factors, I would be being ridiculous, but a third major step is to make sure you or the other person knows how to go into survival. In survival, you conserve resources, reduce behavior, reduce stress, go back to base levels in meeting wants while continuing to meet your basic needs. Conserving resources means saving rather than spending, more than just money. Holding back for doing things that take up a lot of your daily allowance, either financially or energy-wise is a good solid way to survive longer. I mean, if you are in a box with limited oxygen do you continue to breathing every few seconds or do you reduce your breathing? Same principle, stop expending resources so you have some left for whatever is down the road. You cut back on your behavior when you slow up on the dating scene, the wild and crazy actions, even the events that you might have gone on otherwise. How many times have you seen someone who gets divorced and two years later they are in exactly the same situation with another person very much like their first spouse. You need to sit back and look at what is going on, and that means cut the noise of your own behavior. This will also reduce the stress in your life. Let’s face it, there is no good and bad stress, there is just stress. Reducing stress generally means cutting back on something. Cut back to a survival level so you are not in a state of having to figure out what is going to happen next. Finally, you must distinguish between needs and wants. Needs have to be met, wants are things you desire but don’t need to be met right now. There is always another person to come along that will thrill you when the time is right. In survival, you meet your needs and delay your wants, and that will help to clear your mind.
There is always a little pain in life and particularly in divorce. But if you stop believing it is a sign of a monumental failure, stop beating yourself up over it, and cut back on what is unnecessary, you’ll be on the right track to a fix. If you accept that people change, keep repeating the good things you have done in the world, and stay in survival mode awhile rather than meet your wants right at that moment, you will have a greater chance for a long-term recovery. As most people say, divorce was the worst thing that ever happened to them and frequently the best things that ever happened to them. It can be a freeing event in your life if you both have the right attitude about it. Enjoy the freedom, but be careful not to fall into the traps in this article. And remember the last words of the chorus of the song…
“I’ve got all my life to live, And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive, I will survive.”
Site Administrator: Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP
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