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Banned emotions: The trouble with feeling good during divorce

27 Dec

Recently I was working with a client whose husband had left their marriage for another partner.

Initially, she worked through her shock, and worked with her ex to agree a sensible plan for splitting their resources. Then she created time to look after herself, made some changes at work, and took a lover or two. When she was ready, she started to plan a new future for herself.

In this last session, she was speaking animatedly about these plans. She suddenly stopped, sat back in dismay and said, ‘Oh! Am I allowed to be this excited about the future?’ ‘Yes,’ I smiled, ‘You are.’

She explained what was behind the question. She was getting a divorce; wasn’t she supposed to be ‘in mourning or something?’

Her question points to a damaging- but commonly held – expectation that the experience of divorce permits only negative emotion.

But there is no obligation to feel a certain way during a divorce. Its your heart – feel what you like.

What’s more, the idea that a divorcee ought to feel bad and sad for an appropriate (though undefined) length of time, simply misses the heart’s complexity. The heart is not linear – it doesn’t line emotions up one after another and work through them.

Linearity is important for the practical changes required by a divorce – the sensible plan for splitting resources, for example. But the heart doesn’t care for logistics or propriety. Excitement about the future and grief over the past can easily inhabit the same heartbeat.

I wonder what would happen to our cultural expectations of divorce if we gave the heart permission to have its full and tumbling array of emotions.

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