Any way you slice it, divorce is hard and tough to bear. It's a process that's extremely tough to undergo, and emotional tremors can be felt weeks, months, and even years after the initial divorce quake hits. Residual anger, hurt, confusion, depression, and even self-blame don't just miraculously disappear once a divorce is finalized. And even if you're the one who pushed for it, divorce still sows all sorts of emotional pain—dubbed "clean" and "dirty" pain by cognitive scientists—and it may take quite a long time to heal.
After enduring a loss such as a divorce (but this is also true in death, separation, the end of a friendship, and so on), physical pain, sorrow, and grief are the natural byproducts (aka "clean" pain). But the more insidious, onerous "dirty" pain is the suffering we impose on ourselves when processing said loss. Dirty pain is the result of our inner dialogues and can include negative self-talk such as self-reproach, illogical views that we'll be judged harshly by others, and inner storylines about how we're now worthless as the result of what has happened to us. And dirty pain is exactly what takes some of us longer than others to get over a broken marriage. It's important to note, however, that mental anguish is relative, and each divorce is unique, but here's a shortlist of some of the reasons why we get stuck inside the pain of divorce and are unable to healthily move forward.
Divorce means losing someone you once loved—and perhaps you still love them. It brings about a grieving process that's eerily similar to what we experience when a loved one dies. There might be times when you're angry at everyone and everything, you'll blame yourself or your ex for the end of your happiness, and you may even withdraw from friends and family in an attempt to protect yourself from further hurt. Your life has been flipped upside down, and your ex is someone to whom you were once intimately attached: Give yourself adequate time, honest self-reflection, and if needed, time with a therapist, in order to process such a catastrophic loss.
Every marriage is lived in both the present and the future tense. Constant thought goes into where the both of you, as a couple, will be in 5, 10, even 20 years down the road. Divorce negates any dreams and expectations the two of you shared, leaving you confused, bereft, and forced to learn how to build a brand-new life that doesn't include your ex. This is why newly divorced individuals, in particular, find it so difficult to look forward and find themselves stuck in the past, unable to reconcile that this chapter of their lives is over, continually replaying what went wrong, and caught up in their pain and negativity.
A great deal of time and emotional energy during a marriage goes into keeping the family unit intact, and ostensibly, shielding children from life's inevitable turmoils. Many parents cling to a "perfect family" trope—and when their marriages break up, they're forced to come to terms with the fact that they weren't really ever that perfect. They have trouble dealing with the emotional fallout and again, they mourn the loss as they would a death. And, at the expense of their children's wellbeing, they cannot bring themselves to devote (or even attempt to devote) time and energy to raising children alone, finding a new life partner, and starting fresh.
After a divorce, feelings of failure are normal, and unfortunately, part and parcel. They're casualties of personal accountability—our responsibility for the role we played in the ending of our marriage. Admitting to ourselves that we've made mistakes can leave anyone vulnerable and riddled with guilt. And even though divorce is so common, many of us still experience tremendous shame and embarrassment due to our, often irrational, ideas that we are somehow "less than" because weren't able to save the marriage. Having to face family members, fellow churchgoers, friends, and acquaintances only brings our perceived shortcomings to the forefront—and such feelings can be very hard to get past when you're incessantly beating yourself up.
Again, by no means does this list cover all the bases. Each one of us will suffer losses exclusive to our own marriages that necessitate their own curative processes, with varying lengths of recovery. Divorce might mean freedom, but with such freedom comes enormous loss; we owe it to ourselves to cultivate a willingness to heal.