The emotional unbonding that can occur during divorce is the cornerstone for transformation and is my focus. The task of emotional separation involves unbonding romantic and dependent aspects of the relationship, and mourning. This is the stage where growth and transformation unfold. It includes disengagement of games, role definitions, and family expectations, and understanding why you selected your partner, why you stayed, and the "dance" you do over and over that doesn't work. Growth comes from taking responsibility for the marital problems, and not blaming, and finally changing that "dance." It means seeing your partner clearly and risking new behavior, which will undoubtedly meet resistance from your mate, since you're changing the dance steps and refusing to do the old routine. It is different for everyone, but some examples are a passive spouse getting angry, or a volatile partner good-humoredly walking away from an argument; asking for what you really want and need; doing something important for yourself despite your partner's objections; refusing to tolerate some unacceptable behavior of your spouse that you've complained about forever; taking a solo vacation; or refusing to do something you felt obligated to do, but have always resented. So in emotionally unbonding, people really do become different, in the sense that they have a choice of new responses and behaviors. The drama subsides and marital structure gradually falls away. Ideally, the physical and legal separation can then follow more smoothly.

If the unbonding process not successfully traversed, the emotional connections will undermine the couple's attempts to separate. Many couples are still "married" years after the formal divorce, if only to maintain contact through court battles, or alternatively, ritualistically celebrating holidays together ("for the children's sake"). One such couple, divorced many years, lived in separate houses on the same property, kept sufficient distance through legal hostilities. Another lived as neighbors, because she needed to rescue him from his depressions, and he needed to drive her around.

The second part of working through the emotional divorce is mourning the losses that accompany divorce, including, anger, depression, and fear, a predominant emotion during transitions. Facing the unknown is fearful. Divorce represents loneliness, change of lifestyle, imagined losses of what might have been, and of memories of what once was; as well as real losses on every front, such as home, family, children, financial, and often friends and in-laws. It may entail a move to a different city or school, a job change, or a homemaker going back to school, or entering the work force for the first time. It also involves loss of identity, as a wife, a husband, and possibly as a parent. To successfully move on, each fear must be addressed and each loss mourned. Grief work can precede the physical and legal divorce and smooth the way.

It is helpful to contemplate the Chinese ideogram for crisis, representing both danger and opportunity. Loosening our attachments to the things we hold most dear allows for more space and flow within us, the possibility of new experiences, and the opportunity to meet as yet unknown parts of ourselves.

See also, Stages of Divorce.

Copyright Darlene Lancer, 2010

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Author's Bio: 

Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and life coach with a broad range of experience, working with individuals and couples for more than twenty years. Her focus is on helping individuals overcome obstacles to leading fuller lives, and helping couples enhance their communication, intimacy, and passion. She is a speaker, freelance writer, and maintains private practice in Santa Monica, CA.