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I wanted the divorce. Why am I so sad?

I Wanted the Divorce. Why Am I So Sad?

They say it takes 21 days to build a habit—a mere three weeks. Now imagine how hard that habit is to break if you’ve had it for three decades’ worth of marriage. Grief and withdrawal become intertwined, which is why you may catch yourself wondering “If I wanted the divorce, why am I so sad?”

Breaking a long-standing habit is simple but it isn’t easy, nor is building new ones. Sometimes it might feel as though you’re jackhammering old concrete into dust-flown chunks with one hand, and pouring new with the other: straightforward in concept, but Herculean in execution.

If you’re still in the bargaining-with-yourself, pre-divorce phase of your marriage, then you may still be clinging to the echo of old endorphins and all the hopes, plans, love, and joy that you brought with you to the altar.

At this stage of the process, it may be difficult to see your husband as a habit you’re about to break.

But if it’s been years since the gavel came down on the divorce decree and you’re still finding yourself grieving, you have reached a culminating point. After prolonged grief, you might be ready to give yourself a good shake and get some clarity on why this sadness still has you in its grasp—even if you were the one to ask for the divorce in the first place.

Take the idealism out of the picture for a moment and consider the science of emotion and the physiological result of years of relational repetition. As with typing, driving home from work, smoking, walking, making coffee—any activity (healthy or not) that you engage in every day, any part of your life that is chronic rather than occasional—neurological pathways form in the brain. It is not necessarily the ending of you and him that is making you sad, but chemical residue left from years of playing “him” on repeat.

These pathways are like grooves in a record player. It took time and continual practice to put them there, and it will take conviction and continual practice to burn new ones in their place.

These are patterns of behavior. They’re familiar and quite often comfortable. If you’ve experienced joy and pleasure in your marriage, then the receptors in your brain will produce even stronger impulses to go looking for that stimulus, that chemical brain cocktail to regenerate the familiar feelings.

“The brain develops pathways based on learned patterns,” says Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and senior research fellow at the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University. “So, if you laid down a powerful pattern that this person was your life partner, your brain can retain traces of that circuitry, even after you’ve bonded with someone new.”

The Slow Process of Rewiring the Brain

In the language of addiction, it’s called chasing the high. Without being aware of it, we’re looking for that which triggers the feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain—in other words, the dopamine rush. (Dope, an older nickname for marijuana, is short for dopamine).  And until we recreate new patterns of behavior and new pleasure connections—burn new tracks on the CD of the brain (and therefore the heart)—we can get lost in the sadness of missing of him and think that it’s about him or that the decision to leave the marriage was a mistake. In other words, even though you wanted the divorce, you may still be sad. This is entirely normal based on what we know about brain science and withdrawal. Practicing self-care during this time is an important way to help manage your grief.

It most likely wasn’t, and it isn’t about him, or certainly doesn’t have to be. If we can remember the physiology of attraction, attachment, and repetitive patterns, it helps zero in on the realization that we can make new patterns. The brain, like the body, is less elastic when we are older, but it can be stretched with consistent work. It is NOT impossible. How long it takes to get over your divorce will simply vary.

And once the brain begins to play the new tracks consistently, the memory of the old “song” gradually smooths away. In order to assist that smoothing process and find a way to detach from grief and sadness, let’s look at the science behind romantic attachment—“that loving feeling.”

Dopamine and the Brain’s Reward Center

Fisher conducted a study in 2005 that incorporated 2,500 MRI scans of college student brains. Researchers showed students pictures of classmates and acquaintances, and then pictures of Their Special Someone. Viewing pictures of their attraction factor people activated the dopamine-rich zones in the study subjects’ brains. Two of the brain regions that showed activity in the brain scans were the caudate nucleus—linked to reward anticipation, as well as the integration of sensory input and socialization (i.e. playing well with others)—and the ventral tegmental area, which is associated with pleasure and the motivation to pursue it.

There are also older regions of the brain that are also associated with sex, pleasure, and romantic love. These older regions tend to hold onto their stimuli, staying “lit” longer.

Consider the 21/90 rule, which states that it takes 21 days to make a habit and 90 days to make it a permanent lifestyle change. Consider the possibility that in three months you are capable of recreating your brain. Building a practice or healthy habit or a new relationship just bears repeating. And if there’s a great deal of pleasure involved in that practice, the stronger and more indelible the mark it makes on your system.

So, next time you catch yourself thinking “I wanted a divorce, so why am I sad?” remember that your brain’s circuitry is rebuilding. In the meantime, you can train your brain to choose happiness.

 

Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves wordcraft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.

Resources

Whether you are navigating the experience or the aftermath of divorce — one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to NOT DO IT ALONE. Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of reinvention. If you are a divorced woman still reverberating from your journey, you are invited to consider Paloma’s Group, our powerful, virtual group coaching program for women seeking best practices, community and accountability for starting over. Schedule your quick interview and ask your questions now.

 

Should You Get a Pet After Divorce

Should You Get a Pet After Divorce?

Getting a divorce can be an incredibly stressful and draining process, no matter how long you were married. It seems like everything you know and have taken for granted until now, has suddenly changed, pulling the metaphorical rug out from beneath your feet.

But once the dust finally settles, this can also be a time of promise and opportunity, a time to try new things and make plans that put you first. Some newly-single folk may opt for flashy new cars or luxury holidays, while others go straight for the extreme makeover—divorce is not unlike a mid-life crisis in that way. After the end of a relationship, you’re not exactly sure who you are anymore, and all these bright and shiny things help fill that void for a short while.

Here, however, we introduce an altogether cuddlier alternative, one that gives back. That’s right: a pet.

Pets keep you company

Let’s start with an obvious but no less important point: getting a pet after a divorce or breakup means another living presence is once again in your house. Loneliness after a divorce is natural, especially if you’d spent years living with your Ex. But natural doesn’t mean the same thing as easy. Even if you have a strong support network of friends and relatives, little things like coming home to an empty house or eating meals alone can be incredibly painful.

“Dogs have helped me through my divorce with their unconditional love and acceptance,” Millie says. Millie, a SAS client was married for nearly 47 years and has been divorced for two. “If I am depressed, Mikey never fails to put a smile on my face. [Pets are] cute. They’re adorable, they’re silly, and they have functioned as emotional support therapy for me throughout my life.”

While the conversation with a pet (save certain breeds of parrot, perhaps) may be a little one-sided, having an animal companion around really can do wonders for loneliness. Researchers have found that petting a dog or cat releases a cocktail of “happy hormones” into the brain, including serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” Studies have also shown that living with a pet helps limit feelings of loneliness, with the bonus side effect of reducing loneliness-related health problems.

If you’re searching for unconditional love and support, look no further than a pet

Don’t underestimate the healing power of a little uncomplicated, unconditional love in times of crisis.

Your pet doesn’t mind if you eat a whole tub of ice cream for dinner, or if you couldn’t face taking a shower today.

Your pet certainly won’t judge you for bingeing on that trashy show that your Ex couldn’t stand.

Your pet will stay by your side (or on your lap if you let them), adoring you for exactly who you are. As cheesy as it may sound, sometimes it’s important to be reminded that you are worthy of love.

For people who have experienced emotional trauma, their furry friend is more than simply a source of love and affection but also a source of support. In fact, emotional support animals help many people deal with conditions ranging from depression and anxiety to PTSD.

These amazing animals are a steady source of companionship for their owners, helping them manage daily tasks that would otherwise be near impossible. While an emotional support animal needs to be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to make them legitimate, there’s no reason why your pet shouldn’t be an “unofficial” source of emotional support.

A pet is a big responsibility…but that can be a good thing

After a divorce, added responsibility might be the last thing you want, especially if you have suddenly become a single parent. And, sure, any pet, even a hamster or goldfish, will require feeding, cleaning, and more. There will be food costs and vet bills to take into account too, which should not be taken lightly.

“You are getting a child that is not going to grow up. It’s a big commitment and responsibility in time, energy, and, hello, MONEY,” Millie says. “Vet care and grooming is a fortune. Because people don’t realize that, so many animals end up in shelters.”

Consider this: for many people, a divorce is a massive upheaval to their whole life, shattering their daily routine. After the legalities, the potential house moves, the emotional drain…at some point, it will be time to start rebuilding your life and setting up a new routine. Getting into a new routine can be surprisingly difficult, however, especially if you don’t have children or if you’re not working.

Like it or not, getting a pet after a breakup will get you into a new routine, and more likely than not, that routine will be a healthier, happier one.

Need an excuse to get up in the morning? There’s no wake-up call like a hungry pet reminding you it’s breakfast time. Want to get more exercise? A dog will be happy to help! Sometimes, knowing that another living being is relying on you can be just the push you need to get moving when you’re feeling down or unmotivated.

Looking to meet new people? A pet can help

Whether you’ve decided it’s time to tentatively dip a toe into the dating pool or jump right in, or even if you’re just looking to make some new, platonic friends, meeting people post-divorce is important. But it can be difficult for the newly-single to readjust to suddenly having to put themselves out there, especially in the digital age of dating apps and social media.

A pet, especially one that needs frequent outdoor exercise, can be a great way to advance your divorce recovery, to ease yourself back into the world after a divorce. Not only can your furry friend present a helpful icebreaker (hot tip: owners love talking about their pets), your pet can also gain you entry into what from the outside may seem like a secret club.

As Millie says, “I am not as free as I was before, but the blessings I get from having a pet in my life so FAR outweigh the responsibility and commitment. Now it’s about more than just me. It’s about taking care of another living being. He gives me a reason to get up in the morning.”

Before you know it, you’ll be greeting the other dog-walkers in the park by name—or at least by their dog’s name—and joining each other on walks. Who knows, maybe you’ll eventually take things to the next level.

Is a pet right for you?

Tempting as it might be to jump in your car and drive straight to the animal shelter, it is important to stop and consider all the ramifications of getting a pet after a breakup. This is a time of upheaval in your life. Ask yourself questions like, Do I have enough room for a pet? Will I need to move soon? Do I have time to care for a pet properly? Who will look after the pet while I’m at work or if I want to go away on a trip? Can I afford a pet?

Don’t let getting a pet be a rash decision that you come to regret. A pet can be a wonderful companion, a source of comfort, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning, but it can also be hard work. Remember, a pet is a partner for life.

 

Emily Cline works with Certapet, whose primary goal is to help those in need of an Emotional Support Animal. Certapet strongly believes that having an ESA is beneficial, valuable, and can foster an overall positive change in a person’s mental health. From depression to PTSD to anxiety and more, Emotional Support Animals assist their owners in managing their mental or emotional condition and can potentially reduce the symptoms these individuals experience. CertaPet connects individuals who have a disabling condition or mental health diagnosis with a Licensed Mental Health Professional who provides an evaluation and treatment for the individual through a secure online platform.

 

Since 2012, smart women around the world have chosen SAS for Women to partner them through the emotional, financial, and oft times complicated experience of divorce and reinvention. Whether you are considering a divorce, navigating it, or already rebuilding after the overwhelming experience, one thing we see making a significant difference for women is the conscious choice to not do divorce alone.

“Life, your life, is calling you!” – SAS for Women