Sunday, February 18, 2007

Three Kinds of Separation and Divorce

As we all know, it is not uncommon to hear someone say that they are separated or divorced. Simplistically stated, separation means two individuals are no longer cohabitating or together, and divorce or dissolution of marriage is the ending of a marriage before the death of either spouse. According to Divorce Magazine, the divorce rate in the United States is 49%, in Canada 45%. And just because two married people are separated doesn’t mean that they will divorce. According to a report published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, “approximately five million couples, or 10% of all currently married couples in the United States, have experienced a separation and reconciliation in their marriage.” However, when a person says “I’m separated” or “I’m divorced” there may be more to the story – there is more than one kind of separation and divorce.

In a self-help book I currently am writing, My Adult Loving Relationships, I discuss something I frequently have said to my clients: “There is a difference between a legal divorce, a physical divorce and a psychological divorce. When you think of a divorce from a legal perspective, try to remember that this is a legally sanctioned, adjudicated and finite declaration of each individual's continuing responsibilities and culpabilities regarding each other (as well as children if there are any children involved). A physical divorce is when we no longer see each other, make love together, go to dinner together, and/or cohabited together. In essence, we are physically apart. A psychological divorce is one in which your former spouse is no longer central to your psychological and spiritual being-- he or she no longer has a significant place in your heart.” As one of my clients said to me, “I got my physical divorce in 2001 when she moved out and began living with someone else. I got my legal divorce in 2002. But it wasn't until 2004 that I felt that I had finally gotten my psychological divorce-- it took me two years to get her out of my mind, my spirit and my heart. I just could not stop myself from being in love with her.” In terms of timing, when you are physically, psychologically and/or legally separated and/or divorced from someone, is unique to, and for, you.

In my recently published contemporary romance novel, Fear of Feeling Loved, there is no doubt in Marcia’s heart and mind that Jack loves her. What she struggles with, nonetheless, is that while he divorced Maureen, his daughter’s mother, years ago, to what extent is he or is he not psychologically divorced from Maureen?

I’m curious – what’s been your experience with separation and divorce – physically, legally and/or psychologically?



Anonymous said...

hi Dr. Bill- I followed your pic link from RBTB to here, just to see the Harley up close, and look what happens. So I think I will disguise myself.

I have been through all those stages, and not necessarily in the same relationship. And I don't believe separation and divorce need only apply to legally married couples.

I got married at 18, he was 19, and it lasted all of 2 years, and we were divorced in every way a year after that. In many ways, I think I was divorced from him before we walked down the aisle. Sad, but true.

Although I never married my daughters father, thankfully, it did take a while to phychologically divorce myself from him and our lives. But once I did, it was better for both of us.

The one relationship in my life that i have never really divorced myself psychologically from was my fiance of over 20 years ago. For years he still popped into my life, even after my daughter was born, and he and I had moved on to other relationships and then would find one another again. I finally got to the point where I couldn't take it anymore- the revolving door- and I cut him out totally. But to this day he still pops into my mind on occassion. Which bothers me, as I have been happily married now for almost 10 years. And I wouldn't change that for anything.

I have finally managed to deal with it by allowing myself a little time to wallow when thoughts of him pop up, and then push it back into the little box I keep it in, in my mind. It works for me, not that it might for someone else.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello Anonymous,

Glad you followed the link… you indeed add to the mystery of loving relationships.

I totally agree… these phenomena do not only apply to those legally married. And I also would bet that you weren’t the only one to feel that way before walking down the isle. Breaking the psychological umbilical cord certainly is a challenge, yet until we do all other relationships and their potentials are “on hold.” (whether we realize it or not).

Interestingly, Thomas Moore, in his book “Soul Mates,” says that once we’re someone’s soul mate, we’re soul mates for ever… independent of the earthly configuration of our relationship with that person. I still feel that way with my children’s mother… we’ll always be soul mates (independent of the fact that we have agreed that “close friends” is where we are and will stay). And yes, everyone has to figure out how to keep prior people (even soul mates) from interfering in current (and future) relationships.

Thanks again… may peace continue to be with you,


Mostly Happy Thoughts said...

I have never been married. But I did end a 5 year relationship where I was engaged to be married. I left during a state of immense grief so it wasn't a well thought out idea. Ultimately it was the right decision. We remained good friends. Even though I was the one that ended it I think in the end I suffered more sadness over that decision... psychologically it took a long time.

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hello MHT,
As you clearly point out, the differences between physical, legal and psychological “endings” are not for those who are or were married. For many people, a long-term non-marital relationship can be more meaningful and have more of an impact on one’s life than a marriage. Another thing I have seen numerous times is that the one who files for divorce or ends a long-time relationship is not necessarily the one who “wanted it” (or didn’t struggle as much afterwards). As you imply, wanting a relationship yet knowing it’s not good (for you) and therefore ending it, are two different things.
Thanks for chiming in!

insideout said...

Dr Bill, I have to say that even while married a couple can go through a psychological divorce. There was a point in my marriage where we were so consumed with carreer and kids that we detached ourselves from a loving relationship. This of course almost lead to a legal divorce. Thank God we figured it out before it was to late and sought some marriage counceling...I/O

Anonymous said...

Are there any rules or commonalities in the order people experience these stages. For example, can one experience psychological first?

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi I/O,
Thanks for the excellent example of how two people can get so involved in other things and have a psychological divorce while still legally married. You my friend were fortunate! (And between you and me, there was a time in my life when I engaged in polygamy – I was married to my wife and my job. Some parents also can psychologically get married to, and give all their love to, their children.) Again, you were fortunate and smart enough to tack corrective action before it was too late.
Thanks again,

Dr. Bill Emener said...

Hi Nienke,
I don’t know of any “commonalities” or specifics associated with stages. If you think of it… 2 events (separation and divorce) and three stages (physical, legal and psychological), there are at least 48 possible combinations – and each one is unique to any given individual. And in my 33 years of practice, I think I’ve see just about all 48 of them. What’s interesting is when two people separate and then divorce (legally), and each of them may go through different stages at different times. So, what comes first, second and third… that’s merely a function of you, that particular time, and that particular relationship. Like many other things in life, this is an aspect of life for which there is no rule or formula.
I hope this is helpful to you in your thinking…