The Many Layers of Unattaching

By Deirdre Shaffer, MSW, LCSW, Therapist in Bucks County, PA

Perhaps you have been married for 2 years or 10 years or maybe even 30 years. When you made that decision, you “became one” or made a soul connection that was meant to be lifelong. When divorce occurs, the journey is largely about turning the “WE” into “ME” and can be complicated and challenging on so many levels.

“The Unattaching” could be the name of Stephen King novel! Truly, divorce can contain a bit of blood and gore since separating a whole into two parts is oftentimes messy, gruesome, and full of unknowns.

Let’s break it down so we can identify what’s involved and develop a formula to make it a bit simpler and, optimally, easier.

On the logistical side, we have the practical matters to be unattached. The finances, child custody, the marital residence and it’s contents, insurance coverage, and possibly social systems (friends and family). Health insurance, cell phone plans, emergency contacts on medical forms, car insurance, even EZ Pass plans need to be changed or separated. Although these items are time consuming and often anxiety provoking, these divisions can be empowering in that they set the foundation for new beginnings and for choosing a fresh start that you alone create.

Then we have the psychological and emotional “unattaching.” This involves the conceptual journey from “WE” to “ME” and takes time. It requires patience, determination, and resilience. For the recent part of your life, you have been accustomed to thinking like a team player focusing on your partners needs, wants, and habits as well as managing the relationship. You have depended and relied on your partner in ways that you may not have been fully cognizant. You have been part of a unit.

The emotional task of moving from couplehood to singlehood involves facing the myriad of feelings that accompany any grieving process. Denial, shock, bargaining, anger, and depression can make you feel untethered. Add to that feelings of betrayal and resentment and you may feel like you’re on a roller coaster for months or, more likely, years……with definite and notable improvement with the passage of time. Individual therapy, divorce support groups, and medication (when indicated) can be invaluable.

Remind yourself frequently that these emotions are typical, temporary, and WILL get better. It can be helpful to keep a journal so that you can see your improvement over time.

For some, unattaching can feel like chopping through the invisible cord that has connected you to your ex. (And that type of visualization can be quite helpful). Be mindful of using “I” statements rather than “we” statements. Focus on your new world and embrace the opportunity to create a life that is authentic to you.

Reestablishing a sense of self means getting to know who you are as an individual; identifying your likes and dislikes, becoming comfortable as a single person in social setting, taking risks when you are afraid, exploring old and new hobbies. It is also about facing your fears and learning how to do new things. Did you ever think you’d be able to fix a leak? Cook a gourmet meal? Hang a window treatment? Invest in the stock market? What a great way to build your self esteem!

Oh….and stay away from your exes social media sites! Concentrate about your wonderful self and all you have to offer!


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