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he Two C’s of Coping with Divorce: Part I Connection

The Two C’s of Coping with Divorce: Part I Connection

{6 minutes to read) Divorce is trauma. Healing from trauma cannot happen in a vacuum. Two factors that divorce and trauma have in common are loss of connection and loss of control.

Trauma can be any experience that overwhelms the individual’s system — an experience that the individual is not equipped to handle. A young child left by a parent overnight locked in a dark room can be a trauma for that child. He cannot escape, hasn’t the physical strength to free himself, and has nowhere to turn. The experience is a loss of connection to the caregiver and an utter loss of control over his surroundings and himself. An adult civilian captured by a gun-wielding terrorist hasn’t the skills to fight back. He is entirely at the mercy of his captor and likely experiences terrible powerlessness, even over his physical body, which may go into shock. 

The trauma of a divorce, particularly if it is unwanted or comes as a shock, can be helpfully met by addressing these two concepts — connection and control — and the actions they imply. I call them the two Cs.

The First C of Coping with Divorce: Connection

When a primary relationship feels threatened by an imminent divorce, and can no longer provide an orienting, dependable, and regulating benefit, establishing other connections is paramount.  When the marriage has satisfied a lot of relational needs, its ending can feel especially traumatic.

Contrarily, often leading up to a divorce, the marital relationship has deteriorated to the extent that it lacks the benefit of ongoing co-regulation.  That is to say, often divorcing people have not had their significant needs met for some time, making the need to establish healthy connections all the more immediate.

Traumatology reveals that self-regulation is mythology. That is, no one can regulate herself alone. Co-regulation is how we humans learn to soothe, ground, and return to a functional and tolerable state of being. We need one another. This might help inform at least one aspect of the tendency to cling to a partner who is leaving, as well as why the threat of losing a close connection can be so destabilizing.  One might be quite literally losing an inherent component of how he regulates himself.

While the ”clinging” reaction to the threat of losing a critical relationship is understandable, it is not the path to regaining balance. The intense need for care and connection must be addressed urgently! Without shame or suppression — these fervent needs are signs of life! To be met and held and helped! Just not by the partner who has expressed a need for separateness. These needs must be heeded and met by other resources. Often, those in marriages that are ending, who find themselves desperate and shaken, have not been in a healthy situation for some time and may find themselves shy of a rich variety of available supports. What is suggested below keeps that in mind. 

Find many groups — 12-Step Groups such as Al-Anon and Co-Dependants Anonymous use the same tried and true meeting format and literature as AA and are suitable for people who are not struggling with substance addiction or even immediately affected by those with substance abuse issues but are nonetheless struggling. 

These groups provide wise guidance from sources of universal wisdom, and they provide a gentle environment to be with other people in a friendly, authentic way. Visiting a group is typically a welcoming experience, and it is often a safe place to sit quietly in the company of others seeking and often providing help. I mention this resource because it offers an immediate, measured way to get out of isolation and be in a predictable, supportive, structured environment for an hour. At no cost. A basket is passed, and those who can contribute a dollar or so do; those who cannot or prefer to demur, simply pass the basket. 

Not every group is suitable for everyone, however, if someone has the tolerance to try a couple of groups, they will likely find a fit soon. These groups offer community and various tools to stay connected with members and try out a new way of being with others. 12-Step Groups are pervasive, in most communities at various times throughout the week.

Other groups friendly to newcomers are activity groups searchable on Facebook or Meetup sites. Groups that are established, meet regularly, and do something together, such as walking or hiking can be a good start. Socializing is not the main focus, so there is less pressure to interact, but you can still get the benefit of being around others in a friendly way while helping your body regulate by engaging in physical movement and by being natural, which is rejuvenating and calming.

The healing benefits of being in a group differ from the also important benefits of intimate one-on-one relationships. Mature groups have their atmospheric system and structure that tend to be solid and dependable particularly apt for people in the early stages of coping with divorce or other trauma.

Just like walking in the forest and swimming in the sea return us to some primordial aspect of ourselves, being welcomed into a tribe of humans working with similar issues also resonates with something deep and ancient inside and restores us to a place of connection and belonging.


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