Bargaining

by Guest Blogger:

Anat Geva, PsyD, Psychotherapist & Divorce Specialist

 

Portrait of an attractive young business woman having a serious conversation with colleague

Anyone going through divorce can speak to the rollercoaster of emotions that leaves us gasping between the fast and hard turns, the highs and the lows. We are angry one moment, sad the next. The experience of guilt that we feel engulfing us one moment quickly turns to intense anxiety the next. Sometimes, we may even begin to think we are “over it” when a brief reprieve of joy and abandon occurs, only to have the tidal wave of emotions abruptly crush us and set us back beyond “square one”.

The process of divorce grief parallels the one that Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified for the loss of a loved one to death. However, divorce grief is also distinctly different from that of the mourning of a death. Divorce is a mere transformation of a relationship rather than a cut and clear ending of one, especially when children are involved. Whereas idealization and romanticizing of the past is not uncommon following a death, divorce, and especially a contentious one, overlays the past with drab shades of anger and pain.

The stages of divorce grief follow a certain predictable course which applies to most, but not all, people. After the denial of the impending loss and the anger with the perceived assault on one’s dreams, hopes and expectations (not to mention financial security and a way of life), the bargaining phase takes front and center. Here, we are not bargaining with one’s partner over material possessions or other concrete divorce issues, but rather a process that we engage with ourselves. “If I had only…” or “I should have never…” is a recurring refrain. Directing the “shoulds” to the partner can also dominate this phase – “ I would take them back if only they…” etc. However, many people experience a different type of bargaining altogether – bargaining with a higher power for certain outcomes. In the process, they ponder about the worth of their desires, and what are they willing to give up as a “fair” exchange. Examples of that could be mental bartering of parenting schedule/privileges for increased devoutness, or resolution to change certain behaviors for an edge in the court battle.

The bargaining phase is an exhausting one, as perseveration never brings closure, and so we find ourselves spinning hard and fast in place. Wanting the mental anguish to a stop pushes us to attempt and “get through” this stage as quickly as possible. However, that is not entirely in our best interest. By lingering and even leaning in, one can tap into that goldmine that is in clear view yet often neglected. In our haste, we are depriving ourselves of the wisdom that this phase invites us to uncover. Specifically, gain greater clarity about our values – what is important to us and what is not. Is it our parenting role, or perhaps valuing a certain education for our children? Maybe it is certain symbolic assets we have worked hard for, or assets we link to sentimental memories we continue to cherish? For some, it is their sense of personal freedom. As we negotiate in our head, strike deals and carefully evaluate the pros and cons, we begin to see repeating themes emerge. A good therapist can help you identify the less obvious issues that are just under the surface yet are difficult to access, or tie together several seemingly unrelated issues into a meaningful line of thinking. Working this stage mindfully will allow you to come out on the other side with your eyes open wide and insights that you can apply immediately – both in your actual negotiation with you soon-to-be-ex as well as in the larger scheme of your life.

Although the stages of grief are often described sequentially, they are not linear and more than one stage can be experienced at a given time. We circulate through the stages time and time again until we have processed our loss to the degree that it does not consume us as is so common in the early stages of separation and divorce. Therapy can be an invaluable tool at every stage of the process – help you experience your emotions in safety and utilize the insights that you gain to your advantage. It can help you maximize your gains from each phase so that each time you pass through it, the pain is substantially lessened and the number of repetitions before some sense of peace is achieved significantly curtailed. I am a psychotherapist who is passionate about working with individuals who are going through the process of divorce. I would love to speak to you further on this topic should you feel that therapy could help you or someone you love come out on the other side with vibrancy and hope about the future.

 

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Dr. Geva holds a doctorate in clinical psychology (PsyD) conferred by the University of Denver, a masters in clinical psychology (MA) conferred by the same institution, and a bachelors degree (BA) in Psychology and Communication from Tel-Aviv University in Israel.

Dr. Geva is licensed to practice independently in the state of Colorado (Licensed Professional Counselor) and is a Psychologist Candidate.

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