Modern Family Matters

The Psychological Impact of Divorce: How to Process the Stages of Separation & Transition From a Place of Resentment to Acceptance

February 25, 2022 with Dr. Foojan Zeine Season 1 Episode 46
Modern Family Matters
The Psychological Impact of Divorce: How to Process the Stages of Separation & Transition From a Place of Resentment to Acceptance
Show Notes Transcript

Join us as we sit down with Psychotherapist, Dr. Foojan Zeine, to talk through the different emotional stages of divorce, and tips for how divorcing couples can individually process these emotions in a way that replaces resentment and anger with acceptance and forgiveness. In this interview, Foojan discusses the following:

•    The psychological process of divorce can be complex and daunting, and often requires a skilled professional to successfully get you through it.
 •    Understanding why each of the stages of the divorce process can trigger differing emotions and behaviors. 
 •    Working through the first shake-up in the marriage and pre-divorce process, to the post-divorce and emotional ending of the marriage.
 •    Why understanding the potential psychological effect of these stages is essential to navigating divorce.  
 •    The psychological effects when two people choose to legally, socially, physically, and emotionally end the marriage connection between them and proceed to lead separate lives.
 •    Ways to move from resentment, anger and unbalanced focusing to forgiveness, acceptance and willingness to cooperate with your ex-spouse.

If you would like to speak with one of our family law attorneys, please call our office at (503) 227-0200, or visit our website at

To learn more about how Dr. Zeine can help you through your divorce, you can visit her website:

Disclaimer: Nothing in this communication is intended to provide legal advice nor does it constitute a client-attorney relationship, therefore you should not interpret the contents as such.

Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast devoted to exploring family law topics that matter most to you. Covering a wide range of legal, personal, and family law matters, with expert analysis from skilled attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcast provides answers, clarity, and guidance towards a better tomorrow for you and your family. Here's your host, Steve Altishin.

Steve Altishin  0:31  
Hi, everyone. I'm Steve Altishin, Director of Client partnerships here at Pacific Cascade Family Law. And today, we're with psychotherapist Foojan Zeine to talk about the psychological process of divorce and getting through it. Good morning, Foojan how you doing today?

Foojan Zeine  0:50  
Good morning, Steve Altishin. Fantastic. Thank you for the opportunity of being able to chat with you.

Steve Altishin  0:58  
Oh, and thank you for being here. So before we start, can you tell us just a little bit about yourself?

Foojan Zeine  1:04  
Of course, I've been a psychotherapist and a life coach for about 30 years, and my license is in marriage and family. So obviously, I work a lot with families pre-marriage, throughout the marriage, pre-divorce, through divorce, and after divorce. So, there's a lot of experience through that. And I have developed a psychology and an educational theory and interventions called Awareness Integration Theory, which we're teaching in the universities, all the therapists are learning, and we're certifying a lot of coaches. I'm also an author through that, which is this the book Life Reset, which is for people and goes through exercises for people to become aware and integrate, and I also bring that approach to my divorce therapy.

Steve Altishin  1:57  
Wow, perfect person for today. So, you know, we've had several Facebook Lives about the legal process of divorce, which can be complex, and it can be daunting. There are legal filings, there’s discovery, negotiating custody, support, parenting time, temporary orders, final decree—it's really why having an attorney that's skilled in divorce is so important. But today, I want to talk about another process that occurs in divorce, and you call it the psychological process of divorce, which also can be complex and daunting, and in need of a skilled professional to successfully get through it. So, let's start by what you mean when you use the term, the psychological process of divorce?

Foojan Zeine  2:45  
Sure. When people are getting together, they usually have a honeymoon phase that you only see the best in the other person. And even if you see some stuff that is not working, you're like, "oh, I'll handle it, I'll tolerate it, it will all be okay, I'll change it." And then we go through this, beyond the fact you'll go, like, power struggle phase, then, now we power struggle through it. "No, it has to be my way, then we bargain." And a lot of marriages go through these power struggle phases. They decided that's it, I'm done. It's just that we know it's not the same as before. And we're going to be done. And some people work through this process, and live a long time and try things and still go through a process of okay, "I've grown up I no longer want this marriage. It doesn't work for me, although it looks like it works. But it's just doesn't work for me internally anymore." But what happens in the process of being together, whether it's the power struggle phase or just like mundane phase, is that everything we saw about our partner that was great, that we could tolerate and accept, then the others flip, which now I see all the things I didn't like about him or her, and everything out there irritates me. But when the actual concept of divorce shows up, that is when I've become hopeless. So because of this, sometimes I've asked people when come in, like, "you've been struggling for so many years. Why is it that today you suddenly talked about divorce?"  "It's because I'm completely, utterly hopeless and powerless now against this, and I'm done." So there's a piece where you become "done." But when and how do you get to "done" is a lot of times this bargaining thing, which is "let me try a little bit. See is not working. Let me try just a little bit more. No, it's not working." And finally, it's like, "it's never gonna work." And when that assignment that we put on the future ends, we say "the future that I have in my head is never going to be there. So I'm going to finish it." And then we go through all of the emotional processes that we go through with any type of change or loss, we go through grief and loss at the beginning or in the middle of this process. Another aspect of this I've seen is when two people are in the process and they never get done at the same time. Some people grieve the process after they finally get themselves ready for this process. And by the time they're already saying, "I'm done", they've already completed their grieving process as much as they can. And then they share this with their partner, and the partner becomes so prized. Then they begin their grieving process. They bargain, "but what if this and what if we could do this," and a lot of times, those are the times that they come to me, "we're working through the marriage and or the divorce process." And those are also the first time, I think, that they sometimes come to you, as an attorney, because I hear, "okay, I went to an attorney to check, but I'm not, maybe I could bargain again." So they do the first visit, and then they come back and try until they're actually done.

Steve Altishin  6:10  
So you, it sounds like, can step in at various phases of it. And I noticed, we had talked a little bit and you used a term once you called "Unbalanced Focusing." And I thought that's just really interesting. And also, talk about your awareness and and how does that work in kind of going down and then coming back up through the, through the whole process?

Foojan Zeine  6:41  
So for example, right before we are speaking, I had a session with someone, and she was saying, "I love him, I want to be with him, and I want to create this life to work better". And then two seconds later, everything I was saying she was like, "ugh, no, it will never happen, he will never change this and that." The monster you've created in your head. It's hard to live with. So it's that piece we kind of split, and we make the other person a monster in our in our head. And then we're constantly responding to that monster we created in our head. And the hope of maybe the honeymoon stage still lingers. So we hope for this. But we're not necessarily behaving in the marriage, towards what we said we wanted. We're behaving toward the monster, we created. And that's how the process gets worse and worse. And at one point, it's like you can't live any longer with the monster you created. Because the way that you behave toward that monster creates a space where the other person acts upon it as that monster you just created, they fill up the role. You assign the role to them, and they come in and fill up the role free. Yeah. And that's when usually the talk of divorce and the action of divorce, and then finally going and filling up the vapor we're seeing that attorneys start. Now this process is very different for people who have children than for those that don't, because obviously they still have to communicate because of the kids, and they still hold a relationship because of the kids, which is different. When somebody doesn't have a kid, they can separate, they can move away, they don't have to deal with each other. And they can go through their kind of remorse and grief and loss stages, individually. While the marriages that have kids, this concept doesn't happen individually. Sometimes these processes continue and then the kids are in the middle and they have to continue communication and negotiation every day because of the kids throughout the process of divorce, then after divorce for so many years, maybe until really dare to do that.

Steve Altishin  9:02  
What's the best time to to get you involved? It seems like they're in a hopeless kind of a sadness situation. And it's gotta be tough to get out of it by yourself.

Foojan Zeine  9:17  
Very much. Yeah. I mean, I think that the best time for anybody to go and seek counseling is in in previous premarital section because I think that they learn skills and how to be with each other from the beginning. So you bypass a lot of the traumas and damages that you already create for each other. So if there are times that they can go to counseling before they actually get married, that would be the best. Then different phases of life together that cause a lot of stress that many people don't know how to do it. So when there are power struggles that just happen when the lesson plan, handling in- laws, handling finances, handling children, handling sexuality, some of these conversations that happen in every single marriage. If they don't know how to handle it, they will lose each other. They will traumatize each other and themselves. So at every stage of life that changes and they see that there are some struggles and they're not passing through, it might be a good idea to come back to the therapist that they started with, so they will pass through that phase. They will learn new skills on how to handle this phase as they move forward. 

Steve Altishin  10:42  
That makes so much sense. The sort of legal side of that, where as you're talking, I think, prenuptial agreements, premarital agreements, which sort of makes you do the same thing on a legal basis. Talk about your stuff. Talk about what could happen to understand expectations, because one of the things that you again talked about was, and we see it all a lot in unmet expectations. Yeah. And that anything you can do to reduce that, it seems like it's, it goes a long way to help, like you said, make the stress less and make people kind of see what, what the real expectation should be.

Foojan Zeine  11:34  
Yes. And, you know, sometimes we do know about what we expect, and we just share it up front. Many times, we don't know, because it's the first time we've been married, we have no idea or it's the first time we're married to this person, even if it's not our first marriage, we see for the first time that we're married to this particular person. So communication is the only place that we can do something about this because each person is living in their own bubble. And this person is responsible for how they bring any information from that bubble into the "us bubble", which is the ticket,  the "us" here, there's a lot that goes on and because of miscommunication. Another thing is, let's figure out how to fight appropriately and fairly, because fighting is going to happen, arguing is gonna happen, debating is going to happen with two people, from different backgrounds from, different essences. So we're coming together, and we can't read each other's mind. So regardless of the content, or the subjects that we are debating about, the way we come together and communicate, negotiate, debates, look at, prioritize together, that is what creates a successful marriage, and will keep the love alive, keeps the safety alive, and all of that. But if the miscommunication happens, and we keep perceiving and assuming our lives based on our own assumptions, then we're  going to be further and further away from each other. And, we also bring a lot of our childhood stuff, or a lot of the way that our parents related to each other as automatic stuff and bring it in. And one of the things that we do in Awareness Integration is to really become aware of your thought process, your emotional process, your behavior, and then how does that impact my marriage? What do I bring from the past that I need to complete and stop the triggering? What is it that I've learned, what has worked and bring that in? Or does it mean that I've learned what doesn't work, and I need to stop and be aware of this every day that we're together, and what I can do and what I can control physically? I'm the only one who I can control. I can control my thought process or emotions, versus constantly looking at my mate and say, "well, obviously, I'm the best that he or she's got to change, waiting. When is the change going to happen?"

Steve Altishin  14:01  
It reminds me of being analytical about yourself. And again, as people go to work, their jobs, and they can be very analytical, and then they come home and that whole, "well, analytical doesn't belong in a marriage kind of a situation." But it sounds like that may not be really true. Maybe it is important in a marriage situation. 

Foojan Zeine  14:27  
Very much. One of the ways that we work is, say you want to look at your have belief systems, your thought processes, and you create a world about yourself and about what marriage is. And then that's where the expectations that you were talking about show up. "I need to know what kind of expectations of the world have I created about marriage and how do I feel about it? And how do I act toward my mate from that?" Then we have this aspect that we live in our assumptions, like everybody assumes how their mate is going to be. I'm sure you've heard of a lot. "Well, I know he thinks of me like that, or I know that he's going to do this or this, or she's going to do this or this." And I'm like, "well, how do you know? Did you check? No, but I know that the behavior doesn't show. Yeah,  or he should know what I need before I tell him because if I tell him, I need this, it's no longer valuable." So there's this assumptive constant concept that is hovering, and we live in it. And we don't really reality check. And sometimes it's so much easier when we actually reality check the other person. "What do you need? What are your what or how can I support you? What's going on with you?" And all of these help  bring clarity for us. And then we take ourselves everywhere. So if I think I'm fat, if I think I'm not good enough, if I think I'm not good in bed, if I think I'm this and that, it doesn't matter how much my mate tells me, "oh, you're wonderful!", I'm still gonna say no, I'm not. And there is this piece that shows up where it's not accurate, like our system, and what we believe in the bubble we live in might not be accurate to what is in reality happening within the marriage. So that analytical piece that you were sharing from the observational place, the awareness place, is very important if we're going to live in reality versus some fantasy that we're always living. And then knowing what we bring from the past, but also being intentional. I was asking my client, I said, "the best scenario, what do you see in your marriage?" And she told me this beautiful scenario. I said, "no, if we looked at the video of yesterday, when you guys had your argument and I took him away, and it was just the two of us watched you and your behaviors, you see the warnings, you use your body language, every message you're giving, were you behaving toward the beautiful, ideal relationship you just explained?" And she says, "No. So then what are your thought process as you stand beside him? Similar to what you said, you want it? No. Are you feeling similar? No. Are your behaviors going toward that? No. Like, well, how are you going to get to what you want, if your own thought, if your own emotion in your own behavior doesn't take you there at all? Are you expecting that I'm just going to be here as somebody else, take me there, and you're expecting him to take you there? Or if this is your vision, then you're responsible for getting yourself there. And it's that place where you become intentional about this is what I say I want so therefore, I'm not going to walk my words, and I'm going to do what I say I want in the hopes that the dance with my mate will also collaborate and create a beautiful marriage."

Steve Altishin  17:59  
Obviously, a lot of this stuff can help a marriage, we we're here to help prevent divorce and make people happier. And, but it is the job. But it's a great job. Kind of, a it's the best job, but it's still a job. So, what is there a switch that goes on or does the focus change when the legal process starts? I mean, is there a different angle that people start to take a look, once there's a filed divorce, or once the divorce decree is finalized?

Foojan Zeine  18:46  
When we get together, we are looking for being an "us." So everything we do is toward this "us," right? Although in the marriage, some people think about "me, me, me, and what do I need for me?" But still, we keep going. Okay, what's best for me, but ultimately, look at the "us." The minute divorce shows up the "us" breaks, and is now "me." It's like, how do I protect myself? How do I take care of myself? How do I from a legal perspective know, as far as finances, how do I look at the future and all of that? Then the element of unfairness shows up. "Well, what you're offering is unfair, and I deserve such and such." So there's an entitlement section that shows up for each person that in order to protect myself, this is what I'm entitled to. This is what the law tells me I'm entitled to this is what I think I'm entitled to regardless of the law, that I'm entitled to. And then, it's also if there's child custody. So all of the issues about children now show up around a negotiation of time, which is a lot of times also the time added to the money. So it's kind of like a link to that. So there's a lot more that happens in that section. And then there's an enforcement. If they can't emotionally enforce something, then they will play the same game, now with attorneys involved. So if I feel it's unfair, and I feel that I want to see my child or I want to, play a game, or I'm just going to be stubborn about something, now I have an ally that I'm also going to play the game with because they're powerful, and they can go because we can't talk.

So the focus changes from "us" to "me," and "what works for me, and I'm going to win regardless, and I'm going to be really pissed if I lose, at any point of this, my anger is going to go up, because I expect to win this game." This is how the focus changes. What I tell people who have children is, "can we get there? Can we get the communication, right, because regardless of whether you want to be with each other or not, if you have children, he's got to communicate and negotiate." So that skill still needs to be there. For the two of you, to raise your children together for the next whatever, 20 years and being in each other's life by force, or by choice. So the communication is something that allows them to negotiate. And next, for both of them to feel a little bit of a win win in their whole process. Because if it's just one person winning, it's going to be a disaster because the other person will always feel like a victim. And that space of victimization will funnel through the conversation with the children. And then children will become the tool for that victimization piece.

Steve Altishin  21:57  
Then the process that you see is someone who is using you. One before there's been a filing for divorce, they're all trying, and then when the divorce happens. I think, but that doesn't mean that they failed, and they don't need you anymore, or they don't need to continue to try to do these things we're talking about anymore. But that feeling of failure has got to kind of come into play at some point.

Foojan Zeine  22:37  
The feeling of failure is always around the loss part of it because the way that we are wired or heard through our childhood, "until death do us part." I mean, this is what we say when we're getting married. So people are getting married for a lifetime, they're not getting married, if they don't look at it, as you know, I'm going to do at least with "option to buy," and then I will just give you the car back. Somehow there's this notion that we, when I marry it's for a lifetime. So when the marriage doesn't work, because it defies the original intention, or the fantasy that we hold, then it appears to be a failure. We don't have the same mentality when we go to work or businesses. We don't say that the first part, the first job I've ever had, I'm going to keep for the rest of my life. Or the first business I've had, we're going to keep for the rest of my life. People grow out of one job or career or something and move to the next. But family is supposed to be forever. So when somebody marries, it appears, I'm creating another family. So letting go of that family appears to be a failure. And then we work through that concept of what we've learned from a marriage, how we have grown through this whole process, how much of the growth has happened by watching, watching the debates, watching what I've learned from the other person and expanded myself? What are the things that I've learned that I've never could have known without this? What are the things that I can? What are the fantasies that I had that when I faced reality were different? And how can I take this learning that I've had and produce a different type of marriage or a relationship and a future for myself. So you shift anything that appears to be a failure or a mistake and shift it to a growth process for yourself and move forward with it. 

Steve Altishin  24:48  
That, kind of gets to coming out the other end. What is, I guess you would say, "completing the marriage, getting it", not just behind you, but like you said, kind of getting it, making it a thing that results in something new that you're excited about?

Foojan Zeine  25:13  
Yes. First of all, what I've noticed in this past 30 years Steve, is it takes about one year almost, for normal not complicated grief process, or complicated in the divorce process. It takes usually one year from the day that you actually receive your divorce papers, not when you file. But when it's received, in your mail, and you go through different aspects of grief. So it's like section by section that you go through the next level of grief, and then the next one. So the first one is like okay, somebody talks about grief. And then with divorce, you go to an attorney, you watch the papers, you're actually signing the papers, and for the first time, there's this, all of these emotional reactions, then you kind of get used to that piece, then it's the matter of removing yourself from the premise of  you guys were living together, and that goes through its own phase. Then it's a matter of who am I as a single person again? And what is my identity, how can I be different? And that's another system. Then it's watching your mate with your children, and you no longer have the same control. Then is another level of kind of like grief that you go through. And then you have to adjust that. I'm not in control all the time. Then you see your mates, probably dating or somebody talks about it, then you have another level of grief. You also have all of these people around you who want to talk about your life and your divorce and how you were not where and what they heard from the other person, you've got to pass through those levels of grief. And finally, watching your mate with someone else, that's another level of grief. And then the papers show up, and then it completes it, and then up. So these are the phases. And at any phase, depending on your belief system, is the thought process and emotional process you kind of get, where you can get stuck, or you can learn and move forward. And the best learning process is again, looking at, "how was I here? What did I do as a mistake? What is it? Did I learn from the other person? How can I take that to the to the next level of my life? And then, watching the whole part as a growth process. Now I usually say, "stop your anger and hatred, I want you to honor your decision." And all of these years that you chose to be with this person, honor yourself, because there was a reason why you were there. And we could go back at each section and you can watch why you made those decision, so honor those decisions. And honor that the day that you say, "you're complete and you're moving on." And in this way you can clear up the kind of negativity and toxicity and come out with a diamond, the jewel of, shining about the air of your life that you learn so much from.

Steve Altishin  28:17  
Yeah, and again, kind of reaching back, do you become more aware of yourself, but it sounds like, you also become more aware of other people. Your ex spouse, things that you may have said. "Well, this is just a dirty rotten rat?" Well, maybe not necessarily. It seems like that's kind of part of that completion process. 

Foojan Zeine  28:41  
Yes, we have to. We have to hate them in order to let go. It's kind of hard to say, "I love them all is well. Everything's beautiful with them. And I want them, but I gotta go." So, you've got to choose. Even for the people who are not ready for divorce, and they're major, the ones who are getting a divorce, they get stuck for that group. They get stuck because they're not choosing the divorce. They're a victim of a divorce. So their part of the process of healing is actually starting to choose the divorce. For that group, in order to choose the divorce in reshaping their focus, and all the things that weren't working in their relationship, until they choose divorce. After they choose divorce, and that grief process starts, then they can forgive and then honor themselves, and put that plate all in perspective again. But that's usually what happens in order for us to get a divorce. We have to see the worst in the person and go into a hopeless place and that it just isn't working, in order to choose the divorce.

Steve Altishin  29:52  
Whether it's over when someone reaches this conclusion, this completion. Like you said, it could be shortly after the divorce, it could be quite a while after the divorce. Are they no longer in need of any counseling? Is this something that, "okay, now you can go away? And hopefully you'll remember this stuff on your next marriage?" Or is this something that that can help on a continuing basis? Because, okay, I've gotten past that one. So I don't need help. Is that really true?

Foojan Zeine  30:36  
I think that the healing that needs to happen after we are out of a process is what's very important. Because if we don't get healed, we take those kinds of resentments and triggers with us to the next relationship. Another part that I really request from people is to start learning about tools that would make an effective relationship the greatest. There's so many books out there, so many podcasts, there's so many movies, there's so many things that you can actually watch, learn, bring it into your system, to learn how to effectively have an amazing relationship together. We are the first relationship we're born into that is part of our own parent's relationship. If it was healthy, great, now they gave us some tools. If it wasn't, well, we have the lock there. We have to go learn maybe about our original relationships, the first ones that, everybody kind of gets traumatized and rejected and all of that. Those weren't the best role models for us. And if our marriage didn't work, obviously, we didn't have a great role model and an experience. So I request for people to start really studying, learning what tools are amazing for a relationship that just works. It doesn't matter what relationship, this works. Communication skills, work, negotiation skills work. So those are the things that I think people need to learn. They can do it through therapy. They can do it through self education. And then usually when they go into the next relationship or dating process, sometimes they can use help again, in seeing that whatever they've learned, they can now utilize it as they're going through a dating process. And, in the beginning phases of a relationship to see if they're assessing appropriately. They're assessing for the right person, and they're communicating straight through, and doing a good job at communicating. And those are all the different phases of life again, that sometimes it's support, having the support as a mirror, as a clear mirror, really helps a person to move from one stage of life to the next.

Steve Altishin  32:52  
Wow. It's such great insight, and of course, 30 minutes just flew by. And so we're gonna have to close. But, can you before we close, thank you so much for doing this and your just terrific amount of insight on a really not easy, complex kind of deal, and you really help kind of guide us to that. But can you let someone know, if they're interested in talking to you, how would they get ahold of you?

Foojan Zeine  33:26  
Sure, go to my website, Or, go to any of the social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, any of them. Dr. Phil Johnson, and I love to hear from you and to be a support. I know that can be difficult support for anyone in their life. It doesn't matter whether you choose it, or someone's chosen it for you to be divorced. It's a hard process and I love to be able to support people through it. 

Steve Altishin  33:59  
Oh, thank you so much. And again, everyone who's tuned in thank you also for joining us today. Anyone with questions obviously on today's topic, can get ahold of who's on by any of the means she talked about, or you can post your questions here, and we can get you connected to Foojan as well. And then until next time, as I say stay safe, stay healthy, and stay happy.

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