One understands why the “experts” find divorce and job loss to be comparable. Both traumas disrupt your life in very significant ways.
Since the constellation of your daily activities constitutes your identity, it makes sense that losing your marriage or your job would produce an “identity crisis.” Anyone who suffers such a massive disruption to daily routines will reasonably feel that he does not know who he is, where he belongs or what he should do.
But then, the “experts” take a leap into the theoretical void when they declare that job loss and divorce can be “good” identity crises. You may recover from both major traumas, but calling them good feels a bit, dare I say it, insensitive.
They take a second leap when they declare, as Elizabeth Bernstein reports, that both traumas require a long period of self-reconstruction.
We probably did not need “experts” to tell us that a newly divorced individual does best to reconstruct his life before he launches into a new relationship. But, the same does not apply to job loss. When you lose your job the best solution is to get a new job, ASAP.
A new job will effectively mitigate the pain of job loss and remove the stigma of unemployment.
Elizabeth Bernstein’s “experts” offer misleading and destructive advice when they suggest that a worker who has lost his job needs two years to get over the loss.
Doubtless they were not thinking clearly. A moment’s reflection will tell you that anyone who takes two years to get back on the job market will have a more difficult time of it. Employers do not often hire people who have spent too much time unemployed.
If you lose a job and then get a new one, the new job will provide a new structure, new colleagues, new responsibilities and new routines. You need but learn to adapt to them.
Moreover, a new job is not filled with reminders of the old job. When you get divorced, your surroundings, real and virtual, still contain many mementoes of your time together. Obviously, this makes it more difficult to forget and to move on.
Recovering from a divorce is not the same as recovering from the death of a spouse. When your spouse dies you feel grief and you go into mourning. Your friends and family will be there for you. Since there is no stigma to losing a spouse, they will be there for you. The same is not true if you get divorced.
Surely, you will have to reconstruct your life after you spouse dies, but you will not suffer the emotion that accompanies divorce: you will not feel that you have failed.
Bernstein’s “experts” are too kind to say it, but one of the most difficult factors in overcoming divorce or in getting over job loss is the sense of failure.
Once you start seeing yourself as a failure, or once other people start seeing you as a failure, you will suspect that you are not sufficiently competent build a new life or even to get another job. That being the case, recovery is going to feel like hard work.
If you succumb to the stigma of failure, you will have more difficulty getting back in the game.
Worse yet, if your make it your mission in life to avoid ever having to experience the same trauma again, you might decide to ensure that you will never get divorced by not getting married again and ensure that you will never get fired by not getting another job.
It is good that the “experts” recognize the importance of psycho-social disruption. And it is good that they are telling people that all the negative emotions that accompany divorce or job loss are, fundamentally, NORMAL.
They are correct to point out that, when you get divorced, it’s not just your life that needs reconstructing. If you have adopted the habit of thinking of yourself as part of a couple, the absence of the other person will require that you reconfigure your mental habits, to think of yourself as a single person.
Clearly, it takes time. Just as clearly, it is probably not a good idea to jump right into a new relationship. I suspect that those who jump into new relationships are trying to retain the old routines with new partners. One or the other of the members of the new couple will eventually recognize that it’s like the masked ball. At midnight, he discovers that she is not who he thought she was and she discovers that he is not who she thought he was.
When it comes to divorce, the “experts” have declared two years to be the normal recovery time. Curiously, Bernstein offers the case of one Michael Hassard, a man from Alabama who negotiated his own divorce by attending classes on divorce in a church in Alabama. We’ve come a long way from therapy, don’t you think.
In any event Hassard was happy to hear that it would take him two years to get over his divorce. He set about making it a project. He charted his progress and worked his way out of it.
Clearly, the Church class helped Hassard, but so did his military training.
He was sitting in class one night and began to see his recovery as the wall he'd had to scale on an Army boot-camp obstacle course. It was going to be tough. There was no way around it. But things would be better on the other side.
Of course, this does not prove that all people need two years to get over divorce. Many divorcees have not learned good habits in the military and are more likely to see the recovery process in terms of psychodrama.
Moreover, Hassard had been awarded sole custody of his children, so he was obliged to maintain a structure of home life, with routines and rituals that would support them.
As a general rule, I think it well that therapists stay out of the prophecy business. Some people might well benefit from knowing that recovery from divorce is like a two-year training course. Others will tell themselves that since it’s going to take two years to recover, they might as well hibernate and await their rebirth.