THE BLOG

Anecdote: The Impact of Divorce on a Woman's Work Life

May 23, 2010 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I am going to reflect here on a question I have asked myself over the years: Is there a subset of smart, hard-working, socially intelligent divorced women who get stuck in their lives because of unworked out issues about their divorces that are not so obvious?

Over the years, I have encountered many amazing, talented divorced women who uncannily have continued to feel stuck in their work lives despite having overtly come to terms with their divorces. I mean: the crying days are over, the blame has been shared and processed to death, the productivity hat is back on, but somehow, in a seemingly inarticulable way, there is a stuckness and frustration that they can't seem to get beyond. I can't prove this since the sample of people who have sought my help is likely biased, but I can say-that I am beginning to suspect that I should not take "coping" and "moving on" at face value. Here are a few reasons why:

Professionally ambitious women are under pressure not to linger on in their feelings. As a result, they tend to often be very specific about how long they want to "wallow in misery." This sometimes leads to too short a processing time -- at the deep level at which they are capable of understanding their emotions. Is it possible that in their quest to prove their competency in other domains, these women cave to the pressure to ignore lingering feelings that somehow continue to interfere with their lives They appear to have processed enough when they may not have.

Some brain imaging studies show that women are particularly wired to feel emotions strongly. If this is the case, should we not assume that for professional women who are often in this struggle of expressing emotions versus appearing fact-oriented, they still are women and need longer processing times for their emotions. Studies have also shown that emotions are critical for thinking, and that women have the ability to be at an advantage if they can use this power available to them. Do divorced professional women not feel as though they have the permission to do this?

And then there is the question of the impact of loneliness. Studies have also shown that loneliness can make a person less productive and can affect thinking as well. If women feel emotions more strongly much of the time, is it possible that this loneliness needs more attention and that the idea of single-mum should be less of a solution and more of a focus to change. Sure, women don't need men, but if they want a man in their lives, should they not have greater permission to say this?

When the circumstances of a divorce involve an affair on the part of a husband, this rupture of trust can have a lasting impact. At the level of the brain, it activates the fear center, which then disrupts thinking as well. And it is very possible that this occurs at an unconscious level as well.

So if you are divorced and do not want to be part of this subset of women who coast along rather than continue on their exponential paths to success, what should you do and remember?

1. It's not a crime to have emotions. Emotions can be used to enhance intelligence of all types. Put time aside for your emotions when they can't be a part of your job and treat them well. Do not judge yourself for having emotions.

2. Focus on developing trusting relationships with men at the same time that you are processing the rupture of trust when this is possible. This does not happen through sex (sex can serve other functions) but through a gradual development of intimacy with men in whom you are interested.

3. "Taking a cold shower" may seem like a way of "getting over it" but these approaches impact your mind and body in other ways.

4. Create a balance of reflection and positive pursuit at the same time, even when the positive pursuit is difficult.

5. Be careful not to transfer feelings about the man in your marriage to new men you meet. They likely will have a lot in common-they are all men. But what you need for intimacy with another man may now be clearer to you.

6. Even if you can't feel certain feelings, assume that you have them; assume that you are afraid of a new intimacy; assume that you are angry with men since one of the most important men in your life has disappointed you; assume that you are judging yourself deep down and that something inside of you is not fully dedicated to your success. Examine that feeling.

For the subset of high-achieving divorced women who seem to have chosen coasting over success when prior success was their path, take a closer look. Some of these hidden self-imposed limitations and judgments may surprise you.