What is a Divorce Hangover and How Do I Avoid One?


Truth be told, I don’t drink, so I have never had a hangover. I had plenty of friends in high school and college who had them. From my perspective it always seemed to me that having a hangover was a mighty steep price to pay for an evening of “fun” that you couldn’t even remember the next day. What my friends could remember was the pain and headaches and misery that accompanied their hangover. Frankly, the hangover usually made my friends miserable to be around until after they got over it.

As a family law lawyer, I have seen many people suffer from post-divorce hangovers. And, just like my friends who were unpleasant to be around while they were experiencing their drinking hangovers, people with divorce hangovers are unhappy and sometimes difficult to be around. This often extreme unpleasantness can result in unfortunate effects on other family members, particularly children who are often the biggest victims in divorces, as well as other family and friends who are really looking to offer support.

I think the best description of a divorce hangover is found in an article entitled “Taming the Divorce Hangover”. Here, the author talks about the pain and emotion, including anger that often accompany a divorce. There is no shame in having those types of feelings. Divorce is difficult. It is in reality a death of sorts; the death of your marriage. For some people the death of their “happily ever after.” However, when those feelings of pain and anger are allowed to keep going on and on and don’t seem to subside, you are probably experiencing a divorce hangover.

There are numerous problems that can arise from a divorce hangover. One of the big problems I see is that some people just cannot let go. The anger and pain they feel is targeted toward their ex-spouse. In many cases it is very understandable. But this unchecked, untreated anger leads to bigger problems. In my experience, the anger can lead to things such as a belligerent refusal to pay support (“I’m not giving that evil person my money”), refusal to cooperate with decisions regarding children, finding any reason to haul the ex-spouse back into court, damaged relationships with children and other family members and the list goes on. In some horrible extreme cases violence occurs.

So how do you deal with a divorce hangover? That’s a difficult question to answer. I am a lawyer not a counselor, so I’m not in the habit of giving that type of advice. However, counseling may be the very place to start. For many people, the hangover is occurring because they just can’t let go and move forward. In the family law cases I have dealt with involving people who I consider to be suffering from divorce hangovers, in most instances the person with the hangover simply cannot let go and wants the ex-spouse to continue paying the price for what he or she perceives the ex-spouse has done to him or her. Of course letting go and moving forward is easier said than done. Those who find a way to do this are able to have happier and healthier futures. Those who don’t wind up going back to court over and over and over. This results in more misery, more anger and more legal expenses.

The author in the article referenced above provides some good ideas for recognizing and dealing with anger issues, which I recommend for your review and consideration. I believe the first step in overcoming any divorce hangover is to make a commitment to yourself to allow yourself to heal and move forward. Time heals all wounds if you allow it to do so. Like an alcohol hangover, the best remedy is time. After a while, the sickness, nausea and headaches pass and life is good again. A divorce does not have to result in long term suffering. Be proactive in allowing yourself to move on as reasonably quickly as you can. Get professional help if necessary, there is no shame in doing so. The result of avoiding a divorce hangover is a healthier relationship with your ex (which really is a must if you have children together) and a healthier relationship with others in the future.

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