how to cope WHEN YOU ARE Blindsided by a divorce!

A few weeks ago, a new client explained how he learned of his impending divorce. It began with an argument over issues they had fought over numerous times: money, lack of sex, and their kids. However, this time it didn’t end with either one of them apologizing. The next day, he left for a business trip out west for a week, and while everything seemed to be normal each time he phoned home, he was in for a big surprise once he flew back.

His wife had finally pulled the plug on their life together and filed for divorce. No warning, no explanation other than her wanting something “different/ better” for herself. That’s when he phoned me, in complete shock and devastation. He was feeling physically ill since learning the news. I told him he appeared to have SDS, Sudden Divorce Syndrome. I had explained that not only do people suffer from emotional stress but there could also be physical symptoms, especially if the divorce is unexpected. Sudden divorce syndrome (SDS) is a condition that is becoming more widely accepted.

According to an article published in Best Life Magazine, men experience SDS more often than women. SDS is caused by the stress and anxiety that is caused by going through a divorce, especially when one partner was clueless that the other partner wanted to dissolve the marriage. In the study, 25 percent of the men reported that it was a complete surprise when their spouses informed them that they wanted a divorce. For women, only 14 percent felt broadsided by the news. In many instances, the partner who declared that they wanted the divorce felt they left many clues about their unhappiness in the marriage. This is exactly what my client’s wife had said to him, that this was by no means a surprise. However, the word “divorce” had never been discussed nor used in an argument during their entire marriage.

With SDS, one partner believed their marriage was good and solid. However, looking back, they realize there were telltale signs that the marriage was coming to an end.


Not only is there an emotional component of SDS, but there are also serious physical issues that can arise as well. The stress and anxiety caused by divorce, in general, can cause health ailments. Increased blood pressure and heart conditions can be related to SDS. Since some people cope with stress and anxiety in negative ways, like alcohol consumption, cirrhosis of the liver can be attributed to SDS.

What to do if you are experiencing SDS? Once you take a deep breath and gather your thoughts, here are a few suggestions:

  • Gather your financial records:  I know this may be the last thing you want to deal with, however, you may need to take the necessary steps to ensure that you stay one step ahead of this if possible. During a divorce, records and financial documents can be an important asset to use as evidence and as the basis for asset division, child support, and alimony.  Some spouses may try to hide assets or funnel money out of joint accounts for their financial gain. Pulling your credit report and obtaining a minimum of one year in banking records can help you to see any unusual activity more clearly.
  • Practice self-care: You had the rug pulled out from under you. It’s normal that you are feeling sad, overwhelmed, and stressed. However, insomnia and the “divorce diet” (not eating) are two good ways to fast-track yourself into clinical depression and anxiety, which will then impair your ability to make good decisions. During what can feel like a very chaotic time, you need to pledge yourself to get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and consider seeing a therapist. Journaling your thoughts can be an excellent way to compartmentalize your thinking and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.
  • Surround yourself with supportive friends and family — but don’t take divorce advice from them! My motto is, “friends and family love you, however, they have emotional skin in the game.” friends and family are your lifeline for emotional support. But when it comes to divorce advice, you’re almost always better off passing. For example, your best friend just got a divorce last year and is eager to tell you all the ins and out of the process. Only problem? The friend lives in California, which has some very distinct and different divorce laws from New Jersey. For example, the friend might encourage you to go down to the courthouse to file for legal separation when — guess what? — New Jersey doesn’t recognize legal separation. If your divorced friend lives in New Jersey, the advice still might be off, depending on the types of issues he/she dealt with versus those involved in your situation. Family law can change dramatically from year to year so even the most well-meaning advice might already be outdated. Instead, rely on your inner circle for unconditional love — that’s what they are there for!
  • Reach out for an unbiased professional: This is where a divorce coach or therapist comes in. Along with legal advice, you will need the emotional support, guidance, and advice of an expert in divorce. Remember, family and friends, are biased and may not know what your best options truly are going forward.
  • If you want to attempt a reconciliation, suggest it: One of the first questions I ask during consultations with potential clients is, whether they have exhausted all other options in saving the marriage. If you and your spouse had a big fight that ended with your wife filing for divorce in the heat of the moment, I suggest you give both of you time to cool off and have a conversation about whether a divorce is truly what they want. Often, when one spouse hurriedly files, the other spouse is so shellshocked with SDS, that they don’t speak up. You don’t want to regret not saying anything when you had the opportunity and before it’s too late. Also, be aware that if your spouse has filed legal papers, there is now a court docket number attached to your case. Should you reconcile, your spouse will need to file a motion to dismiss.  However, be prepared your spouse may stick with their decision.