Denial, for Better and for Worse

Denial is a natural part of the grief process; this isn’t really happening to me!

The Value of Denial: When you are first told about divorce or a medical illness for that matter, the mind often drops into denial. It protects you from the fear of what is to come. It gives you some time to mobilize your psychological resources in order to deal with the problem. Denial is a temporary buffer to the pain of grief and the fear of the unknown.

The Hazard of Denial in Divorce: Some people need to plan an exit from their marriage and capitalize on their partner’s denial in order to gain precious time in the process. Sometimes marriage therapy is a charade meant to buy time. This is the worst case scenario. Sometimes marriage counseling is used in a sensitive way by the one who is leaving to help their partner accept what is happening. In the first situation, the leave-ee (the one leaving) keeps his partner’s denial alive as he plans his exit. In the second and much more loving scenario, the leave-ee stays in couple’s therapy in order to gently lead her husband to the realization that their marriage is really over.

As a couple’s therapist, I have seen both.

Denial with Children: Denial has its role, particularly with the kids. Some young children simply need to believer that everything is going to be okay and you don’t’ want to rock the boat too much. Some kids are in denial throughout their youth, allowing them to grow without too much grief over the loss of their family.

Denial is a complicated and often misunderstood phenomenon in the world of divorce.

Dr. Banschick is a child and adolescent psychiatrist. He has been quoted in The New York Times, The Huffington Post and The CBS Early Show. He is currently finishing the second of three books in The Intelligent Divorce series, which are devoted to teaching parents how to raise well adjusted kids during a divorce. You can reach him at or at

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