6 Emotional Stages to Keep in Mind During and After Divorce

Updated 05/15/19
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Everyone will react differently to divorce. The vulnerable will endure emotional stages similar to grieving the death of a loved one. It is better to be armed with expectations of the separation process; at least this way, the worst feelings will not have the upper hand when they begin to manifest. 

Just like with grief of any kind it is common to move back and forth between the stages. You may find some of the stages easier to navigate than others. The thing to remember is that you will eventually find hope and healing.

Why Do People Grieve After a Divorce?

Why grieve the loss of your marriage? There are three reasons you may enter the grieving process during and after your divorce.

  • You're still in love or can't let go. Loving someone means you were attached to that person being part of your daily life. Losing a spouse via divorce is equal to losing a spouse to death.
  • You relied on your spouse. Your spouse, for years, was someone you could count on. You both gave and received many things from each other and your relationship. Due to divorce, you are losing both the physical and emotional aspects of the relationship you had with your spouse and came to depend on. Sexual intimacy will come to an end as will their emotional support. 
  • Lifestyle changes. You shared a home and family together. You had plans together and dreams of the future. Whether the relationship was stable or not, divorce means giving up the lifestyle you had (or hoped for) with your spouse and adjusting to dramatic changes in your life. 

6 Emotional Stages of Divorce

  1. Denial: You find it hard to believe this is happening to you. You refuse to accept that the relationship is over and struggle with trying to find solutions to the marital problems. You spend time believing that if you do or say the right thing your spouse will come home. You hate feeling out of control of the destiny of your marriage. You are convinced that divorce is not the solution to the marital problems. Denial is a powerful coping tool some use to keep from facing the reality of their situation. 
  2. Shock: You feel panic, rage, and numbness. You may feel like you are going crazy. You swing between despair that your marriage is over and hope that it will be restored. It seems impossible to cope with these feelings. Fear is common when considering a life alone; you may wonder how you are going to survive after your divorce. Many feelings and questions seem impossible to shake, but the most important thing is to remember that they are temporary. 
  3. Rollercoaster: Depression is a danger at this stage and you may cry at the drop of a hat. You can’t seem to settle your feelings and thoughts. You swing from being hopeful to feeling utter despair. During this stage, you try to break down what has happened in order to understand your pain and make it go away. This can lead to many destructive thoughts, from how things could have gone differently to placing the blame entirely on yourself. 
  4. Bargaining: You still hold onto the hope that your marriage will be restored. There is a willingness to change anything about yourself and if you could just get it right, your spouse would return. The important thing to learn during this stage is that you can’t control the thoughts, desires or actions of another human being. The left behind spouse—the one who didn't want a divorce—is likely to linger in this stage longer than the spouse who chose to divorce. 
  5. Letting goDuring this stage, you realize that the marriage is over, and that there is nothing you can do or say to change that. You become more willing to forgive the faults of your ex-spouse and take responsibility for your part in the breakdown of the marriage. You begin to feel a sense of liberation and hope for the future.
  6. Acceptance: The obsessive thoughts have stopped, the need to heal your marriage is behind you, and you begin to feel as if you can have a fulfilling life. You make plans and follow through with them. You open up to the idea of finding new interests. You no longer dwell on the past, but are emotionally prepared for the future. This is a period of growth where you discover that you have strengths and talents to build on and you are able to go forward in spite of your fear. Your pain gives way to hope and you discover that there is life after divorce.

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