What are the stages of divorce grief?
Divorce is a major life event, and it’s not unusual to feel sad and upset after the divorce papers are signed.
The emotional upheaval that comes with divorce can leave you feeling exhausted and disoriented.
Like any other significant loss, divorce brings a unique type of grief.
The hurt you feel after divorce is called “divorce grief.”
This grief can be overwhelming and all-consuming, making it difficult to function in day-to-day life.
However, there is hope.
There are five stages of grief that people tend to go through when they separate from their spouse or partner, according to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous book on death and dying, “On Death and Dying.”
By understanding the five stages of divorce grief, you can begin to work through your grief in a healthy and productive way.
Some people may skip one or two of these stages to adjust to the new reality following their divorce.
Others may experience them all in some form or another.
The Five Stages of Divorce Grief
The first stage of grief is denial.
Refusing to accept that the loss has occurred.
For example, suppose your spouse has been unfaithful or abuses drugs or alcohol.
In that case, it’s easy to focus on those issues instead of acknowledging that the marriage is over because they are easier to deal with than accepting divorce as a reality.
You might find yourself hoping and praying that it’s all just a bad dream.
You may pretend that nothing has happened or that the problem will disappear if you ignore it.
Some people might not want to think about the end of their marriage and choose to ignore it until it is staring them in the face.
They might push away friends who try to talk about their feelings or shut down when someone brings up a topic related to divorce.
Unfortunately, denial only delays the inevitable and complicates grieving in the long run.
The second stage of grief is anger.
This is when you finally accept that the divorce is happening, but you feel a lot of resentment toward your ex-spouse, yourself, or other things.
You might be angry with yourself for letting things get so far out of hand, with your spouse for having an affair, or at both yourself and your spouse for splitting up.
You may also feel angry if your ex-spouse is dating someone new and spending lots of time with them instead of with your children.
You might also get angry when your ex does not make child support payments on time or does not pay for certain expenses that were agreed upon as part of the divorce settlement.
It’s also common to feel angry at the legal system, friends, or family members who you feel are taking sides or not being supportive enough.
You might find yourself lashing out or saying things that you later regret.
Anger is a natural part of the grieving process, and it’s okay to feel angry.
However, try to avoid taking your anger out on those around you.
Instead, find healthy ways to release your anger, such as exercise or journaling.
The third stage of divorce grief is bargaining.
This is when you start to come to terms with the divorce but find yourself making deals with God or the universe to change the outcome.
For example, you might find yourself promising to be a better spouse if only your ex would take you back.
Or, you might agree to go to counseling or therapy if it would prevent the divorce from happening.
Bargaining can also take the form of self-blame, such as wondering what you could have done differently to prevent the divorce.
This stage of grief is often characterized by a lot of “what if” statements.
What if I had been a better wife/husband?
What if I had paid more attention to my husband/wife?
What if I hadn’t had an affair?
Unfortunately, bargaining will not change the fact that the divorce is happening.
And it can make the grieving process more difficult by keeping you focused on the past instead of the present.
It’s important to accept this and move on to the next stage of grief.
The fourth stage of grief is depression which can last from weeks to months.
These feelings are normal and don’t mean that you’re weak or crazy; they are part of coping with loss.
This is when you finally accept that the divorce is real and permanent, but you feel sad and hopeless about the future.
You might feel hopeless and sad about not being able to fix things or make them work out differently than they did — even if you know deep down that it’s better this way.
You might have trouble getting out of bed in the morning or lose interest in things you used to enjoy.
You may feel numbness, hopelessness, despair, physical symptoms like lack of sleep or appetite, headaches, or stomach problems.
Depression is a serious medical condition that affects the way you feel and think about yourself, your world, and others.
Depression is different from the normal sadness that goes with ending a marriage.
It’s more serious than feeling down in the dumps or blue for a few days following your divorce.
If you find yourself in this stage, it’s important to seek professional help if needed.
Depression is a serious condition but there are treatments available that can help you get back on track.
The fifth and final stage of grief is acceptance.
This is when you have come to terms with the fact that the divorce has happened and are beginning to rebuild your life.
You might still have good days and bad days, but overall, you are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
You might even feel grateful for what the experience taught you about yourself.
Acceptance doesn’t mean that you are happy about the divorce; it simply means that you have accepted it.
If you are going through a divorce, know that you are not alone.
Millions of people go through divorce every year.
And while every experience is unique, people experience these stages of grief in similar ways.
By understanding these stages, you can begin to work through your grief in a healthy way.
Remember, you will get through this.