What are the seven stages of divorce recovery?

Learn the differences between trauma and self-discovery. Knowing about these different phases that divorcees go through can help you to better manage and understand your emotions.

By Allison Pescosolido, M.A.
January 12, 2012

There are many ups and downs with divorce along with push and pull. It can feel like you are all over the place both emotionally and mentally. While divorce is unpredictable, it can help to understand the general phases of divorce to give you a sense of what you can expect. While the 7 phases in divorce recovery are not always linear, you can expect to pass through most of them during the divorce transition.

Phase One: The Trauma
No matter how it begins—with an affair, a phone call, a pile of divorce papers left on the table or a mysterious text—divorce can have a traumatic affect. While the majority of divorce circumstances are not life threatening, the ending of a marriage can be excruciating. The sooner you admit that the initial divorce event is traumatic, the better off you’ll be—but not everyone can do this right away. Which brings us to Stage Two.

Phase Two: Shock and Denial
Few individuals are prepared for the shock of divorce. Many people try to cover up their initial shock by staying busy, refusing to cry, and carrying on “like normal.” This ultimately takes the shape of denial, an adaptive response to the painful reality, but unsustainable. If you begin neglecting self care, feeling stressed almost constantly without cause, and eating more or less than usual, you may be in shock or denial. This is, in fact, normal—you’re beginning the grieving process. But keep in mind that this won’t last.

Phase Three: Anger
Suddenly, you don’t feel “fine” anymore—you’re mad as hell. You begin to look for someone to blame for your trauma—and with the divorce, the most obvious object is the Ex (though not always). You begin thinking obsessively about the object of your anger. If it’s a person, you might find you’re stalking their Facebook profile, calling or texting them incessantly, or finding other ways to engage them. Some anger is normal, but if you find yourself unable to get over your anger, seek professional help. Otherwise, your outbursts may continue to trigger the pain of the original trauma, and you’ll be stuck cycling through the first three phases.

Phase Four: Sadness
Sadness is healthy and normal, as it marks the beginning of acceptance and moving on. Here, you can admit feelings of loss, without placing blame. During this time, you wish to grieve in the company of friends or a professional, or prefer to be alone. Whatever you do, allow yourself time to move through this phase without responding to inner or outer pressure to “just buck up.” However, keep watch for signs of lingering depression.

Phase Five: Acceptance
Here, you will begin to feel that “everything is going to be okay.” You no longer feel the need to pretend that you’re not hurt, but nor do you fantasize about destroying your Ex’s life, or stay in every weekend night. You are ready to begin rebuilding your life—as an individual with new and even exciting choices.

Phase Six: Accountability
To build a new future, you must take responsibility for your past. You begin to realize that you could have listened more, or criticized less. As you begin to contemplate dating, or even falling in love again, you will find yourself re-examining the past—and yourself—in a new light, and eagerly looking for ways to do it better next time.

Phase Seven: Self-discovery and enlightenment
After divorce, everyone has the potential to understand themselves as never before—what makes them happy, angry, and sad. A reserve of untapped potential and wisdom often lies trapped behind the tension of your past relationships. Here, you may experiment with new styles of expression, from opening up more to your partner to taking up traveling or painting. If there’s any reason to push through anger and sadness, it’s to find this gold at the end of the rainbow.

And again, if you find yourself stuck along the way, get a Divorce Detox™. There’s no shame in it. After all, you’ve been through a trauma. And no one should have to suffer a trauma alone.

CA FAQ/Emotional Issues
Allison Pescosolido, M.A., is a divorce recovery specialist with advanced degrees in Psychology and certified Grief Recovery Specialist. She co-founded Divorce Detox, a center in Santa Monica, California that provides programs to individuals who are facing the challenges that come with separation and divorce. Divorce Detox provide support both locally and nationally. She can be reached at 888-456-7056 or view firm website or her Divorce Magazine online profile.

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January 12, 2012
Categories:  FAQs

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