The Stages of Divorce Grief

By: J. Hope Suis
Last Update: December 19, 2017

Divorce Grief Can Often Feel Like Death  

For many of you, divorce and divorce grief feels like a death. In reality, it was the death of your fairy tale. We know the statistics going in, but we all think we are the exception, our love is real, strong enough, the forever kind. The majority of us believe we will beat the odds. To realize one day that we lost at the table of love is devastating and it affects our brains much like a physical death does. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the Five Stages of Grief as it relates to death. I would like to suggest we experience similar responses when we are first faced with the reality of a divorce.

Denial: Part of Divorce Grief 

We come up with a myriad of reasons to explain why our partner just dropped the D word on us. This cannot be happening to me. Denial is our mind’s way of gradually getting used to the pain. Much like slowly wading into the cold ocean waters, we tiptoe around slowly and tense up as the crashing waves of disbelief wash over us. Denial often shields us from guilt as well. The contributions we have made leading to this outcome may be hard to accept. It is ok to need and request some time to process. It is a life-altering decision, but unfortunately one you must face along with the divorce grief.

Anger: Another Step in Divorce Grief 

If denial is the first sense of loss and helplessness, floating aimlessly in sadness, then anger is the anchor that starts the healing process. We become furious that they would reject our love and commitment to become callous, selfish and dreadful. Anger gives us focus for the tasks ahead. We should not make lasting decisions in the throes of this anger, but it does move us away from despair and points us to the details we need to protect ourselves, our finances and our future. Anger is the catalyst for self-preservation, do not let it turn into bitterness, harness it as an energy resource for challenging days ahead.

There is a fine line between compromise and concession. In a marriage, a basic staple ingredient is effective compromise. If one or both partners fail to recognize and execute this, the partnership will erode quickly. If your spouse has asked you time and again to help with a chore, be more respectful, show more affection, whatever the complaint, and you have dodged and refused for years, it is now too late to show up with a mop, roses or dressed in lingerie, pleading for another chance. You cannot force someone to love or stay with you. You can learn from the experience but never resort to emotional manipulation. It will backfire and still have the same end result.

Depression and Divorce Grief

Depression is the hardest stage to conquer. We hide under the covers, lay in the dark, won’t get out of bed and if we do, it’s to go to the freezer and pull out ice cream to eat directly from the carton. Some people watch sappy love movies, some people call their mother, best friend or the Pizza Hut delivery person. Others lose themselves in work or working out and a few hit the road or hit the bottle. We all react to depression differently, but we all agree on one thing: it hurts.

There is very little we can do except wait it out. If you did not want a divorce, when the reality starts to settle in, the sadness will come. Possibly you will relive the good moments, the fun adventures, the great sex and the thought that the ride is ending makes it hard to breathe. Even if you wanted the divorce, or believed it was the best route to take, there will still be a feeling of regret, wasted time, and loss. Every single one of these emotions and reactions is normal and understandable. I cannot tell you the right way for you to process your pain. I can point out some wrong ways.

Do not retreat away from the rest of the world; at least not for more than a day or two. There is no salvation to be found in your La-Z-Boy. Do not begin a smear campaign against your ex. Do not abuse alcohol or any type of drug, prescription or otherwise. Numbing the pain seems like a good idea, but it isn’t because it will still be waiting when you resurface into consciousness.

What does work? Find someone to talk to, a minister, people who love you, or even a therapist. I will not promise the pain will ever completely dissipate, but I will promise that you will feel better, peaceful, and even joyful again. The motivation will drive you past the depression and down the road to your new future.

Acceptance, Moving through Divorce Grief

We’ve denied it, railed against it, tried to negotiate out of it and cried about it. Enough is enough, you are divorced and you will be ok, accept it. This is the last stage of grief and the first step in the right direction. There are still decisions to be made and obstacles to encounter, but with a clear mind and determination, those will be handled as they arise.

After acceptance of divorce and your divorce grief comes the healing process, there is no pre-designated time for this to take place. Everyone has to heal at their own pace. Do not let friends or family, however well-intentioned, attempt to rush you through. They want to see you happy but understand it looks different for everyone. However, it does take work and responsibility on your part to achieve.

In reality, there are many more than five steps. This is a one-step-in-front-of-the-other process that will have many hills and valleys.The death of a marriage is truly a sad thing, but it does not define your journey. The goal is to make good decisions, keep a cool head and never close off your heart.


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