6 Common Emotional Stages of Divorce

Emotional stages of grief you will experience as a result of your divorce.

Gray Divorce
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Everyone will react differently to divorce. There are common emotional stages you will go through, though, when experiencing divorce. Stages much like those we experience when you grieve the death of a loved one. Knowing what to expect will help you find your way through the stages but nothing takes the negative feelings away.

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 eventually make your way through to healing and hope.

Why Do People Grieve After a Divorce?

Why will you grieve the loss of your marriage? There are three reasons you’ll experience the grieving process during and after your divorce.

  • Because you either still love your spouse or, at one time you loved your spouse. 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.
  • 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. Sexually intimacy will come to an end, emotional support with from your spouse will become a thing of the past.
  • Lifestyle changes you will experience due to your divorce will cause grief also. You shared a home and family together. You had plans, hopes, and dreams. Whether the relationship was stable or not, divorce means giving up the lifestyle you lived 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 will 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 will be convinced that divorce is not the solution to the marital problems.

    I had a client who remained in the denial stage for over a year. She told no one at her church that she was divorcing. She kept it a secret from her fellow teachers at the school where she taught. She held on tightly to the hope that her husband would come home and her friends and colleagues would never have to know there had been marital problems. 

    Denial is a powerful coping tool some use to keep from facing the reality of their situation. 

    2. Shock: You will feel panic, rage, and numbness or like you are going crazy. You will swing between despair that your marriage is over and hope that it will be restored. It will seem impossible to cope with these feelings

    You will experience some common fears when thinking about your future alone. You will wonder how you are going to survive your divorce.

    Will you ever find love again, will the pain ever end or will you feel this way the rest of your life are all feelings you will experience during this stage.

    I have another client who has been divorced for 12 years. He has done well navigating these stages but I was surprised to receive an email from him recently in which he described a moment where "Out of the blue it hit me, I'm divorced. I felt my knees almost buckle under me. After all these years I still have moments where it is hard to comprehend that my family fell apart in such a way."

    If you had a lot invested in your marriage and family, defined yourself by those you loved being and remaining intact as a unit, shock over divorce can rear it's head years and decades after it becomes final. 

    3. Rollercoaster: You can’t seem to settle your feelings and thoughts.

    You swing from being hopeful to feeling utter despair. During this stage, you will try to intellectualize what has happened. If you can only understand what is going on then the pain will go away and all will make sense again.

    You will tell yourself stories to try to make sense of it and your imagination will run wild. You will wonder if there was more you could have done, or if there is anything wrong with you. Maybe your spouse never even loved you. You will wonder if your entire marriage was a lie.

    There is a lot of mental re-hashing during this period. You will fill as if you can’t control your thinking and find yourself obsessed with the failure of your marriage. Depression is a danger at this stage and you may cry at the drop of a hat.

    4. Bargaining: You are still holding onto the hope that your marriage will be restored. There is a willingness to change anything about yourself or doing anything 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. Longing for and believing if they change they'll have another chance at the marriage delays having to face their painful reality. 

    5. Letting goDuring this stage, you will finally realize that the marriage is over, that there is nothing you can do or say to change that. You will become more willing to forgive the faults of your ex-spouse and take responsibility for your part in the breakdown of the marriage. You will begin to feel a sense of liberation and some 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 and will have a fulfilling life. Suddenly you are looking ahead and not behind you, you are making plans and following through with them.

    You will open up to the idea of finding new interests.

    This is a period of growth where you will discover that you have strengths and talents and are able to go forward in spite of the fear you feel. Your pain gives way to hope and you discover that there is life after divorce and the future is made brighter due to the pain you have suffered.