Adapting to life without your partner can bring with it a wave of emotions. One of the biggest challenges with the emotional stages of divorce is that we each react differently to them. While it’s inevitable we will move through the different phases of divorce grief at some point, we don’t all react the same way or move through at the same pace.
This means that the stages of grief during divorce can sometimes extend beyond the legal proceedings themselves.
It’s no wonder, considering you’ve been with a partner you’ve trusted for many years and now face going it alone. A lot of the plans you had together may now change as you look at life through a different lens.
The five stages of divorce grief are:
- shock or anger
- rollercoaster of emotions or depression
- letting go and acceptance
These five stages are typical of any grief you might go through in life. You may go through multiple stages at once or even go back to a previous stage at any time. But we’re outlining those stages as they relate to getting through separation and divorce emotionally.
How you move through them will be completely unique to you. This guide will at least prepare you for what’s to come and how you might manage it.
Being in denial
Divorce and separation are big changes in anyone’s life. This can lead you to feeling in denial or accepting the truth that you won’t be coming back together. Even contemplating this thought might feel too overwhelming for you at this stage.
If your spouse has left you, it can be hard to grasp the reality of your new circumstances. Often, you may convince yourself your partner is simply upset and will soon come back to their senses. You believe, if you do and say the right things, they won’t leave.
In fact, you may numb your emotions by going about your day pretending everything is fine.
I encourage you to take some time to journal, looking at what it is you most fear. Think about the possible consequences if you don’t take action.
Shock or anger
After denial comes shock, panic and often anger.
If you find yourself not acting as you normally would or even feeling like you’re crazy, it could be the shock of divorce. Whether you’re only just realizing you’re now alone, or you’ve taken a hard look at how much time you invested into something that no longer exists, understand that it’s normal to have these feelings.
Or you may feel anger at your partner, even at the littlest of things. The anger is perfectly normal and a healthy part of your healing process.
The key is not to stay in this phase of divorce grief for too long and to keep it shielded from any children involved. Playing each other off to the children is not healthy for the kids.
However, it is important to express your anger, because suppressing your feelings will lead to you making poor decisions. Journal around why you feel anger. Explore other emotions you may feel, like fear and sadness.
These contrasting emotions can lead us to desperately wanting to patch things up with our ex partner as a way to regain control and pull us into the next phase of divorce grief. You may start pleading or admitting that you’ll do whatever it takes to bring the two of you back together again.
It’s important to remember that you can only control your own feelings and actions, not those of others. If you try and hang onto something that isn’t there by constantly bargaining, you could find yourself in a more messy legal situation when proceedings begin.
You may find yourself willing to change for your partner or agree to certain requests as a way to salvage the marriage. What you need to be honest with is whether what you’re promising is an empty promise or a genuine attempt at wanting to work out your issues.
Yes, in some cases, this can see a marriage saved if both parties are willing to work through their differences. However, do not promise to change yourself into something you don’t want to become for the sake of keeping ties to your partner or control of the situation. Otherwise, you could end up continually looping through the phases of divorce grief.
Look to reframe your thoughts, by reminding yourself what’s possible for you or of things you can now do that maybe you couldn’t before.
Rollercoaster of emotions or depression
Emotions can often go on a bit of a rollercoaster ride during this stage. At one moment you feel hopeful about what’s to come in your new life, but then within minutes you panic about some of the actions that led to this moment.
This rollercoaster can lead to divorce depression. This depression cause you to feel heavy, overwhelmed or confused.
For many, this stage is likely to last the longest because it’s often a little more challenging to overcome. If you do experience depression for a long period of time, or it begins to impact your daily life, seek professional help. A therapist or mental health expert can work with you to cope with this stage of grief.
Grieving is not a sign that you’re weak or that there’s something wrong with you. It’s a sign that you’re healing. The key in this stage is to surround yourself with a supportive network of friends, family and support people, like a divorce coach. They can often help you see the logic from the emotion.
Letting go and acceptance
This is the turning point as you move through the phases of divorce grief. It’s a realization that the tide has turned, that blame does little for helping your future and that by letting go you open up space to create the future you want. With that comes freedom.
Acceptance means you no longer feel hurt or pain, and feel strong enough emotionally to move onto the next stage of your life. You feel happy about where you’re at and satisfied with your lot in life.
You’ll see much growth in this stage as you make plans and follow through with them.
Stuck in one of the phases of divorce grief?
While it’s healthy to go through each of the stages at some point – and in some cases go through them multiple times – it becomes a problem when you’re stuck in one area and aren’t able to move through it. This is where you may need outside influences to help provide perspective on where you’re at and what’s next for you.
Many of my clients admit to being reluctant about asking for help. For some of us, that’s how we are wired. But in such an emotionally charged experience like divorce, having the right people around you can ensure a smoother ride through the inevitable grief stages.
We have a team of experts who will walk you through each area of divorce in Privately Preparing For Divorce. They will provide you with the clarity and confidence to make the right decisions spiritually, physically, financially and legally.