Many people are reminded of death when they think of grieving. It’s true that this word is often associated with death—but think about it. Your divorce is the death of something. It’s an irrevocable loss that you’ve experienced. Losing the relationship you shared with your husband or wife is a hurt that can share a grieving process similar to that of death.
Just as every couple is different, so is every divorce. And just as every divorce is different, so are the stages of grief that you experience. While some people won’t experience any of the following stages of grief, others will experience them deeply.
Being aware of these stages can help you feel less alone and more normal throughout your divorce. Knowing that others have felt similarly—and have triumphed—can benefit you. Here are the seven stages of the grieving process when you and your spouse choose to separate.
Disbelief and Shock
Maybe you saw your divorce coming, or maybe you were blindsided by your spouse telling you it was over. Divorces happen in all types of different ways, and while some divorces can feel like a relief—no more fights, no more stress—others can feel like your world has ended.
Regardless of how your divorce unfolded, the first stage is often disbelief. You might feel shocked at the idea of not being married to your spouse anymore. Disbelief at the events or emotions that happened is common. You may feel a need to know why it happened, and begin going through past actions and details in your mind.
At this stage, it’s not uncommon to see people going through the motions and maintaining an air of normalcy just to get through the days. During this phase, some people hold off from telling others about the separation until it begins to feel real.
Denial During a Divorce
After you begin to realize that your divorce is, in fact, happening, you begin to experience a range of emotions surrounding it. As you transition from feeling shocked about the decision, you may begin to feel in denial about the separation.
If you’re in denial about your divorce, it could be because you’re trying to keep your emotions at bay. Underneath the denial, you’re undoubtedly feeling hurt. The pain of a divorce can feel crippling in many ways. No longer being with your spouse creates a future that you fear—and being scared of such a big change in your life is normal.
You may feel hurt by the person you trusted most, the person you planned on spending your life with. As reality begins to sink in and your emotions come to the surface, this stage of grief can feel hugely draining.
Anger is a strong emotion that many people feel during a divorce. Whether it’s you who’s feeling the anger or your ex-spouse, children, or other family members, it’s common to experience a spectrum of resentment.
Looking for someone to blame—it could be yourself, your ex-spouse, even your children—isn’t out of the ordinary. The anger could be fact-based or it could be irrational. It’s typical to experience anger during your divorce, but if your feelings are directed towards your children or you lay blame where there is none, consider getting professional help.
Dealing with your own anger as well as the anger of others is a genuine stage of grief that can leave you feeling powerless and out-of-control. Consider working through your feelings with a licensed mental health care professional to help ease the burden of these stressful emotions.
During the bargaining stage of grief, you may attempt to bargain with your spouse, asking him or her to give you another chance. You might even bargain with yourself, telling yourself that next time things will be different if you just do this one thing, or asking yourself how you can fix your current situation.
People bargain because they want to stop the pain they’re feeling. They want the chance to be in control of the situation again. During a divorce, it can feel as though things are spiraling out of control. Bargaining with yourself or with your spouse to try and be in control of the relationship again and stop the hurt and the anger is something many people experience.
Guilt During a Divorce
Guilt is often the next stage after the hurt, denial, and fear have passed and your anger has dissipated.
You might feel guilty for the role you played in the divorce, whether actual or imagined. You might think of what you could have done differently to prevent the separation. You wonder how you could have made the relationship work. You may even doubt the effort you put into the marriage, thinking you could have tried harder or that didn’t do enough.
All of these thoughts can bring on feelings of intense guilt. This is especially true if children are involved, as your life is not the only one impacted by the divorce.
During your separation, symptoms of depression can set in. These symptoms vary widely, but could include:
- The feelings discussed above, especially guilt or powerlessness
- Significantly less energy
- Difficulty remembering or concentrating
- Changes in sleep patterns, whether getting too much or too little sleep
- Lack of interest in activities
- Eating too much or too little
If you and your former spouse have children, you should also be aware of these symptoms should your children start exhibiting them. While some symptoms of depression during a loss are certainly common, symptoms should be evaluated by a physician if they are severe or prolonged. This means for your children, too!
This is the last stage of grief in which you begin to fully accept the situation. You accept that your life has changed and will not go back to the way it was. You’ll start to feel good and hopeful again. You’ll feel strong and confident when you realize you can move on.
Starting a new life after divorce is scary after separation from your spouse, but getting through the stages of grief and feeling as though you can face life again is worth it. By being aware of the changes that come with this enormous transition in your life, you can feel powerful and new again.
Getting through a divorce is by no means easy. The separation between a couple that once pledged to be together for life can be frightening, painful, and intensely traumatic. Seeing a counselor can help you process these feelings and help you, your children, and your ex get through this difficult time. There is hope waiting for you after a divorce.
Take these seven stages of grief into account when going through this difficult transition. They may help you to better understand your feelings to accept this change.