The Emotional Stages of Divorce: What to expect during and after the divorce process
Updated: Nov 7, 2019
Strange as this will sound, my divorce caught both myself and my husband off guard, even though the trigger was down to me. Neither of us had any time in advance to plan our emotional responses.
I used my best friend “Google” a lot throughout the year that followed. And I learned that divorce is actually very similar to the bereavement of a loved one...for both parties. It doesn’t matter who initiated the split, both of you are still losing someone in your life that you once, and possibly still, loved.
You go through the same emotional stages (also known as The 5 Stages of Grief).
Learning about this, and being able to use it during my own divorce, both emotionally for myself, and also to understand the reactions at different times during the legal process from my ex, gave just one of the many reasons for setting up Absolute Clarity. I wanted to help others understand the emotional stages that they may go through as part of their separation or divorce. Understanding these stages upfront helps you know what to expect. It helps you to plan for it, and it helps you to deal with what is thrown at you.
The stages are:
Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.
What you don’t realise, is that it's not as simple as moving smoothly from one stage to the next, and to the final stage in order. There is no beginning, middle or end for any of the stages, and lots of us visit most of the stages more than once. For some, it can take years. For others, it can be relatively quick.
So, while attempting to manage your emotional recovery during and after divorce, cut yourself some slack..
You will move through recovery at your own pace, angry one week, in denial the next. You will definitely come to the point of acceptance though, hopefully sooner rather than later.
The Emotional Stages of Divorce:
The best way I can describe this, is like being in the eye of a storm and pretending all is well with the world. Denial is your body's way of protecting you from becoming emotionally overwhelmed. Denial is a useful coping mechanism, as long as it doesn’t keep you from progressing onto the next stage. Use this stage to your benefit but don’t stay in it for too long. After a while refusing to face reality can become very unattractive.
I spent a lot of time back and forth in this stage. I found that it was impacted heavily by the involvement of solicitors and the conflict driven by the letters between parties. It was easy to be angry at my ex for the insults in the letters, when actually these letters weren't written by him. My anger was made worse though, knowing though that he approved these letters.
Generally, this stage can be visited a lot for many people.
The best thing you can do during this phase, is to let it out. Find the best way for you personally to vent your anger, and maximise this. You will have kept any anger hidden subconsciously during the denial phase, and it all needs to come out somewhere.
Please bear in mind though, never to vent your anger about your ex in front of your children. It's not their fault that you are not together anymore. You are both their parents, and they love you equally.
In this stage you will attempt to repair and undo the damage done to your life. This is when your mind stops you and says "I can't handle this". It says "I’ll negotiate anything with him/her, turn myself inside if need be but I can’t go through this.”
It's the realisation of what has gone, and is an attempt to halt proceedings and get your "life as you know it" back. Although it may not have been the best life, or the one you dreamed of, but it was a hell of a lot better than what you are experiencing now.
It was a year down the line when I entered this stage, and it was ugly. Your mind plays all sorts of tricks on you, some of them justified, and some not.
Bargaining is a last ditch attempt at coming to terms with the decision to divorce. If you are the leaver, it is during this stage that you will either realise you’ve made the right decision or a mistake.
If you are the one that was left, this is the stage where you will begin to pursue your ex husband/wife. You want them back at all costs to you and your self-esteem.
The best thing you can remember here is; they will also go through the bargaining stage, and if they have made a mistake they will realise it and work to undo their actions.
This is the most debilitating stage. You'll want to stay in bed and sleep, or watch mind numbing TV. You feel a sadness that is beyond anything you can comprehend, and it can become your best friend.
This is the stage that everyone expects, both those that are going through the actual divorce and also friends of yours seeing you go through it.
The thing to remember, is that this stage can go alongside all the other stages...not necessarily in isolation.
Make sure you have surrounded yourself with a good support system.
Talk to people. Cry. Cry some more.
Friends and family may not be enough here, you may need to talk to an expert - don't hold back on this, it will help you in your recovery.
The best stage of all! There is light at the end of the tunnel and life ahead. You can start to move on.
It's important to remember that acceptance does not mean you suddenly lose all the negative emotions about your divorce. You may still feel anger and sadness at the loss of your marriage. This is perfectly normal.
What it does mean though, is that you have learned to accept the reality of your situation. You may always have feelings of regret over the loss of your marriage BUT it is regret you can live with. You are no longer stuck in the grief, and if you are lucky then you are no longer grieving. If there are still feelings of grief they are at least no longer holding you back from living life.
From my own experience of divorce, I can honestly say that understanding these stages will help you beyond belief.
Talking to me at The Divorce Partner can help you understand these stages in greater depth, and how they are impacting on you personally. I can help you process your thoughts, and make informed and balanced decisions, and responses during your divorce.