No matter how it happens or who initiates, divorce is always difficult to walk through. It takes time to work out the details, adjust to often significant life changes, and hopefully find a renewed sense of identity and emotional equilibrium.
Similar to the stages of grief, physical separation and the divorce process come in waves and in emotional stages. While these vary somewhat from person to person, depending on the unique circumstances and personality of each individual, divorce often follows a certain emotional and psychological path.
Today, we’re going to look together at these stages in the hope of illuminating important and common struggles. If you’re seriously considering divorce or already in it, grasping these stages should enable you to gain new understanding, find balance, and reach out for any support you might need. Let’s look at these stages now.
Denial is a common trait for each of us. We all suffer from it during different seasons of life. Denial is the inability to deal with certain realities directly. An abundance of negative emotions, the pain of divorce, complex family dynamics, worries over child custody, anxiety, depression, and personal health struggles, dramatic changes, disappointed hopes and dreams, and the stress of divorce proceedings, all these can wear down on some of us so heavily that we temporarily lose the ability to fully accept the truth of what’s going on in our lives.
Often, we adopt denial-based ideas like, “It’s just a phase; they’ll change their mind.” “They are just tired and upset; that’ll change,” or “They always come back.” Maybe even “There’s just no way I could be getting divorced.” Denial is a way of coping with things that seem insurmountable, unbelievable, and too painful.
Denial varies in its intensity and can either give way to other psychological stages of loss and divorce, or accompany them.
Anger comes from extreme disappointment, from feeling betrayed, lied to, cheated, neglected, deceived, misunderstood, and abandoned. The reasons that led to your divorce can often be fraught with sorrow and bitterness, especially if infidelity and other emotional, financial, or relational betrayals and heartaches took place.
This difficult stage is often quite intense. Anger has a way of consuming us. Practical concerns, our own health and well-being, these can fall by the wayside when anger takes over. Anger can feel powerful in the moment. It sometimes gives us a sense that we are taking back our life, that we can control things. This is an illusion.
While anger is normal and needs to be expressed in healthy ways for us to find understanding and healing, the key is to not completely give into it. Often, allowing ourselves to be consumed by anger brings with it a lot of other consequences, difficulties at work, conflicts with other loved ones, alcohol and substance abuse, overeating or under-eating, sleep disorders, frequent illness, binge watching television, and internal struggles with faith and personal beliefs.
The bargaining stage is a kind of “what if?” phase. It’s when we attempt to bargain our way into the outcome we want, make promises, or beg and negotiate. We make promises to never lie or cheat again, to spend money more wisely, or stop yelling and mistreating our spouse. We may promise ourselves or our friends to stop doing certain things or start doing others.
We may even bargain with God, making promises to stop drinking or gambling or other things, hoping to gain favor and save our marriage. Some people promise to make things work for the sake of the children, even in the presence of an unhealthy home environment. During this stage, we feel desperate and we reach out for any sense of hope we can muster.
This is often the most difficult season of divorce. This happens in the aftermath of seemingly happy and clearly unhappy marriages alike. At last, the intensity, weight, and roller coaster of strong emotions, leads to the depression stage. We may feel detached from others, from life, and from ourselves. We sometimes lose sight of our passions and purpose, and feel lost and aimless.
We feel guilty about hurting those we love or devastated by the ways others hurt us. You may move through several emotions every day, even while life and circumstances may not feel real.
Temporary depression is a normal part of life, especially in grief. It is important not to linger too long in this difficult time, though. Be sure to connect with an experienced counselor for ongoing therapy and guidance, and spend time with mature, trusted friends who can encourage, inspire, and help you laugh a little in the midst of it all.
The acceptance stage is the final step in this process. Even though it’s called a stage, acceptance comes to us in pieces, moving in slowly even while we navigate each of the other phases. This is ultimately where we need to get to.
In acceptance, we finally feel a sense of clarity, of relief. We learn to accept the truth of our situation, that these events have happened, and that our life has changed. At last, you desire to spend time with friends and family again. Often, your passion for hobbies and certain activities is renewed.
It is the time when we sense more hope, and begin to consider the possibility that a certain amount of change might be good, that moving on might bring us some relief. We finally gain some peace in the idea that we can make a good life for ourselves, even without our partner.
Most of the time, individuals walking through divorce go through each of these stages, often two or more at the same time. The experience, while common, is unique to each of us. The important thing is to allow yourself to feel what you need to, express yourself fully but in healthy ways that affirm both yourself and others, and to remember that there is a great deal of hope and promise in the days to come.
Professional counselors can help you through each of these stages and in all the difficulties of life. Be sure to connect with a good therapist, an experienced divorce attorney, mediators, and supportive mentors, for the help and guidance you need.
Torrone Law helps individuals gain clarity, find resolution, and experience peace of mind during divorce, custody, and adoption cases. Contact us today for a consultation and to get started on building your new life.
To learn more about the stages of divorce, check out our frequently asked questions below.
What are the five stages of divorce?
Almost everyone who walks through divorce experiences these stages, yet each of us experiences them at different times, for different lengths, and to varying degrees of intensity. The common stages of divorce include:
How do I deal with these stages more effectively?
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. Divorce can do that. It’s a good idea to partner with an experienced counselor who can help you get at the root of things, develop tools to navigate emotional strain and relationships more successfully, and to find a new sense of emotional health and hope. Additionally, close friends, good mentors, and community leaders can bring perspective, encouragement, and relief.
Is there hope after marriage?
The short answer is yes, definitely. Divorce is incredibly difficult. But with time and the right support, you will find hope and start to develop new dreams and plans for the future. Lean on your friends and family for all the support you need and remember that all seasons pass.