Navigating the Emotional Stages of Divorce

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By Cathy Meyer, Founding Editor - June 05, 2013 - Updated July 04, 2016

 


Working through the emotional stages of divorce is easier for some than others. If you are the one who wants the divorce you’ve spent months, if not years dealing with the emotions that come along with making the decision to divorce.

If, however you are the spouse who is left behind to recover from the shock of divorce you will be hit with several emotions at once. You will be angry, depressed, in denial…all emotions at once. You will be left reeling and feeling confused. It is literally like having someone pull the “rug out from under you.”
That was my experience with divorce, shocked, in extreme emotional pain and uncertain of how I would be able to move forward.

I had studied Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in college. I knew of the Five Stages of Grief. The problem was, I had studied them, knew them but had not planned on applying them to real life...not at that time anyway.

There is Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. What I didn't learn in college is, one doesn't move smoothly from one stage to the other. There was no beginning, middle or end for each stage and most stages I visited several times.

So, while attempting to manage your emotional recovery during and after divorce, give yourself a break. You will move through recovery at your own pace, angry one week, in denial the next. You will come to the point of acceptance though, hopefully sooner than later.

The Emotional Stages of Divorce:

Denial:

This was my favorite. Nothing like moving through a storm and pretending all is well with the world. Denial is your psyches 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 abuse it. After a while refusing to face reality becomes a very unattractive trait.

Anger:

This stage I visited often and my ex took a bashing. Seriously, when your world is falling down around you who better to blame for all your problems than a crazy ex husband? If the car battery died, guess who I blamed? If it rained on a day I had planned to go the beach, it was his fault. I had no role in any adversity that came my way!

During the anger phase he became the worst lover I had ever had, ugly beyond description, a slob, a wimp...my anger did a number on him and his character. My advice about the Anger Stage? Have at it! As long as there are no little ears to hear your disparaging and insulting remarks about your ex feel free to let out all the pent up anger you stuffed during the Denial Stage.

Bargaining:

In this stage you will attempt to repair and undo the damage done to your life. Bargaining is when you stop and say, "oh dear, I can't handle this emotionally. I'll negotiate anything with him/her, turn myself inside if need be but I can't go through this."

It is an attempt to put on the brakes, stop that runaway train and get your "life" back. It might not have been a great life but it was a hell of a lot better than what you are experiencing now. During the bargaining stage my ex was the best lover I had ever had. I missed his beautiful face and his manly demeanor. He was God's gift and I wanted him back. Thankful for me I moved quite swiftly through the Bargaining Stage.

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 realize you've made the right decision or a mistake.

If you are the leavee this is the stage where you will begin to pursue your husband/wife. You want them back at all costs to you and your self-esteem. The thing to remember is; they will also go through the Bargaining Stage. If they have made a mistake they will realize it and undo that which they have set in motion.

Depression:

You'll be in bed or in front of the television for most of this stage. Sadness, debilitating sadness becomes your constant companion. This is the one stage we all expect. We know that depression is going to hit, what we don't realize is that depression can go hand in hand with all the stages of grief.

You may not bathe for three days during the Denial Stage. Hair care takes a back seat during the Anger Stage, so much so that you begin to look like Hagalina Magalina.

You're smart though and have surrounded yourself with a good support system. You've gotten into therapy and counseling because the support of family and friends goes a long way but there is no substitute for expert advice during the depression that accompanies divorce.

Cry it out and talk, talk, talk to someone who is trained to help you eliminate those toxic emotions.

Acceptance:

You'll love this stage. When it hits you'll throw your head back and laugh. There is light at the end of the tunnel and life ahead. You've moved through adversity and learned from it. Full steam ahead!

Be warned though, acceptance doesn't mean you don't still have negative emotions about your divorce. You may still feel some anger; there may still be sadness at the loss of your marriage.

You've learned to "accept" the reality of the situation though. 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...if lucky you are no longer grieving. If there are still feelings of grief they are at least no longer holding you back from living life.  You are moving on, letting go of things that remind you of the past (like your diamond ring!) and embracing your future!


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