Bargaining may help us to completely work through our anger and give those emotions a purpose.
Bargaining is the third stage in the process of guilt following a divorce. It follows denial and anger and is most notable for being the time when a grieving person reaches out in all directions to negotiate away their pain, question why bad things happened to them and straddles the domains between anger and depression.
As previously discussed. During the denial phase, reality and the pain are simply too much to cope with, so denial is used to numb the pain until it is bearable. Once the individual is ready to face the pain in a more conscious manner, anger is often used to start the process of change. Suddenly the anger takes a deep breath and the griever is able to see past the intensity of emotion to begin to question what has happened and why.
What did I do to deserve this?
What could I have done differently?
What can I do to make this pain go away?
Bargaining is brutal. Bargaining is that nagging and relentless voice that keeps us up all night running mental game footage from the ruin of our marriage. We second guess, imagine alternate scenarios, attempt to assign guilt for our current predicament, and wade through sensations of guilt and remorse.
At times we may study our own actions under the bright light to analyze every word or deed we may have committed to making our spouse stop loving us or cause the marriage to end.
If only I would have been less critical.
I should have listened more.
I wasn’t good enough.
In other moments, we may direct our blame and frustration to our ex or anyone else we may hold responsible for the current state of affairs.
He would still love me if she didn’t make a move on him!
He was just too caught up with work to care about our relationship.
His parents never liked me and turned him against me!
Bargaining may also cause us to shake our fist to the universe or a higher power for letting bad things happen to us, or we may beg and plead to anyone we feel will listen (our ex, God, or the random drivers in a traffic jam) to make it all stop and go away!
Please, I’ll do anything if she’ll just come back!
Why did you let this happen to me?
I’ll take back everything I’ve ever done if this will stop!
Bargaining may help us to completely work through our anger and give those emotions a purpose. It’s no longer good enough to feel every emotion to the point of wanting to explode, now we want an explanation for what went wrong, why, and who is to blame! The problem is that we don’t often get the answers we seek. Most times, no one really has an explanation of what went wrong, and if someone is responsible, they’re not likely to fully accept the blame. As much as we may wish for a time machine to take us back and correct errors before they became out of control, or the ability to negotiate our way away from pain, it’s not possible.
Every stage of grief is our own unique expression of accepting and processing the events of a divorce. We may spend more or less time in each phase, experience them out of order, or even repeat steps. It is important to not become stuck in any one stage because it can become emotionally damaging and counter-productive. As for bargaining, it can become a trap if we start to believe we will receive all answers we seek, that blame will be accepted, punishment administered, and all rights set wrong.
Unfortunately, we may not always know all the answers to what happened, why, who is responsible, and what could be done better. It is important to take time to reflect about what contributed to the end of the relationship and what our part in that is simply so that we can discover ways we could improve for the future and be more aware of red flags to watch out for in our relationships and partners. Self-improvement is important so long as we don’t become hyper-critical to the point of becoming self-destructive.
Bargaining may be the first time during our divorce when we are up to the task of seeing things for what they really are and able to make sense of the events, even if the truth really hurts. As painful as it is, reality has to be confronted, at some point, and we have to reconcile the past and the present, the truth, and the way we feel about the situation.
Taking responsibility for our own actions and making an effort to right the wrongs we’ve done may help us to overcome, or at least achieve forgiveness- if only from ourselves. We may never receive an “I’m sorry” or any form of payback for harm done to us, though peace can eventually be found by recognizing we deserve better treatment and separating ourselves from harmful influences.
As with every other stage of grieving, it has to be experienced in its entirety until we have achieved what we need from that step and can move to the next. Feelings of guilt, remorse, and frustration endured during bargaining will serve to usher in the next phase: depression. Are you ready?