Stages of Divorce Grief [2019 Comprehensive Guide]

After the initial feelings of denial or being in disbelief or anger that you’ll feel while going through the different stages of divorce grief next comes the bargaining stage.

An Introduction to the Stages of Divorce Grief

Divorce is probably one of the most difficult and life-changing experiences that a woman can go through in her life.

Going through a divorce is never easy.

It’s not only the legal and financial aspect of it but also the emotional aspect that makes it a hard, painful, and complicated experience.

Though divorce rates seem to go up and though divorce may seem “common” in today’s society, the pain that one feels and experiences during a divorce may be unlike any other pain that one has ever experienced.

Grief is a common emotion that one feels during a divorce, along with pain, anger, guilt, and even despair.

It’s natural for one to grieve because during a divorce, you not only lose your partner, but you also lose both your dreams as married individuals and all your expectations with your married life.

This is especially so if you’ve children and they too are also affected greatly by the divorce.  Grief is our own natural response for loss, and the bigger and more significant our loss is, so our grief will be as well.

Grieving is a regular feeling that one feels while going through the whole divorce process.

Though the fact of having a divorce may be much unexpected and can also feel surreal for a person, every person who goes through the divorce process also goes through some stages of grief.

These stages of grief comprise the different emotional stages that one goes through while in grief.   Dr.  Elizabeth Kubler Ross, in her book On Death and Dying, listed five stages of grief that every person goes through as a pattern of adjustment after death.

Though the grief that a person experiences due to the death of a loved one may seem graver than that which is due to a divorce, the same stages can still be applied in going through the stages of divorce grief because during a divorce, we are also dealing with a form of death, and that is the death of a marriage and the death of the dreams for a happy married life with your ex-spouse.

Based on Dr. Kubler Ross’ book, we can say that the stages of divorce grief are as follows:

    1. Denial
    2. Anger
    3. Bargaining
    4. Depression
    5. Acceptance
    6. Embracing the Single Life

We’re about to tackle each of these stages in detail, but before we do, remember that the stages of grief in divorce may not be in the same order for everyone, though most people go through these stages.

It may not be experienced by people in the same chronological order, and some people may instead bounce right back to the first stage instead of moving on to the next stage, or it might be that people skip a particular stage.

It’s also possible that a particular stage will just re-emerge while you’re undergoing the different stages.

In the next articles, each of the said stages of grief in divorce will be tackled deeply.

The feelings, emotions, and the experiences that one goes through in each stage must also be looked into, as recognizing these things will help you in your healing process.

Grief Stages of Divorce Grief

Denial

The first among the said stages of grief in divorce is the denial stage.  Denial is usually the first reaction that people have and is also the first step in the grieving process.  It serves as our emotional buffer.

It’s a form of a natural defense that our system has for it to control and keep the pain at bay.

“This isn’t happening to me” or “Everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about” are the usual things that someone says to herself during the denial stage.  This is especially so if you’re not the spouse who initiated the divorce because everything can feel surreal and hard to accept.

During the denial stage, the person tries to convince herself that the thought of divorce is only temporary, that her partner still loves her, that he will come back in the end, that they have children and therefore he’s not serious about getting the divorce, and so on.

The person would, most often than not, just go on with his or her life as though nothing major is happening with it and would also avoid talking about the impending divorce to others.

Denial can also come in the form of a certain numbness that you feel along with a refusal to believe the things that are happening to you.

You’re in emotional shock and in disbelief that this is happening and you’re in denial because you don’t want to face the divorce head on.

You just want to escape the reality and the emotional pain that you feel by not acknowledging the actuality of the divorce.

Even if you’re the spouse who initiated the divorce, you can still find yourself surprised by whatever emotions that may arise once your divorce becomes final.  You may still find yourself in denial of the truth.

You may still find yourself going through the different stages of grief in divorce, albeit not as emotionally difficult as what the spouse who didn’t initiate the divorce feels.

To the spouse who initiated the divorce, the denial may come in the form of acting like everything is normal, that divorce is just as simple as the other spouse walking outside your door, because you don’t want to “deal” with much of it.

So even if you’ve already anticipated the divorce, it can still take you by surprise and it can still make your emotions topsy-turvy because it’s a really big emotional step.

Denial is okay, but just make sure that you aren’t stuck in this stage for too long.

Sooner or later, you’ve to remember that you must face the reality of the divorce because you cannot escape this reality forever.  You have to accept this fact so that you can finally move on with your life

Stages-of-divorce-grief-4Anger

Different sources may also be responsible for the anger that one feels.

It may be because of the infidelity of the other spouse or the reason for your divorce, the current state that you’ve found yourself to be in, your frustration of the relationship, or it might also be because you’ve been denied some visitation rights to your children.

The list could go on.

Another aspect of the anger that one feels is being angry at anything and just looking for somebody to blame for the divorce.  This is true even if in reality, there’s really no one at fault (like when the divorce was mutually decided upon by the spouses); you may still feel angry and resentful.

Thoughts like “why is this happening to me,” “it’s his fault,” or “he’s the one to blame for all the pain that I’m experiencing right now” are common for someone who’s in this second stage.

However, such feelings of anger are normal for a person who is going through an emotional turmoil.  It’s understandable that a person who is going through a tough time, such as one who’s going through a divorce, would be hot-tempered and would seem to be always angry.

Psychologists often say that anger is a feeling that is more “normal” as compared to being in shock and in disbelief.

Anger can be an inspiration for action, while being in shock or in disbelief can leave you immobile and at a stand-still, which isn’t advisable if you’re going through a divorce since you’re expected to make a lot of important decisions, choices, and changes during this stage in your life (especially if those decisions and changes include the welfare of your children).

It’s advisable to let all the anger out, but do so in a constructive and in a non-aggressive manner.

You can let it all out in the gym, in an art class, or anywhere else as long as you aren’t aggressive or destructive when doing it.

What is important is that you don’t keep everything that you’re feeling inside yourself (because those emotions may just burst or such hidden anger may lead to depression or uncontrollable rage) and that you act responsibly with your anger.

Feelings like anger do come and go.  The anger that one feels during the stages of grief in divorce may seem very colossal, but like any other feelings, once it has been let out, it’ll gradually disappear.

It may reappear during the other stages of divorce grief, but just remember to always act responsibly when it comes to dealing with it.

Stages of Grief in Divorce – Part 5: AcceptanceBargaining

It’s normal that at first, it would be very hard to accept the reality of a divorce and that you would wish to bring back time and do everything or anything that you can just to keep the divorce from happening.

People may think that bargaining is only for customers who want to pay for a lesser amount or with anything that has to do with sales and with the economy, yet it can also happen to people who are suffering a great loss.

As one of the stages of divorce grief, bargaining is usually aimed to keep the marriage intact and to keep the possibility of a divorce from happening.

Bargaining is usually made by the spouse who is reluctant to have the divorce and let go of the relationship.  It can be directed at the other spouse, at God, or at anyone the person can think of.

One may say that “I will become more faithful if only God stops this from happening,” or “I will make myself sexy, just don’t leave me,” or “I won’t be a nagger or a jealous spouse,” or “I won’t make the same mistakes, just give me another chance.”

Bargaining can also be through replaying everything that happened and letting one’s mind over-think different “what-if” questions and scenarios.

Whatever may be the thing that is being negotiated by the spouse, the bargaining in this emotional stage of divorce becomes a desperate measure that one does to make the marriage last.

In the stages of divorce grief, bargaining is made by the spouse, thinking that such conditions will make the other spouse renege on his or her decision to break the marriage off and repair whatever damage it has done to his or her life.

There are many reasons why a person bargains, aside from just keeping the marriage intact.

It can be because of wanting to avoid the loneliness and sadness that accompanies the divorce, avoiding the stigma that society has regarding divorce, as well as all the gossip that goes with it, wanting to preserve the family because of the children, and avoiding going through all the hassle of the legal and emotional aspects of divorce.

Though bargaining may sound like a very desperate thing to do, experiencing it as one of the stages of grief in divorce is normal.

This is because even if we know that the divorce is real, human as we are, we still hold on to the hope that everything can get back to normal, that everything can still be restored.

And it’s very hard to control those feelings and emotions because they are fundamental to every human being.

In the stages of grief in divorce, getting to the bargaining stage makes you closer to accepting your divorce.  This is because in this stage, you already know subconsciously that the divorce is real, but you just want to put off its reality much longer.

Stages-of-Divorce-Grief-5Depression

The fourth in the stages of grief in divorce is a stage that is marked by extreme loneliness and sadness.

Whether the divorce came as a surprise or it was already expected, feelings of loneliness, sadness, and pain are inevitable once the divorce is finally actualized.

As the denial fades and you slowly acknowledge the reality of the divorce and the heartbreak, depression will also start to set in.

Depression is a common emotion that a person may feel while going through the different stages of grief.

Mourning for your lost marriage and being in pain while going through the different stages of grief is expected for someone who is in sorrow for a loss; in divorce, it’s the love that was lost, the relationship that has been broken, or the broken family that is causing so much pain.

This pain that we feel, when coupled with guilt, anger, sadness, and loneliness, can make us succumb to depression and leave us feeling depressed for days or even weeks.

Right after the divorce and while going through and bouncing between the stages of divorce grief, the usual thing that we want to do while in the depression stage is to just cry our hearts out.

Some of us may refuse to bathe and leave the house, some of us just want to stay in bed for days, and some may find comfort in chocolates and sweets, while some just try to drown their misery in alcohol.

As much as possible, the only thing that we want to do during this emotional stage of divorce is to let out everything that we are feeling inside, to scream and shout our pain and anger, and to find ways in which we can at least minimize or mute whatever pain that we are feeling inside.

This is why in this stage, it’s quite normal and also expected that you’ll just be crying a lot and remain emotionally unstable for relatively some time.

However, at this stage, one should also be aware of his or her own level of depression, and one should always be mindful of the level and intensity of this depression.

This is because the usual feelings of being depressed inherent in grieving for a divorce may evolve into some clinical depression that is no longer good for the person.

This kind of depression may adversely affect either one’s physical and psychological well-being or both of them at the same time.

We may know a lot of people who stop eating during the stages of divorce grief, who experience extreme physical pain, nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath because of the extreme depression that they are feeling.

Once tendencies for such depression become manifested, it’s better to ask for some expert help and advice in order to avoid further damage and other long-term effects to the overall well-being of the person.

The loneliness and sadness that we feel during the stages of grief in divorce, especially during the depression stage, may seem like a very huge predicament to overcome, but it’s possible to triumph over.

It may seem like an insurmountable problem in our lives for now, and we may feel that there’s a void present in our lives now, but with the right attitude and support group, getting through this stage is possible.  In time, these feelings too shall pass.

Acceptance

A lot of feelings may be felt by a person as she goes through the different stages of grief, namely Denial, Anger, Bargaining, and Depression.

Both the spouse who left and the spouse who was left undergo these stages of grief in divorce, albeit at different times and at different degrees.

The length of time that people experience these feelings may also vary, but it isn’t until all these stages of grief have been experienced by the person, regardless of the order, that he or she starts to come to terms with the divorce and slowly accepts its reality.

stages of divorce grief 6Acceptance is the Start of Happiness

Acceptance is the first road to recovery.  As the fifth among the stages of grief, it’s said to be the start of a new chapter in one’s life post-divorce.

According to author George Orwell, acceptance is the start of happiness.  This is true since once a person has finally accepted the reality of the divorce, he or she also begins to feel free from the pain and grief caused by the divorce and is now finally able to look ahead and find happiness in his or her life.

Understanding is usually the first step toward acceptance.  Now, after going through the preliminary stages of divorce grief, you begin to understand the reasons why the divorce ensued, why there’s a need to break the relationship, and why this and that happened in relation to your divorce.

As you begin to understand everything that happened, the acceptance then comes to you in a much easier and natural way.

Through acceptance, a person can finally begin to move on with his or her life.

The person can finally look at the future and keep herself or himself from being stuck in the past.

Acceptance can also bring initial feelings of independence and freedom, freedom from the pain, denial, grief, anger, hurt, the negative feelings, and all other highly unwanted feelings that one feels at the outset of the divorce and during the stages of divorce grief.  Basically, during the acceptance stage, you’ll start to feel more at peace with what happened.

You may not have liked everything that happened right before and after the divorce (especially the emotional roller coaster you’ve been on while going through the initial stages of grief), but accepting everything will help you finally move on with your life.

You may not be able to do anything with your divorce and broken relationship, but you’re still capable of doing a lot of things with your life, especially those things that you haven’t even tried to do because of your marriage.

Acceptance will help you look at these new possibilities and other future opportunities that come with being a free and independent woman.

“Acceptance doesn’t mean that life gets better; it just means that my way of living life on life’s terms improves.”

― Sharon E. Rainey, Making a Pearl from the Grit of Life

stages of divorce griefEmbracing the Single Life

Every divorce ends with you being single and independent once again.

After all the legal processes and paperwork have been executed, after everything has been said and done between you and your ex-spouse, and after having passed the different emotional stages and stages of divorce grief, what  remains for you to do is to finally let go and move on with your life.

To let go of the past and to move on with your life may seem like a very hard, if not impossible, thing to do, especially if the divorce happened just very recently and all the hurt and pain is still fresh.

But in time, when you’ve finally gone through the different stages of grief and when you’ve mourned and grieved properly for your lost love, letting go and moving on will become more bearable and will seem like the best and natural thing for you to do.

This is because the stages of divorce grief are meant to give oneself some time to deal with the grief and loss that comes with the divorce, as well as some time for preparation for the major changes and adjustments that are expected to take place in your life during the post-divorce period.

The stages of grief in divorce, therefore, culminate with you embracing the single life.

After the divorce, and after accepting the reality that your civil status has changed, that there’s no more “us” but only “I” and “you,” the next step is to embrace your singledom while you reinvest fully in your own life.

So how do you embrace your life as a single woman after going through different stages of grief in divorce?

Don’t Engage in a Rebound Relationship

Engaging in another relationship right after going through a divorce, or in what we call a rebound relationship, is never a good idea.

You won’t just hurt yourself more, but you’ll also hurt the other person.  And most often than not, rebound relationships last only for a very short time.

Instead of dipping right back into the love track, take some time off for yourself.  Make sure that you’re ready before you commit to another relationship.

Do Something Different

Have you ever wanted to do something like travel to some distant country or try a new sport but you haven’t had the time because of your marital obligations?  Then think again.

This time, you’re no longer attached; you’re now a free and independent woman.  So if you want to follow Julia Roberts’ journey in the movie Eat, Pray, Love, this could be the best time for you to do it.

Don’t Give Up on Life and Love

Just because you’ve been hurt doesn’t mean that you’ll become a man-hater or a pessimist right after going through a divorce.  Instead, take this moment as an opportunity for you to learn valuable lessons and to improve yourself.

As they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So never be afraid to make decisions.  Never be afraid to take risks.  Never be afraid to fall in love again.

The end of your marriage isn’t the end of your life and not the end of your quest for love and happiness; it’s just a detour, and your newfound singledom is the start of the long journey ahead toward finding such happiness.

Take this moment to nurture what you have, to give time to yourself and to your children, to reconnect with your family and friends, or to explore a lot of new possibilities for yourself.  Just take this time to be yourself and to have fun.

Embrace your singledom and live your single life to the fullest.

5 Essential Things Every Woman Must Have to Survive the Stages of Grief in Divorce5 Essential Things Every Woman Must Have to Survive the Stages of Grief in Divorce

Nobody wants to experience heartache.  Unless you’re a masochist, you would always choose happiness over pain.  As much as possible, we want our lives to be full of happiness and contentment.   Who wouldn’t want to have a happy ending, right?  However, and they live happily ever after only exists in fairy tales.  Sometimes, we don’t get all the things that we want in life, and sometimes in love; though we have fought and given our all, we still lose.

This is the sad reality that happens when a marriage is broken and divorce ensues. Going through a divorce may seem like a very emotionally devastating experience for a person.  Initially, a divorcee may feel like all the light in life has been taken away for good.  She may feel that she won’t be able to survive all the stages of grief and that she might not be able to bear all the emotional stages of grief in divorce.

Though surviving the first few days after the divorce and the different stages of grief in divorce seem like a very hard thing to do, it’s not altogether impossible.  With the right “battle gears” (and I don’t just mean the concealers and make-up that we have to apply to hide our eye bags caused by incessant crying), surviving the stages of grief in divorce and making the grief and the pain more bearable is indeed possible.

In order to survive the different stages of grief, every woman must take note of these simple but essential things:

1. Time

As they say, “time heals all wounds.”  Time is considered the best medicine for a heart break; it’s the best remedy for overcoming one’s grief.

Take your time and don’t rush things because you’re not expected to get rid of all the pain and loneliness overnight.  You’re not a robot; you’re a human being who is susceptible to pain and other emotions.  Going through the emotional stages of divorce may require a lot of time for you since there’s really no effective band-aid remedy when it comes to getting through the stages of grief and to finally letting go of all the pain and hurt that you’re currently experiencing.

So take one step at a time.  Give yourself some me-time; give yourself some time to mourn and grieve for your lost love, time to think about all the implications of the divorce to your life, and time to think over all the decisions that you’ve to make in the near future.

2. Chocolate and sweets

Most women turn to chocolate and sweets whenever they’re depressed or feeling stressed out.  Psychological studies actually show that chocolates can give us an instant “happy-high” or an instant boost of good vibes and happiness.  So if you’re going through the different stages of grief in divorce, it’s okay to indulge in a chocolate temptation once in a while.

3. Friends and Family

Having a support group can help you face a tough time, such as going through the stages of grief in divorce.  Knowing that you’ve the support of your family and friends can help you in a lot of ways.  It can motivate you to go on with your life despite all the hurt that you’re feeling, and it can also give you some sort of an inspiration to continue living.  Just talking to your family and friends can also help you unload all your burdens.

Never underestimate the power and inspiration that your loved ones can give you.  In this time of grief, they are like the silver lining in the clouds that are hovering above you, giving you hope and faith that eventually, you’ll survive. stages of grief in divorce

4. Safe and Comfortable Place

It’s very important that you’ve a safe and comfortable place while you’re busy undergoing the stages of grief in divorce. People who are in pain and who are in a devastated state tend to be more prone to causing or inflicting harm to their own selves.

So to avoid these situations, make sure that your place is one that is safe in case you’ve some unexpected fit of irrationality while grieving and going through the grief stages.  Also, make sure that it’s comfortable for you so you can avoid adding to the stress and emotional turmoil that you’re feeling.

5. Professional Help

When you feel that you’re going downward and are unfortunately succumbing to a more serious form of depression, then it’s time for you to acknowledge the fact that you really need professional help.  Seeking the advice and guidance of a professional will keep you from having unwanted long-term psychological and emotional effects and will also give you the much needed counsel in going through the stages of grief.

Going through the stages of grief in divorce may seem very unimaginable and not feasible, but with the right company, right attitude, and positive outlook in life, surviving it’s possible.  The divorce and the stages of grief in divorce are only bumps and detours toward your happy ending.  The stages may seem very unbearable and painful to go through for now, but once you survive these, you’ll emerge as a stronger, braver, bolder, and more beautiful woman.

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Ava Moore
BA, MA Psychology (and Conflict Resolution), University of Cambridge (2007). With a decade of trial and error in psychology and 33 years of navigating my own complex (that's one word for it!) relationships with family, friends, co-workers and men, I hope I have some useful knowledge and skills to share with my readers about making sense of relationships and trying to become a better person every day.

I'm the Chief Editor here at Independent Femme and would love to hear from you.

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