Divorce and the 5 Stages of Grief

Man grieving over losing his partner to divorce

Losing your partner is difficult, but recognizing the stages of grief can help you move forward

Divorce is almost always accompanied by feelings of grief and loss. Pretending your feelings of grief don’t exist will not work.   Instead, try working through the sadness so you can move forward emotionally.  Grieving is definitely part of the divorce process, and there are different things to grieve about, including the loss of your partner, loss of future plans as a couple and/or parents, the loss of your status as couple, and maybe even the loss of your home.  A parent may feel grief if they are not able to see their children as often as they would like.

The 5 Stages of Grief

Much has been written about the stages of grief.  Becoming familiar with the five stages will help you to recognize them and work through the process.  Don’t forget that an experienced family therapist or divorce coach can also help you work through your feelings in a healthy way.   In a divorce, the stages are similar to those that people experience when a family member or close friend passes away.

Stage 1 – Denial:  Denial is the first reaction to a significant loss for many people.  In a divorce, the spouse that is not initiating the divorce may just think that if they ignore everything and wait awhile, that things will be ok and that their spouse will come back to them.  Some people may act like they are in a form of emotional shock, and feel numb, and continue routines as though nothing is happening.  Frequently, people in denial will not talk about the divorce and avoid telling others.

Stage 2 – Anger: Anger directed inward can cause feelings of depression.  Feelings of frustration about your relationship and partner begin to not only surface, but maybe bubble over.  Some people will go to great lengths to let the world know how bad their spouse was.  Divorce anger can be extreme, so it is best to let it out in a way that is not aggressive or dangerous, but constructive.  Vindictive behavior, bitterness and increased depression are all common results of trapped anger.

Stage 3 – Bargaining Phase:

In my role as a Massachusetts divorce lawyer and mediator, it is interesting how often this phase pokes it head into the room.  Understandably, some people remain reluctant to really let go of a relationship, and start bargaining. As described by Fisher and Alberti in their book Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends, may get back together but for the wrong reasons.  Not to have a better relationship, but because of a desire to avoid the loneliness and sadness that comes with the loss of a relationship.  The authors refer to it in their book as a “love relationship.”

Step 4 – Letting Go:

The interesting this about this phase is that although someone may feel depressed, it is also a stage where some experience much personal growth.  It may take a fairly long time before even teaching this stage, and it is not uncommon for depression to also appear.  Experts suggest that being aware of this stage helps people get through it much faster.

Step 5 – Acceptance: 

In this stage, the loss of the relationship is accepted and most people begin to feel free from the feelings of grief and pain.  There is not the intense focus on the past relationship. Emotionally, people begin to move forward toward and look towards the future, feeling more freedom and independence.

Here is a link to another website with more information about grief and loss:http://helpguide.org/mental/grief_loss.htm

To read more about the emotional aspects and rebuilding after a relationship ends, a number of good books exist.  I referenced one above, and you may also want to consider counseling or working with a divorce coach.   If you would like a referral to an experienced divorce coach of therapist, please feel free to contact The Divorce Collaborative at (508) 346-3805.

The Divorce Collaborative has offices in Bedford (near Billerica, Concord and Lexington) and Medway, MA (near Franklin, Bellingham, Wrentham, Foxboro, Norfolk, and Medfield).  Our Massachusetts divorce attorneys, collaborative divorce lawyers,  and divorce mediators work closely with clients from Worcester, Norfolk, Middlesex, and Bristol Counties most frequently.  To schedule a meeting, please call (508) 346-3805.


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