A Guide to the Stages of Divorce Grief

Divorce can be challenging, and it can also be a time for growth, reflection, and renewal.

While the path ahead may seem daunting, recognizing the stages of grief that may come with the divorce process can help you get through peacefully. This article will take a close look at these stages. It offers clarity and support in navigating toward a brighter future.

What are the different stages of divorce grief?

Divorcing spouses may experience some of the following stages of grief:

  • denial;
  • anger;
  • bargaining;
  • depression; or
  • acceptance.
This is a tide at sunset.

These stages can happen in any order. You might not feel some of them at all, and some may last longer than others.

Notably, feelings of relief, hope, and independence can also appear during this time.

Each person’s path through the stages of divorce grief is unique. Healing looks different for everyone.

Let’s look at each of the stages of divorce grief in more detail.

1. Denial

In the denial stage, you might find it hard to accept that your relationship is ending. Many spouses feel numb or find themselves living day by day, trying to ignore the changes that are happening.

Signs of denial include a sense of disbelief and ignoring divorce paperwork. When someone is in denial, they might act as if their spouse is still a significant part of their daily life — they may even expect to see them walk through the door.

Confusion and shock are normal responses during this time. You might avoid telling friends and family about the divorce, hoping things will go back to the way they were.

Experiencing some denial is normal and expected. It can be helpful to seek out professional help if you feel you need support.

2. Anger

The anger stage often emerges as the reality of divorce settles in and negative emotions intensify. You may find yourself feeling strong emotions toward your spouse, your situation, yourself, or even others around you. This is a natural part of healing where pain manifests as anger.

Common signs of anger include being irritable or short-tempered. You may direct blame toward your spouse or others involved in the separation process. You might even catch yourself questioning, “Why me?” and feeling a sense of injustice about what’s happening.

Feelings of anger can serve as a ‘shield’, protecting you from deeper, more vulnerable emotions lying beneath until you are more prepared to handle them.

This is an image of a person sitting down with their face in their hands in anger.

3. Bargaining

During the bargaining stage, you might try to regain a sense of control or find ways to “fix” or reverse the divorce. This phase is filled with “what if” and “if only” statements.

The bargaining stage is about holding onto hope that your life can go back to the way it was. Regret, feelings of guilt, emotional pain, and a strong desire to talk to your partner are common. Bargaining often happens as it becomes clear that the divorce will proceed.

During the bargaining stage, you might replay past events, thinking about what you could have done differently to save the marriage. Bargaining is a way to deal with loss, providing a temporary escape from reality.

4. Depression

The depression stage marks a period of deep sorrow. It’s when the finality of the divorce hits, and you begin to feel its full weight. Unlike the more active expressions of grief seen in anger or bargaining, depression can include feelings of profound sadness.

Symptoms of depression might include withdrawal from social activities, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, and a lack of energy or motivation. You might find yourself ruminating over the loss of your relationship, feeling hopeless about the future, or experiencing intense feelings of loneliness.

In severe cases, ongoing depression can reach the point of clinical depression. Seeking support from friends, family, or professionals is vital to moving through this stage.

This is an image of a man sitting on a sofa, looking somber.

5. Acceptance

The acceptance stage is characterized by a decrease in emotional turmoil and an increase in hope and optimism. You start to acknowledge and come to terms with the reality of your divorce, understanding that it’s part of your story.

This stage is marked by a newfound sense of peace and a readiness to move forward. You might notice a shift in your perspective. Activities and goals that were once overshadowed by your grief may begin to regain importance.

You might start making plans for the future or taking steps toward personal growth. Feelings of loss might still surface, but they no longer consume your thoughts.

Acceptance allows you to reconstruct a sense of self. Once you’ve accepted that the divorce is happening, you can start considering the best way to move forward. Many find that the process of divorce mediation is helpful to their healing journey.

Your mediator will listen to you and your spouse, help you find common ground, and suggest productive options to your problems so you can both move on to the next chapter of your lives.

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How long do the 5 stages of divorce grief last?

The timeline for the five stages of divorce grief varies widely. The process can last from a few months to a year or more.

It’s essential to recognize that there is no “normal” timeframe for healing. Each person’s divorce process is unique, and it’s okay to take the time you need to grieve and recover.

Some people cycle through different stages several times, while others skip some of the stages entirely. It’s common for certain events, like anniversaries, to temporarily trigger negative feelings.

Understanding that everyone heals at their own pace is crucial. Try not to compare your healing process to that of other people.

Support from friends, family, mental health professionals, or mediators plays a vital role in navigating this change. Remember, moving through these stages is not a race — it’s about finding your unique path to peace and acceptance.

8 tips for processing grief in a healthy way

Navigating the stages of divorce grief is a personal experience. Here are eight tips to help you process your emotions and move toward healing:

1. Acknowledge your feelings

Recognize your feelings as valid rather than suppressing them. It’s okay to feel confused or in disbelief. Accepting your range of emotions can help you begin the process of moving forward.

2. Express your anger constructively

Find healthy outlets for your emotions. This could be through exercise, creative pursuits, or getting together with a trusted friend. Talking about your anger with others can make the feelings easier to manage. Be cautious about oversharing with people who may feel close to both of you. A professional counselor can be a valued sounding board as you process your feelings.

3. Write down your thoughts

Writing down your thoughts can help you understand your feelings and gain clarity. It’s a great way to focus on the present moment.

This is an image of a person writing in a journal.

4. Practice self-care

Take care of your physical health, allow yourself to rest, and participate in the activities that bring you joy. It’s also important to reach out for support from others if you’re struggling to cope. Each little bit of self-care can help you to feel more resilient.

5. Embrace change

Acknowledge or even embrace the changes in your life. Explore new hobbies, expand your social circle, or set new personal goals. Acceptance is about recognizing the growth opportunities that come from your experiences.

6. Seek support

No matter what stage of divorce grief you’re in, seeking support can provide comfort and guidance. Sharing your path with others who understand (such as a professional divorce mediator) can be healing.

Mediators can guide you and your spouse toward mutual agreement on key issues, such as custody and the division of marital property, and they never take sides. You do not have to fight. You can have a peaceful process through mediation.

7. Create a new routine

Establishing a new routine can give you a sense of stability and normalcy at any stage of grief. Sticking to a new routine can help anchor you through the ups and downs of emotional healing.

8. Set realistic expectations

Keep your expectations realistic as you heal. Know that some days will be harder than others and that healing is not linear. Celebrate your progress, no matter how small it may seem, and be patient with yourself.

Processing divorce grief involves talking about your feelings, doing self-care, and seeking support. Each person’s path is unique, and these tips can provide a framework for you to help navigate the process at every stage.

Have a peaceful divorce with The Aurit Center

If you and your spouse have decided to part ways, we can help. We will light a path of peace and hope for you both, guiding you toward healing and resolution.

Here at The Aurit Center, we provide resources and support for partners at all stages of the separation process. Schedule your free 1-hour consultation today.

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