What are the Five Stages of Divorce?

What are the emotional stages of divorce? Will the pain of divorce ever go away? Stages of separation and divorce recovery. Going through a divorce can be one of the most emotionally disruptive events in your life. What can you expect once you decide to get one? How can you make it easier on yourself?

Video transcript.

There are two processes in divorce.

The legal process and the emotional process. It’s tough to say which is more challenging. The emotional process can be broken down into 5 stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. D-A-B-D-A. Those 5 stages represent grief over the loss of a relationship and marriage.
Prepare yourself mentally for a parade of emotions that can change day-to-day or hour-to-hour. Coping with the emotional ups-and-downs of divorce can be tough.

Be willing to seek help from an experienced, qualified mental health professional. The process of counseling takes time, but that’s ok. We’ve seen how clients benefit from counseling in the smart decisions they make.

There is no specific sequence to these emotional stages. It’s not a checklist. There’s no crossing off Stage-1 before starting Stage-2. The grieving process could begin before or after the divorce. And last long after.

Some people may feel numb. Others feel raw — everything hurts. Your emotions are uniquely yours. It’s personal. And so is the healing process.
Time will be your greatest friend. Give yourself time to grieve. Things will get better.


Denial is the first stage of divorce.

Being in denial doesn’t mean you refuse to accept the truth. Denial comes from being incapable of processing what’s happening. There’s just too much to take in at once. It’s natural to try and avoid conflict. But there may be very real problems that aren’t going away. Does this sound familiar?

She’ll get over it, she always does.” Or “He didn’t mean that. He’ll apologize and we’ll be fine.” With denial, there may be confusion or fear. Euphoria the nightmare is ending. Or shock because you didn’t see it coming. You may feel you have to make the marriage work no matter how unhappy you are now. You may cry, have headaches, be stressed-out. Everyone grieves differently, with different intensities.


Anger is the second stage of divorce.

Anger stems from being lied to, betrayed, rejected, deceived, misunderstood, or abandoned. It comes from being pushed into a bad place by someone you trusted.

You may be angry with yourself. Or irritated, frustrated, and anxietous over what’s happening in the divorce.

You may find yourself worried, impatient, argumentative, complaining. You might drink too much, exercise too much, eat too much, or binge-watch tv.
You may think you’re being punished. Your faith may be shaken.

“Why are you doing this to me? Why Why Why?” Recognize that anger is passion. It can make people behave in ways that don’t reflect who they really are.


Bargaining is the third stage of divorce.

Bargaining is the “What if” stage. “What if I’d done more?” This is the struggle to find answers. To draw meaning from what’s happening. It’s an attempt to eliminate doubt, rehash how you got here, and negotiate a different outcome.

Some feel guilty for not making the marriage work. Others make desperate promises like “I swear I’ll never cheat again.” Parents bargain to stay married for the sake of the children, disregarding a toxic home environment. Some negotiate with themselves, with their spouse, with God. “I’ll stop drinking if you just bring her back to me.” This may be a time for reaching out to others to tell your story.


Depression is the fourth stage of divorce.

Depression comes from sadness, grief, and loneliness. Most people will experience some level of depression. You may question the purpose of life and feel detached from society. You may feel guilt about hurting the kids and others you love. You may be fatigued, lose your appetite, and have difficulty sleeping. You may feel overwhelmed, helpless, and hopeless.

Depression can feel like emptiness, too. It can paralyze. You go through the motions, but nothing is real. Sometimes people get stuck in depression. They can’t shake it off. Don’t let this go on too long. Reach out for help. Talk to a mental health professional about how you’re feeling. 


Acceptance is the fifth stage of divorce.

This is where you want to be. Acceptance arrives in bits and pieces. Eventually, you become a whole person again. You know you’re going to be ok.

You come to terms with the divorce and find clarity. You have more good days than bad. You want to spend time with your friends. And make new friends. You start feeling optimistic about making plans and exploring options. It’s about job opportunities, finding a new place to live, and envisioning a new life. You accept that your life will move forward without your former partner.

Understanding the 5 stages of divorce, preparing for them, can really help you get through this emotionally tumultuous period.

In our experience, divorcing spouses will find themselves in each stage, at least for a time. Some people experience two or more stages simultaneously. The exact order isn’t nearly as important as your unique perspective.

Be kind to yourself. Take care of yourself physically with hydration and moderate exercise. Pay attention to what you’re eating. Choose healthy foods. Avoid sugar and alcohol. Get help when you need it. Talk it out.

You will get through this.

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