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Yes, You’ll Survive the Stages of Divorce Grief
Divorce represents the end of a marriage—here's how to navigate your complicated feelings.
No matter what your feelings toward it, divorce represents the end of a marriage—which likely started hopefully, joyfully, with thoughts of happily ever after.
While the stress of a life event is hard to measure, experts rely on a tool called the Rahe stress scale, a 100-point inventory on some of the most unexpected and traumatic events we can experience. The top three most stressful events per the Rahe stress scale are a spouse’s death, divorce and separation. Following those: spending time in jail, the death of a loved one, and a major injury or illness.
That means that even if you’re relieved to be out of the marriage and excited about your new life, you’ll likely also experience the dueling feelings that accompany mourning and letting go of the past. If you’re angry, sad, resentful or distraught over the marriage ending, you’ll experience even more of a grieving process before starting to heal.
Most people moving through a divorce experience the stages of grief outlined by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We’ve got some tips for navigating each phase. One thing to remember: While divorce may signal the end of one part of your life, it opens the door to a new one, with new experiences and new joy and love.
Denial You know that numbed-out feeling that overtakes you after a huge loss? At first, it’s a temporary, protective response against the situation until you’re able to gather your resources to handle the emotional, physical and parental tasks ahead. When you allow yourself to experience and move through denial, you’ll eventually be able to acknowledge the split and the pain you’re experiencing—that should act as a signal to engage in self-care.
Tip: If you resist acknowledging that your marriage is over, that interferes with your ability to make important decisions for your—and your family’s—well-being during the divorce process.
Anger It’s totally normal to feel anger, but it’s important to not lash out at your ex or your kids. Anger can shake you out of denial and give you energy to start emotionally severing from your partner.
Tip: If you stay angry, you probably won’t make the best decisions during your divorce – and you may stay stuck in conflict mode, which only serves to draw things out and hurt yourself and your kids. Making decisions out of anger doesn’t mean you’re in control; it means your emotions control you. In addition, consider family therapy to help your kids through the divorce – they’ll experience lots of emotions, may not be sure which parent to be “loyal to,” worry that the divorce is their fault, or be confused and scared about custody arrangements.
Bargaining No doubt, the divorce process can feel out of control at times, whether or not you initiated it. In this stage, you may wonder if your relationship can be saved. And there’s no harm in seeking counseling or a trial separation before you make a final decision (in the case of course, that your relationship doesn’t include domestic abuse or another situation that puts you or your kids in danger).
Tip: Try not to linger too long in the bargaining stage, especially if your spouse is adamant that they want a split—the risk here is that you might keep working toward a reconciliation that has zero chances of happening. Couples therapy can also facilitate a more amicable and constructive divorce, especially in this stage.
Depression You’ll experience profound sadness and regret—also a necessary part of the grieving process. This is the time when you should seek support from family, friends or a therapist. You may also want to check out divorce support groups, which can help you get through the pain of your divorce and even provide you with lists of resources or professional referrals. Like all the other stages, you start to move through it when you accept these feelings, and your new reality.
Tip: If you’re not able to move past this stage, you could experience clinical depression, which affects daily life, and disrupts your sleep and eating. This is the time to seek help from a mental health professional.
Acceptance Don’t expect that you’ll experience instant happiness when you reach the acceptance stage. Actually, this is the time when you’ll accept your new reality and be ready to move on. Tip: Take pride in your strength, and acknowledge that you’re resilient and have the capacity to forge a new, meaningful, and happy life.
If you need help with a family law matter, our attorneys at Smedley Law Group can provide you with the professional advice you need to make an educated decision. Schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today.