Ending Your Marriage And The Stages Of Grief: Divorce And The Grieving Process

By: Patricia Oelze

Updated November 11, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC

Nobody wants to end their marriage. You do not get married planning on getting a divorce. So, when you realize that divorce is your only option, how do you cope? Believe it or not, going through a divorce is similar to losing a loved one who died. And like the stages of grief you have when someone dies, there are also stages of grief in divorce. They are exactly the same as the stages of grief for death. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The length of time that it takes to go through these stages are different for everyone. In fact, you may go through some stages more than once.

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Denial

When it first happens, whether it is you seeking the divorce or your partner, you are in denial. Even if it is you who is initiating the divorce, there is a reason you chose to do this, and you may be in denial about that reason. For example, if your partner had an affair, you may be going through the denial that it even happened. This can be compounded if your partner is telling you that it did not happen. Do not let this stop you. You know it happened, and it is important that you not fall for that "It's just you" trick that your significant other can play. You may be thinking that it was all just a misunderstanding and that maybe you should not go through with it. If your partner had an affair, and you cannot forgive them, do not let it go. You will just make things worse in the long run.

However, if you think that maybe you could forgive them and move on, you will need to seek couples therapy. You cannot do this on your own, and a therapist can help you determine whether or not your marriage can be saved or not. Therapy should be for both of you, though, as your partner has to learn how to control their urges, so it does not happen again. Your partner may say that it will never happen again and that you do not need to have therapy, but you must get help with this. You need to know your options and a licensed experienced couples' counselor can help you figure out what you should do.

Then again, if the divorce is not your idea, you may be thinking that you can change your partner's mind or that you can get them to work it out. This kind of denial is common, and about everyone goes through it. We all want to think that everything will be okay. However, if your partner is set on getting a divorce, there is nothing you can do but accept it. It may take several months to a year to get through this step. But you will get through it.

Anger

Anger is a completely normal and common stage of grief. Thinking "how can he or she do this to me?" or "why is this happening to me?" is a natural thought no matter why you are divorcing and no matter who is initiating the divorce. We may go through the anger stage for a long time and may go on to the other stages but come back to the anger stage again and again. Especially if your significant other has moved on and seems to be happy again. Seeing them happy while you are miserable, just sets off another round of anger.

The anger stage is one of the ones that seem to hang on longer and come back more often than the others, similar to depression. You may blame everything on your divorce and your ex. If you lose your job, the car breaks down, you get the flu, everything is their fault, and you will blame your ex for everything. You may need to talk to a counselor or therapist who can help you through this but understand that this is a natural process.

Bargaining

The bargaining stage is an attempt to fix the damage that was done by the divorce. You may think that if you ignore your differences and pretend everything is okay that you can keep your marriage going and live happily ever after. You may convince yourself that you will never find anyone who makes you feel the way they did. This may make you want to try again and forget about the divorce. You may try to get your spouse back or convince them that you can work it out. This is just your mind trying to come to terms with this major decision. Your spouse may also go through this stage, and if you go through it at the same time, you may even try to work things out for a while. However, if the reason you were getting a divorce is still there, you will likely not be able to pull it off.

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Depression

You may be sitting there watching television and suddenly start crying. Maybe you do not feel like getting out of bed for days at a time. Sadness and loneliness could hang around for months or even years. We all know that sadness is coming when we go through something like a divorce, and no matter how prepared we think we are; you cannot prepare for this. Some people will go through this stage and then go back to the denial and anger stage again just to come back to the depression stage again. Divorce is hard. This is a major loss in your life, and you will need time to grieve even if you are the one who initiates the divorce.

Like anger, this stage is repetitive and may affect you more than the others. You may need to talk to a therapist or counselor to get through it. Sometimes therapy can not only be beneficial to get through this step but can also help you in future relationships. Maybe you already had been suffering from depression and chose to get married to someone who was not right for you out of the need to have someone who loves you, even if they do not love you. If you are still feeling depressed, and it is affecting your daily life for months afterward, you may benefit from seeing a therapist. It may also help to join a divorce support group.

Acceptance

Just because you accept your divorce does not mean it makes you feel happy all of a sudden. You are not going to all of a sudden, be cured of all the grief when you accept the divorce. Acceptance means that you have finally realized what has happened is real and that you need to move past it. This may be the point when you realize that you need to talk to a therapist or counselor or join a support group. Talking to others really can help. Knowing that you are not alone is important, and feeling that you are just going through a normal process that everyone goes through is helpful. However, you are not just going to feel better all of a sudden because you have accepted the divorce. But it is a step in the right direction.

This is the point when you finally can see the light at the end of the tunnel. You may not be at the end of that tunnel, but you can see the end, and you know that you are going to make it. That is when you can breathe a sigh of relief and start thinking about the future. You will be able to start making plans for the future and may finally be looking forward to something. You may still be sad or angry, but you can still move on finally. It is time to start thinking about tomorrow and plan your new independence. Get a new haircut, some new clothes, get out and hang out with your friends or find new friends. Sometimes in a divorce, the friends you had when you were married end up being toxic. They may be trying to encourage you to go back to your ex because they enjoyed hanging out with both of you. It may be time for some new friends if your old friends cannot let go of your ex.

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Talk To Someone

If you have gone through this acceptance stage but are still feel extremely sad at this point and need to talk to someone, there are professionals out there who can help. Talk to a therapist. You do not need an appointment or even need to leave the house if you do online counseling. It is the easiest and least expensive way to get help with your feelings. Just talking to someone unbiased and experienced with this sort of thing can be a big help. And you can always use the help.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the grieving stages of divorce?

The grieving stages of divorce are the same as the five stages of grief that take place in other scenarios which cause a person to experience grief. Denial anger bargaining depression and acceptance are the five stages of grief that people experience after a divorce, loss, or other grievous events. A person might experience denial anger bargaining depression and acceptance in a nonlinear way. Many people find out they revisit some of the five steps of the grieving process during the healing process that takes please post-divorce and that they go back-and-forth from one to the other. For example, someone might experience the stage bargaining and then return to anger for a little bit, or they might jump from denial to bargaining and feel the anger later on. 

How long does it take to emotionally recover from a divorce?

How long it takes to recover from a divorce will vary substantially from person to person. Some research says that it takes about 17 months to recover post-divorce, where other research estimates that it takes about two years. Some experts estimate the amount of time it takes to recover from a divorce based on how long you were married. It may seem like emotional recovery takes a lot of time based on these numbers, and that can certainly be true, but remember that the full ride isn't necessarily going to be painful. If it takes you two or three years to start feeling a sense of complete or near-complete emotional recovery, for example, it doesn't mean that all of your days will be painful for two or three years straight.

What are the 7 stages of grief after a death?

The seven stages of grief after a death or any other grief-causing event are the same as the five stages of grief listed above with two extra steps added. The seven stages of grief are shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance or hopefulness. As you can see, guilt and shock are the two added steps that aren't listed in the five stages of grief that are most often recognized in conversations about grief or mourning. While the five stages of grief (denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance) are most commonly highlighted, guilt and shock are also extremely common feelings to encounter during the grieving process, making them just as notable. We all process guilt differently, so know that anything you're feeling right now is okay, even if it's highly uncomfortable and doesn't necessarily feel okay.

How do I recover from divorce emotionally?

There's no clear cut path to recovering from divorce emotionally, but be assured that healing is possible. Even if you find it difficult to do so, surround yourself with friends and family as much as possible. You can also attend support groups, group therapy, or individual counseling. It's helpful for many to find something enjoyable to pursue during this time, which might be spending time outside, working on art, or taking a new class. While many of us are introverted and enjoy spending time alone, socializing is crucial. Social activity is particularly necessary during the healing process, so make sure that some of your activities involve other people, even if that just means playing a game or talking on the phone. When you're ready, focus on your new life. Think of this time as a beginning rather than an ending. Focus on the things you can control and reflect on your hopes and dreams. If you got a new house or apartment, decorate it how you want. If your kids started going to a new school, perhaps you can volunteer there from time to time for field trips. Maybe, you can give your child the bed canopy or wall color they've always wanted. You might even make a big change, such as a career shift or going back to school. Life can actually be better than ever after divorce. Even if it's as small as trying out a new hair color, think about something you've always wanted to do or something you've always wanted to have and find a way to give it to yourself. If you feel stuck or lost, speak to a mental health professional who can help you move forward. You deserve to be happy.

What are the 12 steps of grieving?

Nervousness or anxiety, happiness, perceived threat, fear, anger, guilt, depression or despair, irritability or hostility, acceptance, denial, disillusionment, and finally, moving on, are what some refer to as the twelve steps of grieving. Divorce grief can come with a lot of ups and downs. You might find that you feel better one day and are low or experiencing deep feelings of pain again the next. You won't necessarily experience these steps in any particular order, so don't worry if your healing process doesn't look like everyone else's. Experience your emotions as they come, and know that pain doesn't last forever. If you're struggling with any specific part of the healing process or the divorce grieving process in general, seeing a mental health provider can help. Mantras such as "I deserve good things," "I accept love into my life," and "I'm building a life of happiness" can be beneficial during this time. You don't have to be positive all of the time, but it can help to stay grounded in your hopes and dreams.

Do I regret my divorce?

Only you will know if you regret your divorce. Some people regret getting a divorce, where others don't and are glad that they made the decision to get a divorce. It's important to be introspective when you find yourself feeling regret. In some cases, when you perceive regret or wish that you could turn back time, you may be experiencing a normal, yet incredibly painful, divorce grieving process rather than true regret. Things often get worse before they get better when it comes to life after divorce. Remember that even if you didn't have a good relationship and wouldn't want to get back together under any circumstances, you can still experience deep sadness and grief, and it doesn't mean that you want the person back. Feelings of regret are painful, but they're normal. Remember that there's room in your life for your hopes and dreams. If you're experiencing depressive symptoms or a disconnect from your hopes and dreams for life, it's essential to reach out for support so that you can feel good again.

Does the pain of divorce ever go away?

The pain of divorce most certainly goes away, though it can be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you were in the grieving process. Many people find that therapy or counseling is absolutely vital during the grieving process. If you have family or friends that are experiencing grief, reach out to them. Having social support is a vital part of our emotional and physical well-being, and one thing about the pain of divorce is that it can contribute to depression, which makes it hard for a lot of people to make the step to contact their friends. If your family and friends ask how they can help you, answer honestly. Let them know if there's a phone call they can help you make or if you don't really want to talk about the divorce right now and would rather have a day where you just spend time together and have fun. As important as emotional processing is, It can also be advantageous to get your mind off things. Take it day by day and know that the pain will subside eventually and that your life after divorce can be fulfilling and full of light.

Why is divorce so painful?

Many experts say that divorce is one of the most emotionally painful things an individual can encounter. The reason for this is an attachment to your ex-spouse. Your lives were intertwined, likely for quite some time, and there were aspects of your life and your future that you worked together to determine. Even if you absolutely despise your ex and don't want anything to do with them, there's still an adjustment to make, and many adjustments in life, especially ones so significant, aren't easy. In addition to being painful, divorce can be overwhelming and stressful. There's a lot of decision making to do, some of which is personal, and some of which is a merged responsibility between you and your ex-spouse. Divorce counseling can be extremely helpful for those hoping to separate peacefully in addition to the assistance of a divorce mediator, who's there to work with the more tangible aspects of separation. 

What does grief do to your body?

Mental and physical health go together more than many people would guess. Grief can contribute to heart problems, blood clots, an increase in blood pressure, and cause difficulty sleeping. It can also affect your appetite, cause G.I. issues, and lead to fatigue. During the grieving process, it is vital that you prioritize yourself and your well-being. Make sure that you surround yourself with a support system, which could be comprised of family and friends, a counselor, members of a support group, or others in your life, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Family and friends, as well as peers in support groups, can be very remedial, but they aren't a replacement for a licensed mental health professional. A licensed mental health professional can help you navigate the healing process and your life after divorce. Look for a counselor or therapist by searching the web, calling your insurance company, or by going through an online therapy site like ReGain.


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