Ending Your Marriage And The Stages Of Grief: Divorce And The Grieving Process
By: Patricia Oelze
Updated July 30, 2021
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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