The 7 Emotional Stages You’ll Go Through During and After Divorce.
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I always remind my clients that going through a Divorce is a process NOT an event and I firmly believe that it is similar to the grieving process described by the eminent American Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, that was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients.
However, I believe that there are 7 Stages that a divorcing person will go through before fully healing from the traumatic and life changing event and the reason I know this is that I have been through this harrowing event myself so I know first hand how you feel.
Healing from a major life changing event is not easy and it is not quick and it is not linear. I always say to my clients that it’s not like healing from a broken arm where it will take more or less 6 weeks and then you are better.
Healing from a divorce takes as long as it takes – as it is your journey. But it also takes what I call “Doing The Work” around yourself. You need to take the time to become reflective and self aware and to take responsibility for your part in the break up while learning eventually to forgive yourself as well as your partner.
Forgiveness is the hard part but it is necessary if you are to become whole again and move forward with dignity, respect and kindness towards yourself.
It is all about what you learnt about yourself ultimately through your experience.
That is growth, that is development and that is how you learn wisdom, grace and understanding.
Remember your children are watching, listening and learning from you all the time. What Blueprint for love are you teaching them?
Some people go through what I call “The Crazy Time” – some drink too much, some smoke too much or eat too much or don’t eat at all. Some sleep around, some retreat into a shell and don’t go out, some lash out in anger. Some jump into another relationships too quickly and repeat their patterns all over again simply with new partners.
It is important to interpret the stages as a rough guide, and to recognise where you are in the process generally.
There is no neat progression from one stage to the next or a defining moment. In reality, there are lots of “5 steps forward, 3 steps back” type moments. You can go through the stages linearly or in any order. Life is messy so don’t beat yourself up if you seem to have made progress and then find yourself back at square 1.
So why bother with stage models at all?
I believe they give you a marker and sense of progression out of the darkness you might be feeling because they are a good general guide of what to expect.
For example, generally, a long period of “depression” (not clinical depression), isolation, and loneliness can happen late in the grief process, even months after the tragedy strikes. It actually is normal and expected for you to be very depressed and sad for around 9 months, but again this is only a guide, and if you add Empty Nest Syndrome into the mix, like I experienced, it may take you even longer to find your feet again.
Outsiders, family, colleagues and even friends don’t understand and often feel that it should be time for you to “get over it” and rejoin the land of the living. Just knowing that your desire to be alone with your sad reflections and memories sometimes is normal and it will help you deal with outside pressures. You are acting normally but do be mindful if you need to talk to someone to help, support, believe in you and take you from where you are now to where you want to go slowly into the future with steady, small steps.
The 7 Stages Of Recovery During A Divorce.
- SHOCK & DENIAL
You will probably react to learning of the divorce with numbed disbelief. You may deny the reality of the divorce at some level, in order to avoid the pain. Shock provides you with the emotional protection from being overwhelmed all at once. This may last for many weeks.
- PAIN & GUILT
As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain. Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with alcohol or drugs.You may have guilty feelings or remorse over things you did or didn’t do with your partner. Life feels chaotic and scary during this phase. You may cry a great deal.
- ANGER & BARGAINING
Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and become incandescently angry and lay unwarranted blame on someone else. It’s really important to talk to a professional to help you to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships can result when you are in this phase. Obviously you may blame your ex partner but this can damage your relationships with your children permanently, or with your Mum, sister or friends. This is a time for the release of strong bottled up emotions so look for a safe place to do this that’s healthy.You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with the powers that be for a way out of your despair (“I will never drink/overspend/ shout again if you just bring him/her back”)
- “DEPRESSION”, REFLECTION, LONELINESS
Just when your friends think you should be getting on with your life, a long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you. This is a normal stage of grief, so do not be “talked out of it” by well-meaning outsiders. Encouragement from others is not always helpful to you during this stage of grieving.During this time, you finally realise the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may isolate yourself on purpose, reflect on things you did with your loved one, and focus on memories of the past. You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair.
- TURNING THE CORNER
As you begin to adjust to life without your partner, your life becomes a little calmer and more organised. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.
- REBUILDING & WORKING THROUGH
As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic, new solutions to problems posed by life without your partner. You will start to work on practical and financial problems and reconstructing yourself and your life without him or her.
- ACCEPTANCE & HOPE – The Phoenix Stage.
During this, the last of the seven stages in this divorce model, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation. I always tell my clients that acceptance does not necessarily mean instant happiness. Given the pain and turmoil you have experienced, you can return slowly to the carefree, untroubled YOU that existed before this tragedy and you will find a way forward.
You will start to look forward and actually plan things for the future.
Eventually, you will be able to think about your Ex without pain; sadness and anger because the wrenching pain will be gone. You will once again anticipate some good times to come, and find peace and joy again in the experience of living.
Finally and gradually you make it through the 7 stages of divorce and whilst life will never be the same, I think it helps to realise that Life being different doesn’t necessarily mean that Life will never be happy and fulfilling again. Yes it’s changed but then so have you. Don’t stay stuck in anger, bitterness and resentment. Get the help you need to move through the process and come out of it, as I like to say I did “A Phoenix.”
After a divorce, women experience a great deal of anxiety. The future is uncertain and therefore, so is your security. Even in these days of independence, lots of families still divide up the responsibilities with men ‘doing’ the finances. I work with many women who experience embarrassment and stress as they have delegated solely, or mostly relied on, their husbands for financial support. Trying to figure out how to support themselves, and often times a family, may prove to be a real challenge initially.
If you would like to speak with me personally 1-2-1 about how I can help you Take Stock, Take Charge, and Take Off or need help telling your children call me on 01883 818329 or email me in complete confidentiality at Sue@TheSueAtkins.com