What are the 5 stages of the grief cycle in divorce?
The grief cycle in divorce refers to the stages that individuals often experience as they go through the process of ending their marriage. These grief stages were created by a Swiss-American psychiatrist called Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Although every person’s experience is unique, the common stages of grief in divorce are very similar to those you deal with when coping with the death of a loved one, or another traumatic life experience.
The stages include:
Shock and Denial:
In this stage, you may feel numb and struggle to process the reality of the situation. You may have trouble accepting the fact that your marriage is ending. Some people will deny that the conversation ever took place, or try and forget about it happening. You may feel like you have been hit by a bus and your brain just wants to remove the situation by denying it is happening.
Top tip: Take some time out to process what is happening. Try to clear your mind and focus on what positive actions you can take to get through this.
Pain and Guilt:
As the shock wears off, you may feel emotional pain and sadness. You may also experience feelings of guilt and perhaps responsibility for the failure of your marriage. You may also feel guilty about the effect it could have on your children, your friends and wider family.
Top tip: Understand that emotional pain is normal at this time, but it will pass. Remind yourself that it is not a divorce itself that can cause harm to your children or wider family, but how the divorce is managed between you. A great parenting plan can help with this.
Anger and Bargaining:
As the pain and sadness begin to dissipate, you may feel angry and resentful. You may also try to negotiate or bargain with your partner in an attempt to save your marriage. This is where people often mention marriage counselling – but by this stage it can be difficult, although by no means impossible, to successfully save the relationship.
Anger is a very common emotion as well at this stage. Anger towards your ex, anger towards yourself and to others in the family who you feel may have contributed towards the relationship breaking down.
Top tip: If it is clear that the marriage is not recoverable – and it takes both of you to agree it is – then you need to start thinking about what you can control. You can control how you react to this situation, what professional help you can get to help you through this period in your life and start to think about how you want your new future to look.
During this stage, you may feel overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and loss. You may experience feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. It is difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And many people can turn to alcohol, drugs or other substances to try and make themselves feel better. This is a dangerous stage and one it is helpful to get advice and help with.
Top tip: Get a plan. Being depressed is not a great place to be. But having a plan for your future can really help move you on. Allow yourself 2 years (the average it takes a person to recover fully from a divorce) and write down some life goals that you want to achieve. Perhaps something you have been putting on hold, or something you have always wanted to do, but your ex wouldn’t have supported. Write down some life goals, allow yourself a little time to get through this stage in your life and then start working on achieving those goals. Also consider getting help from a counsellor, therapist or divorce coach.
Eventually, you may reach a place of acceptance, where you can acknowledge the reality of the situation and begin to move forward. You may start to focus on personal growth and rebuilding your life. At this stage, people can look back and realise that actually their life is better for the experience they have had.
Top tip: Maintaining a level of anger with your ex-partner will hurt you more in the long run that it will them. Focus on yourself, what you can do and what you can control. You will be absolutely fine if you focus your energy on a great and happy future.
It’s important to note that not everyone will experience every stage or follow this cycle in a linear fashion. Some individuals may cycle through stages repeatedly or experience some stages more intensely than others.
Try to work out where you both are on this cycle. It is a very different conversation if one of you is at the first stage of shock and denial whilst the other, having been considering matters for longer, is at the final stage of acceptance.
By working out where you and your ex are in the cycle you can gauge how best to manage the conversations, when to introduce professional help such as counsellors, divorce coaches and family mediators and when to give each other a bit of space.
The grief cycle in divorce can be a long and challenging process, but with time, support, and self-care, individuals can heal and move forward. Having run a family mediation service since 2011 and been through a divorce myself, I can assure you – you will be ok. You will move on and your life will be as amazing as you can make it. It just depends how long it takes to get there. And that is down to only one person – you.
I hope this blog helps explain the grief cycle in divorce and how it applies to you. Family mediation can help resolve the practical issues of your divorce or separation – such as where you will both be living, what will happen with the financial agreement and the arrangements for your children.
We offer a FREE 15-minute consultation to explain the mediation process and how it can fit in with where you are in the grief cycle.
Whatever happens, we wish you all the best to find your future.