At your own pace: The journey through the six emotional stages of divorce

Divorce|Wellness & Self Help|January 8th 2019

A lot of what is written about and discussed when looking at the emotional stages of divorce and separation is based on the five stages of grief identified by the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross back in 1969 in her book On Death and Dying.

And quite rightly so. The end of a marriage or relationship is a bereavement: a loss of the life you once had and of the future, you believed you would have.

There is panic, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The first thing to remember is that people do not move neatly from one stage to the next. Sometimes you may experience all six in one day. You may find yourself stuck in a certain stage or go back. There is no beginning, middle or end.

My advice, do not try to manage this process (it won’t work for a start) and instead move through at your own pace. There is no right or wrong way – just your way. And please do seek professional help if you are struggling with anxiety or depression from your GP.

Here are the six stages:

Panic

Sheer panic and fear. Your body and mind are in a state of shock, unable to comprehend that your life as you know it has been changed forever. You may struggle to sleep, eat and think straight. You may even have panic attacks as your mind becomes flooded and you feel out of control.

Denial

In some ways, denial is a useful coping mechanism. You can pretend everything is OK rather than face the overwhelming emotions. However, don’t abuse the temporary safe haven this gives you. You need to move to the next stage to face your fears. You need to feel emotions to start to heal from them. Otherwise, they can manifest in stress, anxiety and illness.

Anger

Anger is a completely normal emotion in a stressful situation and this is the time to release some of those emotions you suppressed in the denial phase.  My advice is let them out. Some people try to bottle up their anger, but it will come out in other ways. Try to channel it into something positive such as exercise, singing, yoga (anything you enjoy) and do consider counselling for some professional advice.

However, there are two simple rules: never in front of your children and not publicly on social media (it will come back to haunt you). 

Bargaining

Your last attempt to try and get the relationship back on track and you will search for anything that you think may take you both back to where you were before.

Moving away, having a baby, changing who you are (totally impossible) you will do anything to get your life back and have some reassurance that the relationship can be mended.

Depression

As the realisation that the relationship is over starts to settle extreme feelings of sadness and loneliness can quickly consume you. They can easily take away your motivation and joy for everyday life, you may find yourself sat in front of the television all day with no energy to move or eat.

But withdrawing from the world does not work and will leave you more isolated. Call upon friends and family for love and support to help you cope. Counselling is also really helpful. Talk, talk, talk, cry and then cry some more. You need to feel and release your emotions.

Acceptance

You finally feel hope, there is light at the end of the tunnel and you realise you need to move on with your own life.

There will still be feelings of sadness and regret, but it is something you can live with. You are not paralyzed by grief or fear or sadness anymore.  And whilst I cannot promise you a joyful skip off into the sunset you are back, getting on with life and starting a new beginning. You’ve got this.

Help & support

Finding the right lawyer for you can make all the difference. Our divorce lawyers have experience of advising clients throughout the divorce process. They understand the emotional pressure that each stage brings and can support you by making the legal side as simple as possible.

Going through a divorce or separation can be extremely tough. If you find your struggling with anxiety and / or depression, please do seek professional help from your GP or visit: Relate for practical advice and counselling options.

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Comment(1)

  1. R Perl says:

    I believe that you have very concisely described the emotions felt. It refreshing to hear that from a legal team that should fit all practical purposes deal with the law only. But divorce does not come in isolation. I do believe judges dealing with divorce processes should be trained in understanding the devastation that divorce brings esp when there are children involved of any age and allow for therapy in the settlements, that abuse is rife esp by the breadwinner, and they use the process to continue that abuse. Judges should be trained to recognise that and deal with those situations. And lastly the amount of monies the breadwinners Hide so as not to pay up the fair share to the homemaker. The law is so easy on these perpetrators. In fact, it’s so easy for them to get away with out right criminal activity. These are just a few factors that I state where the law must catch up with the real world. The laws of divorce should not exist in a vacuum of the realities that happen daily in the process. The emotional parts only get more difficult as a result and children and adults cannot recuperate. I have older children that I simply don’t know how to put back together again as an example. I the caretaker will never have the funds to continue to be the caretaker that I prided myself in being. I had and still have forevermore a very important job. The laws must catch up with a fast changing world.

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