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:
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.