In some situations, divorce may seem sudden or out of the blue. In other cases, the split is a long time coming. No matter what the situation is in your family, divorce really does change everything. Though your family is changing, it can be helpful to know that there are five distinct phases of divorce. Understanding these phases can make it easier to navigate your emotions, and understand, though this process is new to you, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
If you are familiar with the five stages of grief, you will notice that these five phases are the same. However, when applied to divorce rather than death, they are a little different.
Phase 1: Denial
In divorces, the denial phase often occurs before the couple decides to separate. One or both of the members of the relationship are not willing to accept that divorce is likely the outcome of their marriage. When in this phase, it is common to try to convince yourself that it’s just a phase or a rough patch and things will be fine.
It’s important to note that people often misconstrue this step to mean that there is an active denial of the concept of divorce. However, rather than active denial, this phase is more just feeling confused and “off,” not so much believing that divorce is occurring and denying that fact.
In this phase, there is sometimes a cognitive separation that occurs. This means that one or both of the spouses are beginning to mentally detach from one another, however unconsciously. Divorce is likely not on the table yet, but both individuals have begun to drift apart mentally.
Phase 2: Anger
Anger comes next. This emotion has many subcategories that many people don’t recognize or identify. Some of these subcategories include:
While experiencing these emotions during a divorce, many spouses begin to feel rejected, hurt, or like they are a failure. It’s common to lash out or snap at others outside of your marriage, including friends, children, coworkers, and family members.
Anger is a difficult emotion for most people to experience. It often does not have an easy resolution and can feel distracting and all-consuming. For some people, this translates into behavior such as:
- Drinking too much
- Binge eating
- Impulse shopping
It is important to remember that anger is normal, but try to work it out in ways that are healthy to you. Anger is ultimately passion, and feeling it toward your ending marriage or spouse is understandable.
Phase 3: Bargaining
In divorces, the bargaining phase does not often come in the form of actual bargaining, as in you likely won’t go to your spouse and say, “I’ll cook your favorite meals every night if you stay with me,” or something like that. Instead, most people end up bargaining internally, wondering whether they could have done something differently, tried harder, or acted a certain way. There are a lot of “what ifs” in this phase of divorce.
There is also a lot of guilt associated with this phase. Many people spend time thinking that they could have done better, so the divorce is all their fault. The fantasies surrounding what could have been are a type of internal bargaining that is very common. It is important to remember that you did the best you could at the moment with the knowledge and resources that you had and to try not to take your guilt too seriously.
In cases of infidelity, sometimes the bargaining does happen between you and the other person. The spouse who was unfaithful often approaches the other with claims such as, “I’ll never cheat again!” or, “I know now what I have, and I’ll never let you go!” Though these are not direct bargains, they are normal in this phase of divorce.
Phase 4: Depression
Most people experience at least one form of depression. Often, the guilt from the bargaining phase compounds into a depressive episode. You may feel like you don’t want to participate in normal activities or feel emotionally and mentally disconnected from those around you. After experiencing the first three stages, many people often fully realize that their marriage is over, and they feel sad about it.
For a lot of individuals, this phase includes dramatic statements such as, “I’ll be alone forever,” or, “There’s no one else for me.” Though these phrases are normal for this phase of a divorce, it is important to know that they are not true. Challenging them with statements such as, “This is sad, but it will not last forever. I will find love again if I want to,” can be very helpful.
Overall, this is the most difficult phase of divorce for most people, and it often lasts the longest. It is a good idea to seek professional mental health services during this time and speak to a therapist about what you are feeling. They will be able to help you work through your situation in a healthy way and ensure that you heal. Some psychiatrists may suggest mild medication for depression, which can be a viable short-term option for some people.
Phase 5: Acceptance
This is by far the most pleasant stage of a divorce. Many people feel relief after months of emotional turmoil and stress. During this phase, divorcees can see the situation more clearly, and understand the ways in which the divorce was for the best. Many people feel excited about their new life during this phase, and their grief over the divorce no longer consumes their minds and lives.
It is important to note that acceptance is not necessarily the end of the grieving process. You may still experience moments of anger, bargaining, or depression. However, it is generally much easier after you’ve reached phase 5. You know that your feelings are not permanent, and you have better tools to work through them.
Hiring An Attorney
Through the process of divorce, it is important to have an attorney on your side. Even the most amicable divorces can get ugly in court, and people who forgo legal representation often end up with a smaller share of the assets. Because divorce attorneys see situations of divorce every day, they can be a level-headed sounding board for many of the phases of grief. Though your attorney is not a replacement for a friend or therapist, they are another person to help guide you through the process and make sure you reach the other side.
It is important when hiring a divorce attorney that you find someone you trust. You will need to speak openly and honestly with this person, and you need to be comfortable continuing to work with them if you get emotional. Some people find comfort in attorneys of a certain gender, while others seek out representation of a similar age or ethnicity to themselves. Consider these factors before beginning your search.
At the Law Offices of Patricia Rigdon, we specialize in divorce law. We have helped thousands of couples move successfully through the divorce process. We offer both litigation and mediation services, meaning that you have options when it comes to your divorce proceedings. Though we see divorce cases daily, we always approach our clients with empathy. We know this is an emotional experience, and we are here to support you.
To schedule a consultation, contact us today.