When I was going through my divorce I noticed that in spite of the fact that I really wanted the divorce and couldn’t wait to set myself free, many phases of grief where part of the process. For me it was interesting to realize that although I really wanted the divorce I still had to deal with some heavy emotions, such as loss, fear, anger and stress. So no matter where you are on your journey or who initiated the divorce, know that it is normal for you to experience a series of different emotions and you will go through different phases, just like any other major loss in life. Prepare yourself to grieve for the loss and death of your marriage, a dream you had hoped would last forever, and a future you had planned that you now know will never happen. You might not experience all of these phases and they aren’t necessarily in this order, but know they are normal and part of the healing process.
The Denial Stage
When I finally made the decision to call it quits, I realized that a part of me was acting as if everything was normal. I wanted for my life to go on as usual and didn’t allow myself to really feel the pain. In both situations whether the divorce decision was thrust upon you or you where the one call it quits, you might find yourself acting as if nothing happened. When you first make the decision to divorce, or have that decision thrust upon you, you may react by acting as though nothing has happened. You may carry on your normal life, going about your normal routines and refuse to believe the reality of what is happening in your life. Part of the reason why people just go on with their life in this phase is because they are in a state of shock and numbness. I have noticed that for many who are in this denial phase the reality kicks in later often time causing delayed reactions of grievance.
Pain and Fear
If you are anything like me, you may be experiencing this phase intensely. Divorce is devastating and a massive change in your life. Maybe you got your heart broken by the man you loved deeply, or maybe you just realized that in spite of having invested years and a lot of work in your marriage you have come to accept that it is just not going to work out. You will notice your denial wear off and the reality of your situation kick in. You will experience the pain of losing the marriage, the dreams, the commitment till death do us part and then start feeling the fear of what your future might hold. The unknown, the uncertainties of how you will manage on our own, start overwhelming you. Maybe you left the workforce when you got married and became fully dependent on your ex-husband, maybe you got very attached and can’t imagine how to live life without him. Know that the fears will eventually fall into perspective and that you are stronger than you think.
The Anger Stage
I have come across many of my clients who truly struggle with this phase. You might be looking for someone to blame for this horrible thing that has happened in your life. Maybe you have justifiable anger towards your ex-spouse (maybe he cheated, or was abusive). Perhaps you in laws where the cause of your divorce when they started meddling into your life. While it is normal to feel some degree of anger, if you realize that your anger is out of control and impacting the wrong people, especially your children, then please seek professional help. I can’t tell you how many cases of children who have been broken and destroyed because their parents couldn’t figure out a way to channel their anger. Ultimately the kids end up suffering the most, so don’t forget to protect them and get the guidance you need. Another issue that may arise is you having to deal with the anger of your ex-spouse or even your children who are blaming you for the divorce. In situations like this get the guidance you need to help you navigate this challenge. Every person’s situation is different for which the guidance would need to be adapted to your individual circumstances.
The Bargaining Stage
You might find yourself bargaining either with yourself or your ex. Maybe you are promising to change so you can get another chance, or trying to justify some of the behavior from your spouse just so you can prevent the divorce from happening. It is very important that you get clear why you are doing this. Are you trying to stop the pain? Will denying the reality of who your spouse is, or how much abuse you have put up with really save the marriage? Can this marriage truly be saved? If you were to make the changes you are telling yourself and your soon to be or maybe already ex-spouse lead to happy union? Get very clear where the intent is coming from. I have worked with many clients who have gotten stuck in this stage, either because they were avoiding the pain or they needed to regain a sense of control. I am not saying that reconciling isn’t a possibility, and have had quite a few cases who have been able to successfully reconcile, but it took more than just avoiding the pain or trying to regain control to rekindle and salvage those relationships.
The Guilt Stage
I think most people go through this phase, where regardless of why your divorce happened and who’s fault it really was, you start thinking about what and how you could have done things differently. I remember wondering what it was about me that wasn’t good enough for this marriage to work out. What could I have done to prevent this and made my marriage work. Realize that this is really the phase that you need the most support in, for if you let the guilt take over you will lose your sense of direction. There are many cases where really there is nothing one could have done to change the reality, and not having an outside perspective to give you that clarity can really get you deeply into a state of guilt which might lead to depression.
The Depression Stage
It is entirely normal to feel some degree of depression when going through a divorce. Don’t start medicating yourself right away thinking there is something clinically wrong with you. This type of depression is circumstantial and normal for most people to experience. You may find it hard to sleep even though you feel physically and mentally exhausted. You could lose your appetite or overeat. You might feel very stressed and find yourself short-tempered and snappy with those close to you. Know that all these things are normal and that you are still grieving. Also remember that your children may also feel like this and need support and reassurance. If your or your children’s symptoms of depression escalate and start preventing you (or them) from functioning seek professional help.
The Acceptance Stage
This is when you made it I would say. At one point you will begin to accept your new reality. You will realize that your life has changed in many ways and that things will never be the way they were. Nevertheless, you will be OK and start discovering that in spite of it never being the way things were, it can still be great and you will start focusing your mindset towards that new future.
Know that you are a lot stronger then you know, believe in your ability to be resilient, survive and re-invent yourself. You will feel empowered and feel confident that you can start a new life.
You are now a lot stronger because of everything you have survived, and in spite of how scary the future might seem, you now have the faith in yourself that you know you can do this.