Stages of Grief When Going Through a Divorce

By |2017-10-02T08:52:26+00:00October 2nd, 2017|Divorce, Uncategorized, Wellness|0 Comments

When going through a divorce, it’s normal to experience a wide variety of emotions that are normally associated with grief. Some may want to hold this type of traumatic pain inside without any form of release, or without seeking professional assistance. This may make it difficult to monitor the different stages of grief to take the necessary steps that will help alleviate extra stress during the recovery process. Because of this, some will experiencing the same level of intensity from the early stages of  grief, even years after a divorce. However, according to Susan Pease Gadou, LCSW, if a person is not moving forward in the grief process and is still harboring ill-feelings and despair, it could be from a lack of fully processing the grief, thus entering into an unhealthy emotional state.

Areas that Trigger Grief

When a decision is made to end a marriage, it can be both chaotic and traumatic. It can also lend itself to contradictory emotions that are difficult to manage alone. Distinct feelings and attitudes may kick in, based upon which party initiated the decision to end the marriage and which one was the recipient. For example, it’s common for the initiator to experience feelings of guilt, impatience, distance, fear, or even relief. On the contrary, it’s also common for the party who did not initiate the divorce to have feelings of loss, betrayal, shock, loss of control, anger, a decrease in low self-esteem, resentment, a desire to retaliate and get even, and sometimes even feelings of reconciliation. Individuals with these types of diverse emotional states benefit from finding ways to normalize life. To do this, it’s important to identify the emotional state that one is in and determine whether he/she is properly moving through the grieving process. If not, it is likely due to a lack of taking the necessary steps to recover and gain emotional stability, and control of one’s life and healing process.

According to Pease Gadoua, when a person does not bounce back from a divorce, it’s an indicator that there is a delay in the healing process.  She also adds that the timing of the emotional recovery is based on a variety of factors, such as:

  • If the divorce was expected, or a surprise
  • If it was one’s choice to proceed with the divorce
  • If a person was left for someone else
  • If the divorce left financial damage

It’s important to know where a person is in the grief process to help with healing and recovery. With that, the following are stages of grief that are likely to present.


Many people bargain; trying to come to terms with their ex-spouse to save the marriage. Some make promises to change certain behaviors, in the hopes of preserving the marriage.


This is a normal reaction to trauma, and very much a part of the grief process. Denial is more apparent to those who don’t see the divorce coming.

Pain, Uncertainty, and Fear

Pain can result from a variety of factors. There is likely pain from the physical separation itself, but there’s also pain associated with the hurt that comes from rejection, betrayal, and just feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

There may also be feelings of uncertainty involved, which is normally associated with not knowing how one will handle the responsibilities that were once shared with the ex-spouse. This can lend itself to fear, such as the fear of the loss of finances, the fear of losing a home, and a variety of other scenarios.

Anger and Resentment

Anger is likely to set in whenever a person thinks about what the divorce is doing to their life, and how the former spouse brought pain into it. Anger, although a completely normal and healthy human emotion according to the American Psychological Association (APA), is something that should be monitored. When anger gets out of control, it could become destructive, which could lead to other problems—such as problems in personal relationships, at work, and in one’s overall quality of life.


Depression is a normal part of the grief process that occurs after the brunt of the divorce finally hits, and much of the chaos, fear, etc. have calmed down.

Depression may also kick in when a divorcee is faced with financial strain, scheduling conflicts due to court ordered living arrangements, and an overwhelming level of shame and embarrassment. If left untreated, this can lead to isolation; making it more difficult for individuals to continue with the recovery process.


Guilt sets in when a person believes that the divorce is his/her fault. Even if true, the best thing to do at this point is to learn from past mistakes, and take steps toward moving forward.


Acceptance comes about when reality sets in that the divorce is truly happening. Denial has passed, and a person is ready to face the road ahead. Acceptance can sometimes be easier for those who see the divorce coming, or who have already emotionally left the marriage before the divorce occurred.


This is a step that often takes the longest to reach, and there is no time-line on how long it should take, as everyone grieves and heals in their own way, in their own time. Forgiveness is a sign of true healing, where a person is not only able to forgive the ex-spouse, but also oneself for anything that may have contributed to the divorce, or the pain associated with it. Once a person is able to forgive, they are truly free, and ready to move forward completely with no regrets.

If you, or someone you know, are going through a divorce, it may be easy to recognize some of these stages of grief. Communicating with trusted friends and family members, or getting guidance from a support group or professional about the grief can be helpful.  A trusted professional expert, like a divorce or grief therapist can offer alternative treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). They can also assist in developing coping mechanism and strategies that will help a person move past the stages of grief.  According to several medical professionals, combining CBT with other therapeutic approaches provides excellent support for moving through the stages of divorce-related grief, and onto the path of recovery.


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