Whether it lasted for less than a year or longer than twenty years, separating from someone who was supposed to be your lifelong partner is devastating. Everyone reacts differently to divorce, but it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and frustrated. According to Indianapolis divorce attorney Angela Trapp, “… divorces can have an immediate, lasting emotional and mental impact on you and your family.” With the added stress of couples being confined together for an undetermined period of time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many couples may be considering divorce. 

This emotional impact can be traced through the 6 stages of divorce. Created by Anthropologist Paul Bohannan, the 6 stages are the phases of the intense journey of divorce. For people about to embark on the journey of legally dissolving their marriage, understanding the stages of divorce is critical in keeping a healthy mindset and maintaining productive communication. Learn more about the 6 stages of divorce below.

Why Do People Grieve a Divorce

In some cases, ending an unhappy marriage can be a relief at first. But when the feelings of excitement pass and the time alone becomes a reality, nagging thoughts tend to creep in, such as:

  • I think I’m still in love with them: While love is one of the many parts of life, sometimes it’s just not enough. Stress from a variety of things including difficult family relations, financial hardships and differences in personalities can overshadow feelings of love. 
  • What if I can’t make it on my own?: The financial security that comes with being part of a duo can make it very hard to leave an unhappy union. Especially in a situation such as a military divorce, where the non-enlisted spouse is reliant on their partners benefits, such as healthcare.
  • What if my life won’t be as full alone?: Besides the financial comforts that can come with marriage, you have also become used to having a partner to experience things with. From exploring new cities together to sharing friends with common interests, losing your spouse will seriously change your life as you know it. 

6 Emotional Stages of Divorce

  • Denial: It can be hard to accept that this is the end of your relationship. You will continue to carry on as though nothing has changed. You might not mention that you’re going through a divorce with your close friends or family and continue to post happy family pictures on social media. Denial is a powerful coping tool that many use to avoid letting themselves feel the negative feelings that come with a situation that is out of their control. 
  • Shock: Numbness, panic and rage. These are all normal feelings you’ll experience at this stage. You can’t believe something like this could be happening to you, as divorce is only something that can happen to other people. It’s common to experience shock as this one event will re-shape your entire life. 
  • Roller coaster: Mood swings will happen. One minute, you’ll be depressed and wondering how you’ll be able to continue. A moment later, you’ll be excited about your future and planning all of the great things you’ll get to do. Both of these emotional experiences will be short-lived. You’ll flip flop from one day to the next.
  • Bargaining: This will be your last ditch effort at saving your relationship and convincing your partner that the divorce is a mistake. You’ll change things about yourself that bothered your partner before. You’ll take most of the responsibility of the failure of the relationship and convince yourself that you can fix this. Unfortunately, the spouse that did not initiate the filing will be stuck in this phase longer.
  • Letting go: At this point, you’ll finally realize that the marriage is over and you can’t save it. You’ll start to prepare for the future and actually get excited about new possibilities and taking on new interests. You will also not entirely place the blame of the failure of the marriage on yourself or only on your partner. You both contributed to where you are now. This is a period of self-growth and the realization that there is life after divorce. 
  • Acceptance: The final stage, acceptance, is where you discover hope. You brain is no longer weighed down with the obsessive “what if?” and “I should have done this” thoughts. You’re emotionally prepared to move forward into a new life full of new possibilities.

As hard as it can be to see in the beginning stages of divorce, the dissolution of your marriage is not the end of your life. While you may need to learn new habits, change your way of thinking, and forge ahead on a new path, experiencing a roller coaster of emotions is normal. Take time to move through each of the 6 stages of divorce, learn from it what you need to, and move forward towards a more emotionally fulfilled and satisfying life.