There is no way to grasp the concept of divorce until your entire person is submerged and it does in fact feel like DEATH within an emotional jungle; however, every hiccup in the process feels like they are continually dying. This constant dying situation creates a sense of alternate reality. There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for anyone involved which leads to difficulty moving from one stage of grief to another with bouts of despair in between (length of time in one stage varies by individual); and for others, there was so much turmoil in the relationship under one roof, the separation leads to immediate acceptance due to the stark contrast in daily living. However, the acceptance people are not out of the woods; they end up experiencing every stage of the grief sequence as time goes on in a different order. Let’s jump in and talk about the 5 Stages of Grief from losing a loved one from divorce.
First Stage – Denial
It doesn’t seem real at first. In some cases, it will never seem real; you feel like you are in a perpetual revolving door. Some questions that you’ll ask yourself include: is this happening? Tomorrow I am going to wake up and things will be different, right? He or she doesn’t really mean it. How can this be happening to me? It almost feels like an out of body experience or a bad dream.
Second Stage – Anger
No matter what side you are on. Whether you are filing for a divorce (petitioner) or responding to a divorce (respondent). This is true for both sides. Inside you feel like you are going to boil over or explode from the other person’s actions and words. No matter what don’t be THAT person. Take steps to prevent that from happening. Find an outlet for your anger. Sometimes it helps to scream at the top of your lungs when no one is around or put ten times the effort into your workout that day, when your lifting weights or when your jabbing and upper-cutting put all your energy into the action. Anger stems from being out of control, could also originate from betrayal and/or the natural response to the instigating spouse. The Family law system also triggers anger, because it is so incredibly broken and no one seems to care.
Third Stage – Depression
No one is immune to this stage. There are so many reasons why this stage is unavoidable. Your life as you know it gets turned upside down. If you have children, they are extra irritable from the divorce and it is difficult to identify whether their behavior is from abuse or the instant transition which makes you even more depressed. Your eyes glaze over. You can’t sleep. You sleep too much. You can’t eat, because you have no appetite or you overeat to increase the feel-good hormones like serotonin. Your limbs at times feel like they each weigh a ton. You don’t want to experience anything good, but instead want to wallow in your misery. The sudden departure of your loved one leaves a void of presence, even if that presence was rarely good most of the time. Holidays and birthdays are especially challenging at first, because your family and friends also must make the adjustment. No one really wants to talk about the divorce, but it is looming in the background of everything you do which also contributes to the grey cloud that seems to hang over your head.
Fourth Stage – Bargaining
Someone in some relationships always wants the other one back (that’s not the case in my experience). Spouses will make threats, they will beg, they will plead with you to change in the hope of getting back together. I think of this stage as the optimist stage, because whoever goes through this stage wants things the way they used to be and will say or do anything to get the other spouse to comply or bend to accommodate their need to be together again. They want to sacrifice something for the good of the relationship and are willing to put everything on the line at this point to make it happen. If you’ve responded to a bargaining spouse, let me know what that is like in the comments.
Fifth Stage – Acceptance
You finally feel relief in this stage and a hint of sadness. Some people may even feel a level of happiness and wholeness or resolve at this point. You no longer feel like your spouse is controlling you and you are confident that you will no longer be manipulated by your spouse, because as time progressed you became stronger and resistant to their old ways. At this stage, you come to terms with your divorce and know that the divorce happened for a reason. You no longer want your spouse to be yours. You no longer feel the need to continue arguments. You no longer let your estranged spouse impact your state of mind. At this point you are ready to begin life again, and holy cow, it feels amazing.
The most difficult part of the 5 Stages of Grief (denial, anger, depression, bargaining & acceptance) is reaching continuous acceptance, because the other person is still alive and well. If you’re able to move or minimize encounters, this helps; however, if you have children it is almost impossible. If the person changes and becomes civil and respectful there’s lots of promise that acceptance will be maintained. Sometimes you hear of stories where the parents have this jaw dropping co-parenting arrangement that they even take annual pictures together like the CBS News story or live together; these people aren’t human, do not believe the hype. In fact, the alternate reality scenario is even more relevant in divorce situations where the parents somehow stay active in each other’s lives and can’t seem to move on with their life. Don’t be that parent, you’re not helping the children, but giving them false hope. The emotional jungle is intense as you keep reliving the 5 Stages of Grief; this is normal, keep working through it each day is a new day.