When we are first going through the stages of divorce grief, we wonder how we will survive at all. It’s like trying to repair the damage of a tornado, a tsunami, a devastating wildfire and a level 5 hurricane all rolled into one. It’s a loss of so much … so much time … so much sharing … so much loving and living together … all destroyed and gone.
The divorce is done. One midlife woman said, I just had to keep telling myself … breathe, breathe, breathe. Eventually, we have to figure out how to get our life back … how to get our self back after this devastation.
Especially when you are dealing with a divorce you didn’t want and tried desperately to stop, the initial pain is indescribable …
Unless they have been through it themselves, our friends and family have no way to understand the visceral pain, the agonizing reality that our life as we knew it is gone forever. But still we have to keep moving every day.
To add to our pain, when we are grieving a divorce and the loss of so much, everyone else seems to just go along like nothing has happened. The sun still comes up. The night still follows. Life goes on with little notice of our desperate grieving.
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The Grieving Process of Divorce
People talk about the Stages of Grief like topics in a book … like the stages of development of a monarch butterfly … or the steps for cooking a pot roast.
The Stages of Divorce Grief are simply trying to get some order into the chaos of divorce grief. Our emotions are intense and erratic. Our physical self hurts. Our mind is obsessively trying to figure out what happened and feeling guilty that we couldn’t stop it.
Yet thousands of people are going through the grief of divorce every day. Some just survive. Some stay hurt and bitter forever. Some go on to create something new and beautiful and adventurous and good. That’s what we want to help you do.
We all know that recovering from a divorce we didn’t expect or didn’t want is not a pretty trip. Here is a list of some general descriptions of the grieving process after divorce.
- Sadness, Pain & Fear
Step 1: Denial
Denial carries with it thoughts like:
- “This can’t be happening!”
- “He can’t throw away a 33 year marriage!”
- “It’s just a phase. He will come to his senses and come back home.”
- “I can fix this.”
- “God won’t let this happen.”
Hope dies hard. In this stage of divorce grief we unreasonably fantasize that we can stop what’s already happening. One woman who recently came to midlifedivorcerecovery.com for help, said, “This can’t be happening! He can’t do this! We have weddings coming up. We have grandbabies to look forward to.” Other women going through divorce grief know exactly how she feels.
Step 2: Sadness, Pain & Fear
Sadness, Pain & Fear are emotions that trigger a response from us. These emotions encourage us to do something. That’s especially true after divorce.
All emotions are good … but they are not all comfortable. The emotions of sadness, pain and fear can be debilitating, but if we figure out what they are trying to tell us, and don’t get stuck there, they can be a catalyst for positive change.
Loss, Sadness, Pain and Disappointment tell us that an expectation of ours has not been met and we feel hurt. It’s important to recognize those feelings and figure out how to deal with that failed expectation.
- Example: My expectation was that I would grow old with my husband and our marriage would be enduring and strong. Feeling pain means that I have to grieve that, but I am eventually going to need to take actions myself that bring joy, fun and fulfillment back into my life.
Fear, Anxiety, and Worry tell us we need to prepare ourselves and get ready to deal with something that we are going to have to face.
- Example: I am going to face a significant drop in financial security. Feeling worried drives me to get advice and take action on how to deal with that.
WARNING: When we have a lot of these ALERT! ALERT! kinds of intense divorce emotions, they can also present themselves as physical problems.
- Example: An actual sharp pain in your chest. (During my own divorce, I went to the ER thinking I was having a heart attack and found out about “Broken Heart Syndrome.”) Get a physical and take care of yourself every day! The stress of strong emotions can suppress our immune system and we can get sick more often.
Step 3: Anger
Anger during the divorce grief process tells us that a personal standard has been violated. A boundary has been crossed in a relationship. Anger is an emotion that creates a need to respond or react.
- Example: You expect your mate to be honest and faithful. When he or she is not, those angry, furious, enraged feelings show up. You need to find safe (and legal!) ways of diffusing that anger.
My physician said to me at one point. “When are you going to stop feeling so sad and start feeling some ‘righteous indignation’ about what he’s doing?
When my grief process finally went from despair to fury, it showed up with a vengeance! I could definitely identify with Lorena Bobbitt, who cut off her husband’s penis in a fit of jealous rage! I have my own personal stories of being out of control with anger. (Sigh)
WARNING: During the anger, rage, fury stage of recovery, normal women do things totally out of character! One sophisticated, Christian career woman and new grandmother, whose husband of 43 years left for a younger woman, threw potted plants and deck furniture off the girlfriend’s second floor deck.
Another woman spray painted W-H-O-R-E on one side of the girlfriend’s car and S-L-U-T on the other side. That was a felony.
During this stage of divorce grief my only advice is DO NOT DO ANYTHING THAT WILL LAND YOU IN JAIL! HE’S JUST NOT WORTH IT!!
Step 4: Guilt
Guilt is an emotion that tells us we have violated a value of our own. We have to ask ourselves, “Is this guilt appropriate? Is this my problem?”
- Example: If our guilt is appropriate, it should create in us a need to make amends. Say, “I’m sorry,” if I need to. Ask forgiveness if I need to. Then work on my weaknesses, fix my problems, and learn from my mistakes as I move forward.
WARNING: Do not take responsibility for your spouse’s bad behavior when he says something like, “If you hadn’t gained weight, I wouldn’t have been attracted to other women,” Or “If you weren’t so suspicious, I wouldn’t have had to keep lying to you.”
His own bad behavior is his responsibility, no matter how much he tries to convince you that his destructive choices (alcoholism, gambling, infidelity, etc.) are your fault!
Step 5: Depression
After we have been through the previous stages of grieving our divorce, we come to the realization that the the marriage has ended, the divorce is over, and we will never have that life back, and if we didn’t want the divorce, we’re devastated.
- Example: For a long time when I first opened my eyes every morning after a restless night, I would think “Oh crap!” (Or usually something worse!) this is my new real life! My life is over. I am too old to start over. I will never be happy again. I’m going to end up sad and lonely for the rest of my life.”
For longer than we want to admit, most of us struggle after divorce to find our way out of all of this sadness, exhaustion, fear, worry, anger and despair.
Talk to your doctor about how you’re feeling. Find natural ways to get out of your funk. Exercise. Connect with others. Help others. GET HELP YOURSELF! Get the tools and resources you need to get better. Get started with our free Divorce Recovery Crash Course.
Step 6: Acceptance
Accepting the end of your marriage is hard. It’s sad. It changes everything. But it’s where you are. Refusing to accept that reality keeps you stuck in a place of victimhood and hopelessness … a place you do not want to stay!
We also have to accept the fact that we, ourselves, are responsible for our own happiness. We are responsible for creating our best future moving forward. We can help you do that.
How Long To Grieve After Divorce
The trouble with time tables for divorce grief and healing is that everyone is different. Every situation is different. You move tentatively from one stage to the next and suddenly something sends you, sobbing and screaming, back to the start again.
During the Divorce Grief Process be patient. Give yourself the time and space and grace to grieve and heal. The end of a marriage … especially a long term marriage with lots of history is worth grieving. It’s worth mourning the loss of your life partner and the loss of how you thought your life was going to be.
Our culture and those who love us just want us to feel better, to get better, to move on. But take the time you need. Set some boundaries around your grieving and take it at your own pace.
Our MasterPlan has lots of tips and tools to help you take care of the grief and healing part of your divorce recovery journey. We provide a framework and continual support for getting from how you’re feeling at the beginning to that place where you can’t wait to up every day because your life is so good!
Divorce Grief Support & Groups
Part of what makes the divorce grief process so difficult is that we feel very isolated and alone. People tell us to “just get over it and move on!” Anyone who has been through divorce knows that’s not how it works.
Going through the stages of grieving divorce, we need support. One of the first things we do is get you connected to an online community of women, who you can interact with in a private and protected place. You don’t have to use your real name and no one has your contact information. Getting and giving support helps you heal, and you don’t feel so lonely.
Join us in the MasterPlan and take advantage of our MDRcommunity and all of our divorce recovery resources. Join with women from all over the world who have decided not to let this divorce define them or destroy their future!
Take The First Step In Your Divorce Recovery