As a Certified Divorce Coach®, I've seen first-hand how the end of a marriage can provoke a wide array of emotions. Often, these feelings manifest in a way that closely resembles the process of grief experienced after the loss of a loved one. After all, divorce signifies the loss of the future you had planned with your partner, the end of shared dreams, and a significant shift in lifestyle. It's completely normal—and necessary—to grieve this loss of what you hoped for.
Grief: An Unexpected Companion
One widely accepted understanding of grief comes from psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who identified five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Although initially developed in the context of terminal illness, these stages can also serve as a framework for understanding the emotional journey of divorce. Any transition begins with an END. You may grieve your kids when you become an empty nester. Divorce is one of the most painful transitions we find ourselves in, and never planned for.
In the early stages of divorce, you may experience denial. This especially happens if your spouse initiates the divorce, but you can feel it even if you are initiating it. It’s not something you ever hoped for, so the denial of the ending of the relationship is real. This can show up as shock, disbelief, or a sense of numbness and overwhelm. It's okay to give yourself permission to take things slowly, to process the magnitude of the changes occurring, and your new reality.
As the reality of the divorce sets in, anger may follow. It's natural to feel angry at your spouse, the situation, or even yourself. Anger is real, and if given the proper outlet, can help you with your healing, allowing you to vent bottled-up emotions. Acknowledging and expressing your anger in a safe, controlled manner can be a therapeutic step toward getting to the other side of your emotions. I was able to have a healthy release by joining a boxing gym. Find an outlet that allows you to release.
The bargaining stage of grief often includes "what if" and "if only" statements. You may find yourself dwelling on what you could have done differently to prevent the divorce. Remember, it's essential to understand that the end of a marriage is usually due to many factors. Avoid shouldering all the responsibility or blaming entirely on yourself or your ex-spouse. A marriage takes two to survive and takes two to crumble. Yes, one party may be more at fault than the other, but this does not matter anymore, as it won’t change the outcome. The more you dwell on this, the longer you may remain stuck.
Feelings of sadness, regret, fear, and uncertainty often mark this stage. It may be challenging to engage in normal activities or find joy in things that once made you happy. It's important to remember that it's okay to feel this way, and there's no need to rush through this phase. It is also important to show up for yourself, and if children are involved, for you and your kids. You will need to make an effort to do something every day that brings you joy. Yes, it’s sad and not what you wanted, but we have to navigate through this stage. Seek professional help if your feelings of depression become overwhelming or you have thoughts of self-harm. This will pass, and it’s up to you how long this phase lasts. Commit to YOU, and your healing.
The final stage, acceptance, doesn't necessarily mean happiness or resolution. Instead, it signifies coming to terms with your new reality. It doesn’t mean you don’t mourn the loss of what you hoped for, but it means you are becoming comfortable and beginning to thrive again. While the pain of the divorce may still linger, you have started to move forward and make peace with the changes in your life. It will be normal to still have moments that can set you back into grief, but overall, you are showing up for yourself in your new reality. You are beginning to gain footing again.
Healing is Not Linear
These stages are not linear and don't follow a set timeline. You may bounce between stages, repeat stages, or experience them in a different order altogether. This is entirely normal. Everyone grieves differently, and there is no right or wrong way to experience grief. Remember to be gentle with yourself. As the inset quote states, your emotions can come up at any time and surprise you. It can be triggered by family events, holidays, or just a memory on Facebook. Give the moment just that--a moment, a memory. Feel your emotions and sit with them. Then remind yourself where you are now, and how far you have come.
Professional Support Matters
As a Certified Divorce Coach®, my role is to provide support, guidance, and tools to help you navigate this emotional journey. It's essential to remember that healing takes time, and it's perfectly okay to ask for help. Reach out to a professional counselor, join a support group, or enlist the help of a coach to guide you through this challenging time.
In times of grief and loss, remember to prioritize self-care. Do things you enjoy, surround yourself with supportive friends and family, exercise, eat healthily, or try something new. Most importantly, be patient with yourself. Healing is a process, and with time, you will find yourself on the path to recovery, resilience, and once again thriving with your new future. Remember, "If it is to be, it's up to me"! This is one of my favorite quotes and a simple reminder to show up for our self, as no one else will do this for us.