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The Five Stages of Grief in Divorce

author image Rachel Pancare
Rachel Pancare taught elementary school for seven years before moving into the K-12 publishing industry. Pancare holds a Master of Science in childhood education from Bank Street College and a Bachelor of Arts in English from Skidmore College.
The Five Stages of Grief in Divorce
A woman holds her toddler in the living room as her husband leaves the house with a suitcase. Photo Credit altrendo images/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Divorce rarely comes without some degree of grief. After all, two people do not marry with the intention of parting. However, many marriages today do not survive and the resulting heartache of separation can be overwhelming. Like any kind of loss, the end of a marriage may trigger a variety of reactions. Many people experience five distinct stages of grief, including denial, anger, depression and acceptance. Try to be gentle with yourself, seek support from loved ones and allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions.


When a marriage has come to an end, the loss can be terribly surprising and difficult to digest. Even if the divorce is your decision, you may have trouble believing and accepting that the relationship is over. In Julie Axelrod's article entitled, "The 5 Stages of Loss and Grief" on PsychCentral, Axelrod explains that denial is a type of defense mechanism that softens the immediate shock and protects us from the pain of loss. By blocking out your circumstances, you don't have to think about the difficult emotions to come.

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Once reality has sunk in, many people experiencing divorce become angry. You may feel resentful of your partner for things he did or said, or you may be upset with yourself for your own actions that contributed to the end of the marriage. During this stage of grief, emotions can become increasingly intense. A person often concentrates on the things he hates about his partner, his own regrets or the things he feels guilty about. It is a time of blame, irritation and disgust. Displaced anger is common, and you may find yourself having less patience and becoming easily aggravated with day-to-day tasks or situations.


"Bargaining is a last ditch attempt at coming to terms with the decision to divorce," explains Cathy Meyer, a certified divorce coach and marriage educator. In the Huffington Post article, "The Emotional Stages of Divorce: What to Expect During and After the Divorce Process," Meyer describes bargaining as a time when you try to repair the damaged marriage or convince yourself that divorce is the right decision. This stage is often prompted by panic, fear and the desire to regain control. You may try to negotiate with your partner in an effort to correct what went wrong, or you may remind yourself of the reasons the relationship did not work.


Depression usually sets in as a person understands that the marriage is truly over. Many upsetting decisions and adjustments take place in the aftermath of a divorce, which can lead to deep sadness. For example, you may have to determine who receives various assets, who has custody of the children or who must move out of the house. You may lose shared friends and may not want to attend certain events. Depression is often accompanied by shame, and many people experience a period of isolation while grieving. In a PBS article entitled, "7 Steps to Overcome Your Grief," Debra Warner, M.S., M.F.T. explains that many people turn inward and retreat socially until they have let go of the loss.


In the last stage of grief, you come to accept the divorce as part of your life. You embrace the guidance and support of others and slowly begin to let go of negative emotions. The heartache may not be gone forever, but you are able to resume your normal activities without overwhelming sadness.

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