Many people overlook the roller coaster of emotions through divorce as a progression through grief. It’s often not seen as a “loss” since your ex is still somewhere in the picture, likely firmly entrenched in your life if you have kids. Plus, you will have ongoing contact with this person from social media, friends and family, and those potential random, often-awkward, interactions if you still live close to one another.
So, how is it grief, if he’s actually still here?
It’s not grief in the sense of loss through death and that permanent closure, but it is grief as you have lost that relationship with the person you made vows to be bound with forever. It’s the loss of the traditional family unit. It’s the loss of those future dreams. It may be the loss of security. Loss of love. It may be the loss of personal identity. Or even the loss of self-esteem.
The American Institute of Stress lists the loss of a loved one as the top stressor and divorce as #2. So it’s no surprise that when we go through divorce we are not at our best.
So the stages of grief that we work through are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Remember, these are not necessarily linear. It’s not like, “whew, I’m not angry anymore.” That’s gonna come and go. It’s going to find you when you least expect it, when you least want it and when it’s most inconvenient.
The denial phase is the time when you don’t acknowledge that life is changing. It’s thinking and living normally as if everything is fine. But, this doesn’t let you move forward or plan for the changes that are inevitable. You need to understand that things are changing, that separation and divorce are occurring and that you need to begin to make a plan. Without a plan, it draws out the process and makes it more expensive.
Once that denial has begun to subside, the anger settles in. Often this is when you might want to hire a “shark” of an attorney to get even or make him pay. Even if you initiated the separation, you may be angry that you “had” to leave, and that it was causing even more problems. And in this phase, we don’t always make the best decisions. They’re made from a place of hurt and retaliation. Slow down, it’s not a race. Give yourself time to make the right choices to move ahead.
When the anger fades, you may begin to think the marriage wasn’t that bad, that it may be best to work it out for the kids’ sake, and that you can make it all work. You want the pain to be gone and don’t like living in the middle space, that space between marriage and divorce, between connection and singleness. It’s filled with uncertainty and reconciliation makes you feel like you can go back to solid ground versus the scary step forward into the unknown. But what is really back there? Was it really that good? Or are you romanticizing the relationship? And if it was abusive – physically, mentally, emotionally, financially – then that is absolutely not an option.
The fear of change and the unknown can be a powerful part of the bargaining phase. If you’re a stay-at-home mom with limited independent income or don’t know how you’ll do it all as a single mom, it can be enticing to eliminate the variables. But you can learn how to step up, lean in and make it work. Maybe it’s budgeting, going back to work, finding a side hustle, relying on friends and family for help with the kids and making the best plan with your attorney to find a settlement that gets you what you need. This can give you the fortitude you need.
Depression is a natural part of grief. And you have to anticipate lonely times, sadness and crying. It’s normal. It’s part of the process. But you should reach out for help if you need it. This can be family or friends, a coach, a therapist, or a pastor. You have support all around you, it’s all about tapping into what’s available and who you feel comfortable with on your team. If you need medication to help you, see a doctor to manage your depression. There is no shame in getting help, so do what is best for you.
Once you’ve worked through the previous 4 stages, you will find your way to acceptance. Through the journey, you will find healing, resilience and strength. The harsh highs and lows will soften into a routine that is easier to predict and manage. You will be able to regain optimism, find new dreams, live fully and create happiness.
It’s not always going to be hard. You do have to know these phases are going to occur and be patient with yourself as you work through them. Give yourself grace and time to manage each of them as they come.
Bringing self-care and faith practices into your healing journey can help this grief subside more quickly. Finding practices such as meditation and yoga, prayer and devotional time, massages and walks …. All of these can be incorporated into daily and weekly routines to help you progress through grief in divorce more quickly and efficiently.
Moving through the stages of grief with open eyes can make the process less uncertain and maybe a little less intimidating. Don’t lose sight of the end results while you’re walking through your grief. Get the help you need along the way. Your ability to move through this process brings you more peace. Showing your kids your healing journey can help them heal as well. There is something better waiting for you.