How to work through the stages of grief after a divorce

Are you going through a divorce? It can be tricky to deal with financially, and when you top that with the emotions that often accompany it, it can feel almost impossible to get through. Many people who go through divorce also go through the grieving process as they separate from their partner. 

What are the stages of grief?

According to psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book “On Death and Dying,” there are five stages of grief. Kübler-Ross theorizes that the process of grief is generally applied to circumstances involving death. However, the process is not limited to instances of death. It can occur during any circumstance where a person is going through an undesirable reality. Kübler-Ross notes that for those who have experienced frequent traumatic and grief-inducing life events, the process may occur more quickly than for those who have not experienced this type of trauma as frequently. 

During a divorce, both parties are likely to experience each of the stages of grief. Divorce can spur on a large volume of feelings that may feel hard to juggle, especially negative ones. Some people compare the feeling of going through a divorce to experiencing death. Here are Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief:

  • Denial — The first stage is denial. During this stage, a person refuses to accept the reality of a situation. In the case of divorce, it might be hard to accept that the divorce is actually happening. Someone may believe that their partner doesn’t actually want to leave them or won’t actually go through with the divorce.
  • Anger — The second stage is anger. During this stage, the denial will transition into anger. The feelings of anger usually function to cover up other uncomfortable feelings pertaining to loss and sadness. Sometimes when a person is going through this stage, they’ll project their anger onto the people around them, like family members and friends. This stage may manifest itself in more subtle ways for some people, who may express irritation or resentment rather than more explosive emotions like anger.
  • Bargaining — The third stage is bargaining. During the bargaining stage of the grieving process, someone going through a divorce might begin to experience feelings of desperation and powerlessness. Some people may try to bargain with a religious figure, while others may speculate on what they could’ve done to salvage the relationship.
  • Depression — The fourth stage is depression. During the depressive stage of the grieving process, someone going through a divorce might experience feelings like heaviness, low energy, and sadness, and may choose to isolate themselves. This is the stage right before a person enters into acceptance.
  • Acceptance — The fifth and final stage is acceptance. This stage comes when you’ve accepted your new reality. Getting to the acceptance stage during a divorce doesn’t necessarily mean that you will feel better or be OK with your new reality, but rather that you’ve realized the actuality of your circumstances.

It’s important to add that although the stages of grief are universal, not everyone will experience each stage the same way. Each stage of the process can take a different shape or form depending on the person experiencing it and their unique circumstances. Sometimes people may experience grief that extends beyond these phases or takes longer than expected to go through, called complicated grief.

How can someone who is going through divorce work through the stages of grief?

One of the best things someone going through a divorce can do to help get themselves through the grieving process is to see a therapist. Talk therapy, especially process-based therapy, can help a person move through each stage of their grief a little more comfortably. Handling grief on your own can make the process feel a lot harder to get through, but a licensed professional can help you navigate your way through it. They can provide you with the tools you need to cope and provide a reflective outlet for your emotions. Not only this, but the process-based approach to therapy can help you create constructive goals and aim for outcomes that benefit your mental health and emotional stability.

Lightfully wants to help you manage your stages of grief during divorce

Our Lightfully team mission is to work with you to change your life compassionately. We strive to provide high-quality mental health care to various types of clients through a focused approach to process-based therapy. The framework of our clinic consists of evidence-based, clearly defined, data-driven and whole-person-centered care. Lightfully offers various layers of service to both adults and teens through our residential, virtual, partial hospitalization (also called our Day Treatment programs), and intensive outpatient programs. We regularly see clients who actively manage mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and trauma disorders. If you’re going through a divorce and experiencing the stages of grief, we’d like to help.

Our licensed, clinical experts see each client as a complex and layered human – not just a diagnosis. We value our clients as they are and hope to enrich their lives through treatment. Our vision for the future is an authentic and loving community where everyone can be seen, heard, and valued as they are. We believe in the light within each individual, and when that light is properly nurtured it can allow a person to shine brighter than ever before.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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