Stages of Divorce

Divorce can be a long and exhausting process.  Anyone one experiencing a separation or divorce (whether it is you, children or other family members) may feel an array of emotions as one progresses through the various stages of divorce.  Similarly to the stages of grief and loss, divorce also has stages.
Essentially, divorce is a loss, so mixed emotions come into the picture.  Divorce is unique for each individual and everyone deals with their emotions differently.  The goal is to learn how to cope with your emotions during the different stages in a healthy way.  You may not have control over getting a divorce but you do have control over the way you manage your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Stages of Divorce

Stage 1: Shock and disbelief: you may feel numb or deny the fact that the marriage is over       

  • Initially you may be shocked and have a difficult time facing the reality of  what just happened.
  • You may struggle with your self-esteem and inadequacy (how do you feel about yourself), you may think what did you do wrong, or may choose to blame your spouse.
  • A challenging part of this stage is telling your friends and family what happened.  You may feel ashamed and emotionally exhausted.  You are already going through intense emotions and then you have to hear other's opinions.                
  • Suggestion: It is always Important to get support and help from family and friends.  Family and friends can help listen to you and provide you support to help manage your emotions and the challenges ahead.

 Stage 2: Initial adjustment: the individual or families ability to actively adapt to this new change

  • Functioning and responsibly: it may be challenging to do day to day activities because you are emotionally exhausted and dealing with the chaos that surrounds the divorce process.  You may be trying to figure out how additional responsibilities will be handled (i.e. addressing custody and when each parent will have the children, or who will drive the children to their different activities).
  • Practical reality: ensuring both financial and emotional stability for yourself and children.  Whatever that may be, you can only do your best.
  • Legal matters: financial, deciding who lives where, selling or sustaining a house, custody of children, etc.
  • Managing emotions can be challenging in this stage:  trying to figure out how your life and family is going to change while experiencing various emotions (sadness, guilt, shame, anger, anxious, frustration, confusion, desperate).
  • Suggestion: Make sure you are taking care of yourself.  Eating healthy, exercising, breathing, talking with family and friends.  Anything that makes you lifts your spirits!

Stage 3: Active reorganization

  • Lifestyle and practical affairs: how you live and manage your life from this day forward.  You can't go back and change the divorce.  Where do you want to go from here?  
  • Reconstructing personal values and disbeliefs and finding meaning in your life.  It is challenging, but its time for you to figure out your goals and what envision for yourself and family.  The only way things change is by taking action.  "If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten." ~Anthony Robbins 
  • Addressing relationships and relationship issues
  • Concluding legal procedures (child custody, finances, potential emotional consequences for yourself and children).                                                   

 Stage 4: Life re-formation

  • Constructing new relationships (dating again and looking for companionship).
  • Developing new interests to keep yourself busy and use as a positive outlet.  Think of a hobby you use to do (dance, art, music, journaling, working out) and do it!  Take Action!
  • Personal responsibility: you are in control of your life and future.  What do you want to make of it?  
  • Accepting your new life and valuing it each day!  You may look back and reflect on the divorce but you got through the challenging times.  

“You are now at a crossroads. This is your opportunity to make the most important decision you will ever make. Forget your past. Who are you now? Who have you decided you really are now? Don't think about who you have been. Who are you now? Who have you decided to become? Make this decision consciously. Make it carefully. Make it powerfully.” ~Anthony Robbins

Simple ways to help you manage your emotions:

  • Exercise/Meditation/Breath
  • Get involved in a divorce support group or individual therapy
  • Enjoy an activity you love
  • Seek support from family and friends
  • Reflect on what your goals are and make them happen: what do you envision for yourself and your future.  What can you do to create your future and achieve your goals?