Home  >  Love Couch  >  Broken Hearts

12 Stages of Grief in Divorce, Ways to Read Them & the Right Steps to Cope

Your marriage has ended and you’re a mess. So, it helps to understand the stages of grief in divorce so you know what to expect as you move forward.

stages of grief in divorce

The end of a marriage is one of the most life-changing, if not the most devastating, events bringing a surge of mixed emotions. And because of that, there are many stages of grief in divorce.

After all, no one gets married to someone with the intent of eventually parting. So, whether your marriage ends amicably or like a violent storm, you still have so many things to mourn and go through.

One stage is the loss of your spouse, the person who held such a special place in your heart and whom you thought you would spend the rest of your life with. 

You may also mourn the fact that the future you envisioned and planned to spend with that person crumbled down.

Any huge and devastating loss, such as that of a divorce, results in both parties going through a grieving process. [Read: 15 strange and unknown facts about divorce]

While every divorce is unique and people go through it in different ways, you still feel a range of emotions such as the different stages of grief in divorce. These stages often include denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, and acceptance.

Why is it important to understand the stages of grief? 

Whether or not you understand the stages of grief, you will still go through them. No one is immune. So, instead of going through it blindly, when you understand the stages, your feelings make more sense and it helps you feel “normal.”

When you know the stages of grief in divorce, the knowledge can help give you a roadmap for all the complicated and intense things you are feeling and experiencing. [Read: Reasons why divorce can be such a damn good thing]

Don’t suppress your feelings when grieving 

You would think that most people would want to suppress their feelings when grieving a divorce because it’s less painful that way. Avoidance seems like a good option because it numbs you.

But it’s not healthy. And if you suppress your feelings, then you can get stuck in what’s called “absent grief.” 

People who suffer from absent grief show little to no symptoms of normal grief. This is because of the underlying avoidance or denial of the loss. [Read: Painful stages of heartbreak and grief all of us go through after a breakup]

Of course, you know that your marriage is over. But the lack of grief symptoms results from being in the denial stage of grief and refusing to get to the acceptance phase.

In addition to never accepting your divorce, your suppressed feelings could even cause health problems. Emotion and stress are big causes of diseases. So, you don’t want to make yourself physically ill in addition to being emotionally distraught.

Does grief mean regret? 

While grief and regret can be related, there is a difference between them. If you regret something, then you feel sorry about something that happened or something you did *or didn’t* do. [Read: Regret breaking up? 15 signs you should give it another chance]

It’s thinking in reverse and wishing that something else happened than what actually happened. It’s emotional pain on account of something done or experienced in the past and wishing it was different. 

On the other hand, grief is the acute pain that accompanies loss. Because it’s a reflection of what or who we love, it can be overwhelming. 

And grief isn’t just limited to the loss of people. So, grieving a divorce is certainly common. There might even be guilt and confusion, especially if the marriage was a difficult one. [Read: Things we do in relationships we end up regretting]

Stages of grief in divorce and everything else in between

While people don’t go through the same stages in the same order, these feelings are what you can expect as you go through your divorce. 

Here we discuss these stages of grief and everything else in between and show you how to work through something as life-altering as being separated from your spouse.

1. Shock

This is the stage when you may feel shell-shocked by what happened. With this is numbness, like your mind and your body blocks the pain that led to the divorce. [Read: All the quotes you need while going through a breakup]

For some, this may take just a few minutes of emotionless limbo to even weeks of being in a daze.

2. Denial

This phase is characterized by the inability to accept the reality of the situation. 

Thanks to your brain, which is wired to subconsciously prevent suffering and pain, you find it hard to grasp the situation, and this denial somewhat softens the blow of your divorce. [Read: How to heal from the pain of loving someone who doesn’t love you back]

3. Pain and fear

As the denial wears off, the pain hits you full force, along with the realization that, indeed, you and your spouse are now going your separate ways. With a divorce, pain comes as a familiar feeling weighing on you every day.

This is also accompanied by fear as your world comes crashing down, especially if you have been with your spouse for many years and are used to having them as part of your routine. 

This is also the time when you wonder if you’ll ever heal, find someone new, or you’ll just go through the rest of your life alone. [Read: The different stages of a breakup and how to get through each of them]

4. Anger

Another stage of grief in divorce is anger. You may also feel anger towards your situation as you never thought something like this would ever happen to you.  

In cases when you feel like your partner has wronged you *such as if they cheated*, you feel betrayed. As if your whole world may have just been a lie—and you blame your partner for it.

There may also be times when you feel angry at yourself for letting things go the way they ended. [Read: Toxic relationship – what it is, 107 signs, causes, and types of love that hurts you]

Family and close friends may also feel anger towards you or the other; whereas at this stage, people close to you two will take sides.

5. Bargaining

After the fear comes some sort of light in your head saying, “Maybe we can still fix things” or “Maybe I can still get them back.” 

Here you start to piece together all that you know about what happened. If it’s your spouse who wanted to divorce you, you try to bargain with them to get back together. [Read: Reasons getting back with your ex is self-sabotage]

You may also feel a spiritual upheaval wherein you pray to God and maybe even bargain with Him to put things back the way they were.

6. Guilt

This guilt phase starts some sort of healing process as the reality of your divorce sinks in. You ask yourself what you could have done to lead your marriage to ruin. 

Backtracking on your choices, you’re plagued with “what ifs,” and feel so guilty that you just wish you could turn back time. [Read: Guilty conscience – what it is, 21 emotional signs of guilt people feel]

7. Depression and loneliness

With divorce being such a stressful and tumultuous event for anyone, depression eventually sets in. Divorce breaks a family apart and affects everyone in it. Even for parents, seeing their children sad about the separation can be heartbreaking. 

Add to that the legal battles and all the emotional buildup, fatigue, loneliness, sadness, disappointment, loss of appetite, sleepless nights, restlessness, and many other effects set in.

Such loneliness may last for a long time, resulting in clinical depression that should be addressed by a professional. This is not a fun stage of grief in divorce. Although then again, none of them are. [Read: How not to feel lonely – 30 ways to chase the lonely blues away]

8. Reflection

Sometimes, people try to occupy their time with others things in order to forget about their divorce and their sadness. 

However, things always have a way of catching up on you. The way your divorce decides to catch up with you might be through everything you see, even the most mundane things, which reminds you of your partner and how things were.

You’re left reflecting on what your relationship had been, which can further trap you in deep sadness. [Read: Post-breakup questions you should be thinking about]

9. Acceptance

In this phase, you start to acknowledge the reality that though you may have a failed marriage, you are not a failure. You start to accept the reality of the divorce and that there are some things you have to do alone *again*. 

If you have kids, you also accept the terms surrounding the divorce and how your new setup will be. You now know you are starting from square one, but that fact doesn’t hurt as much anymore.

10. The upward turn

By this phase, though the clouds of gloom haven’t lifted yet, you feel a little better as you settle into a new routine in your life. And you have already made peace with your now ex-spouse. [Read: What to do after your breakup: 50 ways to detach yourself]

You are now most probably single or are about to finalize the divorce process. You say that the worst is over as you experience more good days than bad ones.

From here on, be prepared to move forward.

11. Reconstruction

At this phase, you are now more focused on how to live your life as a single person and possibly a single parent. [Read: 20 baby steps to be single after a long relationship, start over, and feel fulfilled]

This reconstruction phase takes some time, but the duration depends on how emotionally stable you are after grieving your divorce. 

As you settle into a new groove, so to speak, you at least have enough motivation to move forward, no matter how slow or speedy that would be.

You begin to plan, this time by yourself, and you are preparing for a future without your former partner. [Read: 42 secrets to being happy being single and lessons singledom can teach]

12. Hope

Now, we have reached the best stage of grief in your divorce. You may have realized full well that life *and love* indeed move on and your days are brighter than they were. 

You are now not just getting by each day—you are actually looking forward to what lies ahead. [Read: Letting go of someone you love – Minus the bitterness]

Despite all the negativity that you’ve been through as you hurdle through your divorce, you can now say that you are happy and healed, and much more positive about life. At this point, you believe that if you ever bump into your ex, you don’t have as much bitterness.

Like any kind of loss, having a marriage end *whether or not it is by your own doing* still triggers a lot of emotions. To say that it is a roller coaster ride may easily be an understatement. 

It’s actually a lot of dips and lows before things turn up. One thing is for sure, it’s not the end of everything and a day will come when you will eventually soar! [Read: When to walk away from a relationship – Baby Boomers vs. us]

Tips to cope with divorce

Divorce is never easy. You thought you were going to live happily ever after, and it just came crashing down on you. Here are some tips to cope with your divorce:

1. Prioritize your self-care

Whether or not you did anything wrong in the marriage, you need to take care of yourself. Don’t let the grief drag you down. 

Eat right, work out, and go out with your friends. Get a massage, read books, and have as much me-time as you possibly can to rediscover yourself. [Read: How to take care of yourself emotionally and avoid falling apart]

2. Practice gratitude

You might not think that there is a lot to be grateful for when you’re going through a divorce, but there is. 

Whether it’s the children you got from the marriage or the lessons you learned, there is always something to be thankful for. So, try to look on the bright side.

3. Rediscover happiness

Chances are, if you’re going through a divorce, then your marriage wasn’t that happy. In fact, you might have been unhappy for quite a while now. [Read: How to be happy alone and 20 reasons relationships are overrated]

So, you need to remember what makes you happy. Whether it’s hanging out with friends or spending more time with your children, don’t forget that happiness is something you should be seeking right now.

4. Join a support group

There are plenty of support groups in the world for all kinds of issues, and divorce is no exception. Let’s face it – divorce is very common, so there are a lot of other people going through it too.

Talking to other people who are grieving their divorce will help you feel less alone. You can also get some more tips on how to make it through the grief process and move on. [Read: Why can’t I get over my ex when I want to move on and forget them?]

5. Be mindful 

Even though you’re grieving and your life is probably busy, be mindful of everything. Pay attention to your emotions and acknowledge them.

You also want to be mindful of how you speak about your ex to your children, regardless of how old they are. They are their other parent, so you don’t want to talk negatively about them. If you do, you will look like the “bad guy.”

6. Set healthy boundaries

If you didn’t want the divorce, you might be feeling needy. You might even think about begging your spouse to take you back. [Read: How to set personal boundaries and guide other people to respect them]

Or, if it’s the other way around, you need to draw boundaries with them. Don’t get caught up in old routines. Move forward with a new one and a new life.

7. Avoid obsessing over social media

You might have the temptation to stalk your ex on social media. It could be out of mere curiosity or it could be because you’re jealous and lonely. Just don’t do it.

Also, you might want to stay away from social media as much as possible. You don’t want to see happily married people posting all the time. [Read: The toxic dangers of social media and 19 signs and ways it makes you insecure]

And you certainly don’t want to “word vomit” and complain about your divorce in your own updates.

8. Speak with your children

Remember, you and your spouse aren’t the only ones going through the divorce; your children are as much a part of this, and they have stages of grief too. And regardless of how old they are, it will be difficult for them.

So, talk to them. Tell them what’s going on and why it’s happening. Make the conversations age-appropriate and only give them the information they need to know. And never, ever talk bad about your ex. [Read: 20 signs of emotional maturity and traits that reveal a mature mind]

9. Date when you’re ready

You can’t grieve your divorce forever. Well, you could, but why would you want to do that? Eventually, you’re going to have to move on and find someone new.

You might feel ready to get back out there and date, or you might need more time. Either way, that’s fine. But just beware of rebound people. You want to be careful with their feelings, too.

10. Practice self-compassion

Maybe you did a lot of things wrong in the marriage. Well, that’s not uncommon – almost everyone does things that they wish they could undo. [Read: How to forgive yourself and free yourself from the weight of guilt]

So, don’t beat yourself up over your mistakes. It is what it is. The past is the past. As the saying goes, “when you know better, you do better.” So, be compassionate with yourself and don’t look back, look to the future.

11. Attend divorce counseling

In addition to support groups, you can also go to counseling. Now, we’re not suggesting that you go with your ex. It might be best to go on your own so a counselor can help you get through it.

On the other hand, if your divorce is toxic and is affecting your children negatively, then you should go with your ex too. You both need to learn how to put your children’s needs before your own and co-parent peacefully together.

[Read: 22 things to let go of and fall in love again when you’re hurt after a breakup]

Divorce is rough—but you will eventually get through it. Tattered, embittered, scarred, scared. But the important thing here is, you will get through. And once that happens, you’ll find out that there’s still a beautiful life after divorce.

Liked what you just read? Follow us on Instagram Facebook Twitter Pinterest and we promise, we’ll be your lucky charm to a beautiful love life. And while you’re at it, check out MIRL, a cool new social networking app that connects experts and seekers!

Carol Morgan LP
Dr. Carol Morgan
Dr. Carol Morgan has a Ph.D. in communication and is a professor at Wright State University where she loves corrupting young minds. As a relationship and succes...