Emotional Stages of Divorce
There are four (4) very distinct phases of emotion through which divorce litigants travel during their case. These phases are not strictly linear. In other words, people may travel thought one phase and then find themselves going back to that stage after they thought that it had passed. The stages are as follows:
1. Guilt/Denial-At the early stages of the divorce process it is very common for both spouses to deal with issues of guilt and denial. The initiating spouse may feel guilty for wanting the divorce and the non-initiating spouse may feel guilt over what he or she perceives their role to be in causing the initiating spouse to want a divorce. Additionally, the non-initiating spouse often tries to convince themselves that the spouse who wants the divorce is simply going through a “phase” and will come out of it. Sometimes the non-initiating spouse believes that the spouse who wants the divorce is suffering from some form of mental illness. While I have seen cases where mental illness did form the basis of the divorce, I have seldom seen that fact make a difference in whether or not a divorce occurred. The danger of the Guilt/Denial phase is that while in this phase, people are more likely to give up on the issues that are important to them because of the depression that they are experiencing. When the depression lifts, they are unhappy about the deal that they made, but it is often too late to make a change.
2. Anger-The second stage of the emotional journey in a divorce is anger. The nature of the anger phase is self evident. While it is important to ensure that no inappropriate acts are committed while under the influence of this negative emotion, anger can be an important motivator to ensure that people protect their interests during a divorce.
3. Bitterness-The third stage of emotional development in a divorce is bitterness. This emotion is the most destructive phase in the divorce process. For example, bitterness is often seen when a person refuses to agree to an issue which is good for them simply because their spouse is willing to agree to it. Other examples include a desire on one party’s part to destroy the relationship between the children and the opposing party.
4. Healing. You will heal. I often meet with clients who feel as if their life is never going to be happy again. In many cases I see these same people in the community several months later. In almost every case the person who was grieving when I first met them is happy and pursuing new directions in life. Studies indicate that healing can take up to 5 years after a divorce is finalized. It is very rare that I see a person who just does not get better unless they are locked in the bitterness stage.
The important thing to remember about the grieving process as it relates to divorce is that as you move through the different stages, you recognize what you are experiencing. If you recognize where you are in the process you will not feel so alone or abnormal. Also, by analyzing your grief, you can approach the decisions in your divorce more objectively.
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