Stages of Divorce

scales of justiceDivorce is an emotional process that has legal consequences. How you navigate through the divorce (there are stages we pass through) has an impact on how much time it takes to heal and be able to move on. You are likely to experience some or many of the reactions below:

Symptoms of grief:

  • Susceptible to illnesses
  • Feel physically drained
  • Out of emotional control - feel good one minute; in the pits the next
  • Can't eat - food makes you sick. People can lose 40 pounds grieving
  • "Zombie Effect" Feelings shut down as a natural coping mechanism
  • Drink too much
  • Brain is scrambled; can't think clearly or remember things
  • Cry continuously
  • Neglect personal hygiene (ignore teeth, baths, or wash hair very often)
  • Can't cry -- bottle it up (it will come out years later)
  • Stay extremely busy so as not to have time to think
  • Take too many drugs
  • Can't sleep at night
  • Take naps frequently and are constantly tired
  • Talk about it over and over and dwell on it every moment
  • Lose interest in work; house; physical appearance
  • Think you will never recover from your loss
  • Fantasize about the past
  • Have lots of guilt about things you did or didn't do
  • Lack of interest in sex
  • Engage in self-criticism
  • Suffer from extreme loneliness
  • Have a huge hole in your heart and soul
  • Suffer from severe depression
  • See no reason to exist

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There are 6 stages you will pass through. It may not happen in the order they are listed below, but you will go through them.

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Withdrawal
  • Recovery


You tell yourself that the divorce isn't happening or that your spouse will come back to you. With a divorce, you think your spouse is just going through a phase or mid-life crisis and will come to their senses. You think that you cannot accept that it is ending, and you refuse to see the obvious signs that it is over for the other person. You think that you can talk, cajole or convince them out of leaving. Sometimes, the main denial was in believing that the marriage a good one in the first place when it really wasn't, and that's why so many people have a hard time accepting divorce. Sometimes comfort in misery seems better than facing the unknown of a divorce.

With a death, you just don't accept it as final. When they are dying, you believe they will get well. You refuse to use the term, "died" or "dead". You say that they have "passed on" or that they have "gone". You don't go to the grave site to view proof of the death. In general, your mind refuses to accept what is happening.


In a divorce, you begin to act out the frustrations that have existed in the marriage. You become angry at the way you were treated, about the settlement offers, about your life that has suddenly changed about the way your spouse lied and deceived you, at the future you expected that will never be. With a death, you become angry at fate, at God, at the doctors, at yourself for not doing enough.

If anger is turned inward (not felt or expressed), one can become depressed. Anger should be gotten in touch with, expressed properly and dealt with. It is important not to be destructive in your anger, but it is equally important to express your anger.

Expressing anger is a sign that you are beginning to deal with your loss. If anger isn't expressed, it will make you bitter and hamper your recovery. It is important not to bury your anger, and it is important to express all of your anger before you try to forgive that person. Warning - Anger must be expressed appropriately.

Most importantly - do not take your anger out on anyone in an unhealthy manner. Many times immense anger is the cause of a divorce. Expressing your anger over the divorce (or a death) in the wrong way will only do harm to yourself and create an unmanageable relationship with others. It is extremely important to learn to release your anger in healthy ways. Ways of expressing anger properly can be learned in anger management classes and in therapy if you have an anger issue.

If you are angry with a person for leaving you, you can learn to express your feelings with the proper dialogue methods, you can do a lot of journalizing to express your anger, you can go out in the middle of the woods, roll the windows up on your car so nobody can hear you and and scream, cuss,yell and get the anger out until you have no more energy to do so (be sure you don't have a bad heart or area risk for a stroke before you do this), or you can take a baseball bat or a tennis racket and beat a pillow all to pieces. Express your anger in such a way that you do not harm yourself or anyone else, and in such a way that you do not totally alienate anyone with your actions.


It comes during the anger stage, and the bargaining stage, and in the letting go stage. It can come at any stage, actually. It is characterized by many of the symptoms listed in the Symptoms of Grief. Depression is normal. It may last longer in some people than in others. Emotionally healthy people won't be depressed as long as emotionally unhealthy people or people who came from dysfunctional homes who haven't dealt with childhood issues. It is perfectly okay to seek help from a physician and take antidepressants for a time until you are better able to handle your grief.

If you feel that your depression is lasting too long, you may benefit from the help of a therapist. Never be ashamed of taking medication or seeking professional help when you are grieving. Never be ashamed at seeking professional help. When you no longer need the antidepressants, you will know and end your treatment. During the depression phase, you will cry a lot. Crying is normal, and tears are healing. Let yourself cry when you feel like it. If you cry constantly, everywhere, and it goes on for months and months, you probably need to seek medical help. Antidepressants will help you deal with severe grief.


Depression can set in over time. One needs to be on alert for an custody strategiesoverabundance of thoughts of despair. If you have frequent feelings of giving up, or that its just not worth the hassle, you may benefit from a doctor’s guidance, who may provide medications that can elevate your mood.

Depression can be a tricky thing to diagnose. You can may sleep too much or too little, eat too much or too little, or can experience difficulty conversing or concentration.

If being down seems to be more than you can handle, therapists can help you manage it and perhaps help you see a different perspective.


This can come with or without depression. Withdrawal can be a natural reaction to a divorcing person, perhaps out of embarrassment, or humiliation, or simply a feeling of not being able to socialize as you’d like. Be patient and graceful. Allow yourself time. Accept that to heal, you’ll need to get back to socializing one day, just don’t push yourself that that day has to be now.


In general terms, recovery comes once you’ve resolved emotional issues and have become relatively indifferent to your ex or what your ex does or says. Opinions vary widely on how long a period of time it takes to get here, and everyone is different. If you are childless with your ex, healing generally comes sooner, in months or a year or two. If there are children, constant contact can make healing take much longer, and can translate into years.

You will know when you have recovered fully when the feelings toward and about your ex are more like indifference rather than another emotion. How complete you recover or heal will depend on how closely in touch you get with your feelings and emotions.

This is a time to reach out to a close friend. Talk about your feelings with people you trust. Some people who have successfully managed their recovery tell us that for awhile it felt like their skin was turned inside out. They felt raw emotion. They allowed themselves to feel what they felt and let the feelings and emotions come to the surface.

In the end, how well you can identify your conscious and subconscious thoughts, feelings and actions will determine the depth and breadth of your recovery.