The cataclysmic events that are the stuff of divorce are so much like the death of a loved one. Divorce can be both sudden or a long time coming as the cancer in the marriage spreads inexorably through the relationship.
In death there is finality whereas in divorce the other person still lives on. This can complicate the traditional grieving process because any continued contact (and there must be some) not to mention the often imaginary possibility of ‘getting back together' can alter the dynamics of the relationship and create new difficulties in dealing with the loss.
Five stages of grief
Work carried out in the late 1960s by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the US defined five stages of the grieving process. They were developed in studies about grieving after death but are equally valuable in grieving after divorce. Understanding and recognising these stages can be very helpful in dealing with the loss experienced in divorce.
This is the stage in a relationship when you kind of know that things aren't quite right anymore but you don't want to deal with it or it has finished but you still can't accept the reality. We deny these realities lots of reasons. Often we're just too afraid to admit that things need to change and so we keep ignoring the problem. Deep rooted childhood issues related to abandonment can make it just too terrifying for us to face the end of a relationship so we cling on.
Even after you and your partner have finally admitted that there is a problem and the tumult of the divorce process has run its course there could still be a continuing period of denial. You may return to this stage again and again as you go through the grieving process. This often happens but it will stabilise.
Anger is a stage that we all have to go through if we're going to progress through to a better life after divorce. Many people are really terrified of the destructive potential of their anger and that of others so they refuse to acknowledge it. They repress it all until the pressure becomes unbearable and it spews out like molten lava from a volcano.
You will be angry at lots of people, your ex, some of your friends, work colleagues and probably most of all, yourself. Acknowledge this anger and let it flow out slowly to minimize its effects upon you and upon others. It can be scary but if you can deal with it safely and not try to stifle your feelings it will be OK.
This is the stage in the grieving process whereby we try to bargain with ourselves and our ex partner to arrive at a mutually acceptable bunch of things that we can do to retrieve the relationship. It's when you say, "if you just did this then I could do that and things would be fine." This is the third stage but can come before the previous anger stage for a lot of people as they move out of their denial and try to work things out with their partner.
Bargaining can work. Sometimes you can actually find constructive ways to reach an agreement with yourself and your partner which will solve the fundamental problems of the relationship. Unfortunately this is rare. Usually it's just part of the process to go through as we learn to deal with the fact that our relationship is over.
After the exhausting process of denial, anger and bargaining have taken their toll it's not surprising that depression can be the natural consequence of this process. We feel helpless and overwhelmed with sadness at the loss that we are experiencing. Nobody is ever going to make us feel as good as that person made us feel, things will never be the same again and it makes us feel sad and frightened.
However, depression is more than being very sad. If you think you may be suffering from depression which is a step further on from great sadness then it is a very good idea to seek help, start with your GP or go straight to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the UK Council for Psychotherapy.
Taking care of you is of paramount importance, get plenty of rest because this period of the grieving process is particularly tiring. Eat right, exercise and try to stay healthy. Surround ourselves with supportive friends, people who love you and make you feel good about yourself. You'll have probably heard this all before and that's OK because it's true and it works.
This journey will not last forever, the day will come when you will be able to accept the situation. How ever many times you have passed backwards and forwards between the stages of grieving soon you will find that it's all finished and done with.
You will stop thinking about your ex and may even become friends again, you will no longer feel the great anger and sadness. You will no longer want to try to fix things or wish that things were different. You will have accepted that things are the way they are. It's over and it's OK. It's going to happen, so hang on in there.