Getting divorced is never easy. It is not just the legal and financial details you have to deal with, but also the grief and emotions that you might experience in the process.
While not everyone experiences the following stages to the same degree, there are some predictable ones that need to be recognized and worked through.
Shock and/or Denial Stage. Even if you have been planning or thinking of getting a divorce for awhile – the final moment of truth can leave you feeling shocked and surprised at the unexpected feelings that suddenly arise.
You may suddenly experience extreme fear or regret. You might even find yourself sorry that the subject of divorce ever came up because a part of you wants more than anything for your spouse to simply walk through the door tonight and have everything be “normal” so you won’t have to “deal” with all of this. (This is part of the denial phase as well.)
You need to understand that this is a normal reaction and it will fade in time. It is also important to remember however that this may not be the time to make any major promises, deals or to sign any legal papers until you are thinking clearer.
Divorce is a big emotional step. Sometimes it is even more emotionally charged than you anticipated it would be. So, if at all possible, try and give yourself some time to let yourself adjust to the idea that this is really going to happen.
Guilt Stage. Guilt is one of the stronger emotions that people experience and one of the tougher to get through. It could be guilt about the children, guilt that divorce is against your religious beliefs, guilt that maybe you didn’t do enough to make it work.
If you are the person who wants out of the relationship, it could be guilt about what you are inflicting on your partner and if you are the one who is being “left” you can be experiencing the guilt of “if only I had done this differently”.
If you are unable to work through these feelings on your own, it might be a good idea to visit a counselor. Talking to close family and friends who are on your side might also be helpful in making you feel better as they will help you to see things more clearly. But if you find these feelings are strong enough to prevent you from moving on in your life, a professional counselor is probably the way to go. It can make a world of difference in how you deal with your new future.
Anger Stage. After dealing with the initial shock and the feelings of guilt, anger is usually the next emotion that will come into play. Anger at what your spouse is doing to you if they are the one who is leaving or anger at the guilt they are making you feel because you are leaving them.
You get mad at your spouse for the things they have done to you in the past and what they are asking from you now. Then you get angry at yourself for all the things you have put up with in the past and the fact that you didn’t see things clearer a long time ago.
You get angry at the hassle and the major life changes you now have to endure because the marriage is breaking up. Angry about what it is doing to the children, or at the amount of money all of this is going to cost, etc.
Strangely enough this is probably one of the healthier emotional stages because it means you are beginning to move on. Anger usually inspires action, as opposed to shock or guilt, which pretty much leaves you immobile.
You need to rein in some of this anger however so you do not do something you regret. Even though anger might be healthier than shock and guilt, it also can cause the most damage unless you have a reasonable handle on it.
Depression Stage. This is usually the next stage that occurs when you finally get tired of being angry. Reality starts to set in, and you begin to really feel the loss of your old partner.
It is not uncommon for the end of a marriage to sometimes feel as overwhelming as the death of a loved one. It was a huge part of your life and it can be very depressing to realize that things will never be the same again.
It would also not be unusual for you to experience some of the following symptoms during this stage: loss of appetite, inability to sleep or extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, unusual aches and pains, persistent negative thoughts, irritability or anger, loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or overeating more than usual, feeling anxious or restless, feeling unworthy, or feeling pessimistic or indifferent.
(In some rare cases, there is also the possibility that you will have recurrent thoughts of death or feeling suicidal. If this is the case, seek help immediately! There are doctors and/or medications that can get you through this difficult time. Don’t try fighting thoughts this serious on your own – help is available.)
Dealing with depression after divorce is not easy, but it is important to know that there are ways you can make yourself feel better. For example, fantasize about new possibilities. Daydream often about how it would feel to look your best, or to meet someone new you are amazingly attracted to. If you can’t wrap your thoughts around the idea of romance yet, then imagine how it would feel to be amazing successful in your field of work or your favorite hobby.
Another way to ward off depression is to keep a grateful list. While it might seem difficult at first, you can find a ton of things to be grateful for each day. Enjoy the smell of your coffee and its taste first thing in the morning, the comforting feel of a hot shower, the feeling of warmth by the sun on your face, your health, your children, your loyal family members, your friends, etc. You might have to force it at first, but you will be surprised at how quickly you will start to feel better when focusing on all the positives in your life instead of the negatives.
Acceptance Stage. This is usually the final stage that you will go through and the one that will truly offer you some release. This is the point where you truly realize that “it is what it is” and that it is time for you to move on. This is when you will start looking forward instead of looking back and when you start thinking about the new opportunities and possibilities that lie ahead. You will start to feel your energy return and your hopes for a new future. More importantly you will find that you want to take those steps in excitement and anticipation.